To join Jesus’ church ought to feel like coming home to God, it ought to feel like you’re finally fitted into where you belong. Jesus showed this in the way he treated social outcasts (Lk 15:4-10) and in our verses we get a striking example of this with a man who previously felt pushed away.
Under the laws of Moses, barriers were set up in the social and cultural structure of Israel. Each person’s place in the nation and the worship of God was stipulated by what laws applied to them. Crimes committed would obviously affect their position but so would many other factors – for example: ethnicity (De 23:3), health (Le 13:3) and disability (De 23:1). The role of these barriers was to control Israel to a point at which she could be a limited recreation of the world before sin and curse, a mini-paradise (De 28:1-14). But humility was required to abide by them and gain the blessing: an acceptance that our human rebellion against God has done so much damage that all kinds of restrictions are needed in order to recreate a taste of what we threw away (Ge 3:16-19).
However, Jesus changed the situation. In his preaching he promised all who turned from sin and its spoiling effects to faith in him, would gain a place in an exciting new kingdom of unending and infinite blessing. Humble listeners were overjoyed to hear this. But others were proud, feeling that their law-keeping showed them to be fine people who didn’t need to repent (Mt 23:25-28). This was disastrous foolishness. God’s law was given to help us see sin (Ro 7:7-13) not as a way to bolster our sense of self-righteousness. It calls for humility, not pride.
Our passages shows this through a Gentile believer. The story begins after Philip has evangelised semi-Jewish Samaria (Ac 8:5), many have been converted (Ac 8:12) and the apostles, and heaven, have ratified the new situation (Ac 8:17). With the Lord having now reunited long-broken Israel (1Ki 12: 16,17), the apostles feel able to undertake a preaching tour of the land (v25). Philip, however, is reallocated to a special mission. Now that Jesus has put up his living temple (1Co 3: 16,17) across the whole of Israel’s ancient land, an event will occur that drives home the wonder of this new situation. So Philip is told to go south by an angel (v26), near to the area once ruled by the Philistines. In this fairly uninhabited place, he meets a top official of an African queen who has been to Jerusalem for worship (v27). As a Gentile eunuch he’ll have found his opportunities there extremely limited. But his willingness to travel and his desire to understand the Scriptures (v28) show this man has a strong, humble passion for the Lord. So the Lord sends Philip to him, to discuss a powerful part of Isaiah’s prophecy in which a servant suffers for Israel (v29-33).
The man cannot make sense of the passage (v34); but Philip can by speaking of Jesus (v35). His crucifixion beautifully fulfilled the sacrificial words of Isaiah 53. Jesus took onto himself the sin and damage of the world which God’s law exposed. His unique death then put on public display all God’s righteous anger against sin as Jesus took the burning punishment which our rebellion deserved. But then after he had dealt with it and died, God raised him back up and Jesus was now ready to build his glorious new temple and heavenly kingdom (Is 53:5). This means Philip can tell the eunuch that though he may be barred from Jerusalem’s temple, there is a greater temple wide open to him! The man is thrilled and immediately asks to be baptised, for he has faith in Jesus (v36). Philip takes him down into a pool at the roadside and from there he can go home a new man (v38). Philip, however, cannot go with him for it’s not yet time to evangelise overseas as he has did in Samaria. So the Spirit takes him north to coastal towns in Israel (v39,40).
In this story we see that our relationship with God has been spoiled by sin and we cannot repair it. But Jesus can fix it and give us a new life, in which we are welcomed into God’s home (He 10:19-22). We may feel out of place in this world, but we need not feel it in God’s home. So, like the eunuch, let’s rejoice in the baptism which set us on the road to such rich blessings (Is 56:3-5).