For today’s reading, we jump ahead four chapters in the book of Acts. We get to witness one of Philip’s great moments. Philip’s story begins with verse 4. We will join the story in verse 26. Luke is the writer of the book of Acts, and in Luke’s writing, the Holy Spirit plays a very active part.
- The Holy Spirit is active already at the beginning of this story, through “an angel of the Lord”. The angel tells Philip to head down the road “that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” It does indeed “go down”. There is an elevation change of over 2500 feet, when traveling from Jerusalem to Gaza. And it is a wilderness road, but not a green forest sort of wilderness; it was a rocky, barren desert. (v. 26)
- Philip chances upon an interesting sight. He spots an Ethiopian eunuch, reading in his chariot. He had the fancy wheels, because he was a court official to the queen of Ethiopia, whom they called the “Candace”. He was on his way home from Jerusalem, and had taken a break. The Holy Spirit tells Philip what to do next. (vv. 27-29)
- While he was resting, the eunuch was reading the prophet Isaiah; 53:7-8 to be exact. (vv. 30-33)
- Then, the eunuch asks Philip the Big Question. (v. 34)
- Philip now knows why he was sent here. He tells the eunuch all about Jesus. (v. 35)
- Apparently, they were moving again, because they came upon some water. The eunuch asks Philip a very loaded question-- “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” You see, the eunuch obviously loves the Lord God Yahweh, because he’s reading the prophet Isaiah. But since he is a eunuch, it is impossible for him to become a Jewish convert. Deuteronomy 23:1 makes this crystal clear. So, he asks Philip if there is another roadblock that would prevent him from being baptized. (v. 36)
- They simply stop the chariot, and the man is baptized. No 10 weeks of classes, no cross examination by the bishop. Just get out and get baptized! (v. 38)
- *It gets weird in verse 39. The Spirit “snatched Philip away”, whatever that means. More importantly, the eunuch “went on his way rejoicing”. (v. 39)
- We now hear that Philip “found himself” at Azotus. This is a city just north of the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. It says that he worked his way north along the Mediterranean coastline, all the way to Caesarea. (v. 40)
If you are one of Jesus’ disciples, you might find yourself in some surprising places! How often do we resist an “urge” to say or do something for the Lord? Be like Philip, and allow the Spirit to guide you.
You may have noticed that the text jumps from verse 36 straight to 38. It skips verse 37. Older translations, such as the King James Version, include a verse 37. It reads “And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” Newer translations often omit verse 37, and put it as a footnote. There is a good reason for this. Since the 1600’s, when the King James Version was written, older manuscripts of the Bible have been discovered. The older manuscripts do not include these words. We do not have any original manuscripts for the Bible. It stands to reason that the older the manuscript, the closer it would be to the original. Most have concluded that these sentences were added later. The practice of editing Holy Scripture did occur from time to time. In this instance, it is a fairly obvious addition.
Whether you decide to include verse 37, or keep it as a footnote. This is a powerful story about the inclusion of all people into the Kingdom of God. Everyone is welcome, even eunuchs!
1 JOHN 4:7-21
John has been teaching about love. Today, he will turn up the heat another notch. This is a difficult passage to read for two reasons. First, it weaves in and out, making a tightly-knit point about our relationship with God and with one another. But it also points a finger at us, making us re-examine our relationships. I’ll try to break this into chunks, to maybe help us understand it better.
- The first “chunk” is the opener. The rest of the passage will dig into what these two verses (7 and 8) mean. Basically, we Christians must love one another, because God is the true source of all love. This is so true that John states that “if you don’t love others, you don’t know God!” (verse 8, my paraphrase)
- The remainder of the first paragraph goes about intertwining the love that God first showed us with the love that we should show for others. Verse 10 is great. More important than our love for God is God’s love for us. His love is greater—He gave his only Son to demonstrate that love for us! Since He has done this, the most important thing we can do is demonstrate this love those around us.
- The second paragraph simply states that the way we connect to this love is through faith (confessing that Jesus is the Son of God). It is not about being strong in good works or being a good person. It is simply in having faith. Those other things are important, but faith is Number One.
- The third paragraph speaks repeatedly about perfection. John wrote this in Greek, many centuries ago. To those around John, reading these words in Greek, they would understand it through the Greek meaning for “perfection”. For them, spiritual perfection wasn’t achieving some high level of moral purity. Perfecting one’s faith meant the process of becoming mature in the faith. Achieving a sort of full-grown faith. This is a lifelong process. When we reach spiritual maturity, we will not fear death, the judgement day, or anything else. This process comes through prayer, studying the scriptures, and with the help of the Holy Spirit loving everyone around us. (vv. 17-19)
- Here’s where the rubber meets the road. After all this love talk, John throws down the gauntlet. If we hate someone or a group of people, we cannot truly say that we love God. If you want to question this, then you need to reread this entire passage. (vv. 20-21)
This is not an easy passage to read. It seems to go in circles. This is definitely not an easy passage to apply to our lives! It challenges our views on life. Imagine loving absolutely everybody. But God does this—He loves everyone. Our job, therefore, is to do the same.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I have been doing some electrical work around the house. One of the tasks associated with this is making a good ground connection. Three types of wires come out of the wall—a black one, a white one, and a plain copper wire. The plain copper wire is called the ground. It leads back somewhere to a metal pipe that is driven into the ground. So, I’m wiring an outlet. A ground wire comes into the box, and another wire goes out and on to the next outlet. Another ground wire must then be connected to this particular outlet. All three wires must be twisted together tightly, so that there is a solid connection to that pipe in the ground. Without it, the whole system does not work properly. This whole passage is like those wires, twisting tightly together-- “God is love… we love God… God loves us… we love one another”. All of this is bound together, connecting us with God who grounds us in His love. Our job is simple, but not easy. We must love God and love one another. Every one another!
Here, we have a beautiful parable about Jesus, the True Vine. For this passage, I’ll comment on a few verses, but summarize the whole in The Takeaway.
- Jesus’ opening statement is that he is the true vine, and his Father is the vine grower. Jesus is stating that he is the true connection to the Father. (This implies that all the others are not.) (v. 1)
- Furthermore, we are the branches. We are connected to Jesus, the True Vine. Our job is to bear fruit. What else are branches supposed to do, eh? (v. 5)
- Uh-oh. If we don’t bear fruit, we will be “pruned” and thrown into the fire. This is not good! (vv. 2b & 6)
- What to do?!? All we can do is abide in Jesus, and everything will be OK. (And try to bear fruit, of course.) (vv. 7-8)
As we just read in the previous passage, our salvation comes from confessing our faith, not by what we do or do not do. But it is clear that God has expectations of us. Since we claim Jesus as our savior, we have a job to do. We must “bear fruit”. We must do good things for Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he has already done for us. Abiding in Jesus means being connected to him, just like a branch is connected to the stem of a vine.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Most of us have done some pruning in our gardens. We know that it is necessary for the plants to thrive. Yet, most of us do not respond well when we are told that we are wrong, or are doing the wrong thing. Ask yourself—am I bearing fruit for God? Or, am I in need of a little “pruning”?