Jesus had said that after the Holy Spirit came upon his disciples they would be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth.
In many senses that is a summary of the content of the book of Acts. As the word spread beyond Jerusalem to Judea and then after the martyrdom of Stephen and the accompanying persecution it spread – as Christians fled, but taking the word about Jesus and the gospel with them as they went – and in Samaria they preached and healed with dramatic results and responses from the Samaritans. In the centre of that work was Philip, and Luke concludes his description with the words@ ‘So there was great joy in that city. He adds that Peter and John had visited the city to see for themselves and that as they returned to Jerusalem they preached the gospel in many Samaritan villages. It is a sign at how the gospel was crossing cultural, and religious barriers – a gospel for all.
But in chapter 8:26 onwards there is a significant change of direction and detail. It begins a number of passage which describe the sharing the of the gospel with a number of key individuals. First, with an Ethiopian eunuch (our passage for this evening). Then in chapter 9 of Acts there is the gripping account of the conversion of Saul, a fierce enemy of the gospel, but after meeting Christ on his way to Damascus, is converted and chosen as an apostle to the gentiles. And in chapter 10 we have the account of the conversion of a Roman centurion, Cornelius from Caesarea.
The conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch started with the direct intervention of an ‘angel of the Lord’ who tells Philip to leave Samaria and to travel down the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. This teaches us the truth that missionary outreach in Acts is the result of God’s deliberate purpose. It is not just what some call the missionary dimension of Christian faith, rather its missionary intention.
Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch, a senior official in the court of the Candace, Queen mother in Ethiopia. He is reading aloud from a passage in Isaiah 53 and the Spirit prompts Philip to get alongside, and he asks the Ethiopian whether he understands what he was reading. That led to an invitation for Philip to board the chariot and Luke says that ‘beginning with that same scripture Philip told him the good news about Jesus.
The outcome was the man’s conversion and request to be baptized in nearby water. Philip went on his way towards the coast, but Luke says the Ethiopian ‘went on his way rejoicing’.
Are we willing to go where people are and to take them seriously as they are? Are we willing and able to tell the story of Jesus in terms they understand and which is faithful to his story. It is clearly good news to us and for us. Will it be good news to and for them?