Reflections on the Book of Acts #8: The Samaritan and the Ethiopian

Here’s the link to Acts 8.

God had formed the people–indeed, the nation–of Israel to be a light to the other nations. He had revealed himself to them and made a covenant with them, and part of their mission was to reflect the glory of God to other people groups. This calling went as far back as Abram:

The Lord said to Abram:

Go from your land,
your relatives,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3

By the time of Jesus, however, the people of Israel had either spent generations trying to be like other nations, falling headlong into injustice and idolatry, or lived in such a way that blocked gentiles from being able to know the God of Israel. Hence, the reason Jesus “cleansed” the temple. In any case, they had forsaken their calling from the Lord.

With the coming of the Spirit and the birth of the church, things began to change. These first disciples of Jesus, all faithful Jews, continued the trajectory begun in Jesus’ ministry–the extension of the good news beyond the people of Israel and to the other nations.

Take our passage. First you have a former sorcerer named Simon who becomes a believer. And not only is he not Jewish, he’s a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans, because they believed them to be half-breeds and heretics. Yet here the good news is preached to and received by Samaritans thanks to the way God used the disciple named Philip.

Next you have Philip led by the Holy Spirit to approach the chariot of an Ethiopian Eunuch, an official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia. This Eunuch was returning home after coming to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. And he was reading from the book of Isaiah and asked Philip for help in understanding what it meant. Philip began with the passage the official was reading and told him about Jesus.

All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you, God told Abram generations before. And now it was happening.

But this raises a question for us. We all probably have prejudices of some sort. Maybe about indigenous people. Maybe about people who are rich or people who are poor. Maybe about people who are from there or from that family.

The gospel eliminates such prejudices. The gospel calls us to bless other people, knowing that it is Jesus who changes them into the people he wants them to be (which may not be the same as the people we would rather they be).

Heaven will not be homogeneous. Those in heaven will be diverse. Check out what Scripture says about what we can expect.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

The gospel commits us to the conviction that Jesus seeks to gather his people from all walks of life and all circumstances, no matter how different from us they are and no matter how we feel about them.

And only the gospel can transform our hearts and melt our prejudices away. It had to happen in the early church between Jews and Gentiles. It also has to happen today between other distinct groups. How will we respond to Jesus’ call to be a light to all people, a light that shines so that others can see the glory of God and find the grace he offers?

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