13 May 2017

Acts 8:26-40

“When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.” (v. 39)

Psalm: Psalm 4


I identify with this text. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing to do with the man being a eunuch! It's the way that Philip treated him. Let me explain.

Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who is reading part of Isaiah 53. He asks if the Eunuch understands what he is reading. The passage is about a 'suffering servant'. Philip identifies the servant with Jesus. For the Jews at that time hope of an afterlife was invested in your children; not much use to a eunuch!

Philip shared the good news that Jesus accepted everyone. To grasp this hope all that was needed was faith. A sign of this was to be baptized.

"Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" (v. 39) was the immediate response of the eunuch. And what follows? Without further ado, Philip baptizes the eunuch.

Now jump forward a couple of thousand years and picture a Methodist minister meeting a seeker today. I imagine the conversation: 'In two week's time, we're holding membership classes in the church down the road. If you're around why don't you drop in? Then when you've gone through the course, if the Church Council agrees, you can become a member'. Philip doesn't seem to be familiar with church practice and discipline. He simply baptizes the man.

Some 45 years ago a Methodist minister drank coffee and chatted with me in my bed-sit. I knew very little about Christianity. I didn't know much about the church. At the end of our meeting, he said he was going to receive me as a member. I am so glad he had such disregard for the rules of our Church. Seven years later I candidated for ministry. Three years later I was ordained and I am still grateful that I took that step and he took that risk. Rather like that eunuch, I was accepted as I was, on trust that God would do the rest. Philip never saw the eunuch again. Gordon, that minister, only saw me many years later after I was a presbyter. I am very grateful to him still.

I hope that we can still risk welcoming those whom God invites to be among us.

To Ponder

  • What do we need to believe to be Christian?
  • How should we treat those who want to join the Church?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.