This week we will continue our journey through Acts by studying a passage that isn’t directly related to Sunday’s sermon. In Acts 6 we read about the choosing of “The Seven” who were the first to join the apostles in an official leadership capacity in the church, managing the food distribution program for widows. The apostles had said these were to be people full of the Holy Spirit, and the next chapters give witness to this. First, one of the seven (Stephen) is unjustly killed for his faith in Jesus, becoming the first Christian martyr. Then the entire church faces persecution and is scattered outward from Jerusalem. Philip (also one of the seven) goes to the despised Samaritans to bring the good news to those people (whom Jesus seemed to have a soft spot for). While there, Philip does amazing miracles and wins over many people. One of the most remarkable stories is his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, which we will look at today.
Acts 8:4 -Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Have you ever observed or been a part of a “coincidence” in which two people seem to have been brought together by God at just the right time, for some purpose they couldn’t have foreseen or planned? Share with the group.
Looking at Scripture:
Read Acts 8:26-40.
How do you think a high-standing Ethiopian had become interested in the Jewish faith enough to have visited the temple and purchased an expensive copy of one of the Jewish prophetic writings? What kinds of things cause everyday people to get curious about God today?
What different elements did God bring together to lead this man to putting his faith in Christ?
The passage the Ethiopian was reading is one in which God (through the prophet Isaiah) is comforting Israel, assuring them that their suffering in exile will be rewarded in the end, when God restores their fortunes. That is how it had been understood for seven centuries from Isaiah to Christ. Yet early Christians quickly interpreted it to actually be pointing toward what had happened to and through Jesus. With this in mind, readIsaiah 52:13-53:12.
(Note the difference in wording between the quote in Acts and the actual verses 7-8 in Isaiah. This is because the author of Acts is quoting from a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, which was in wide circulation in that day. It is possible this was what the Ethiopian was reading. In our English Bibles, the Old Testament passage is translated directly from the Hebrew, resulting in variances in wording).
Acts 8:35 says that Philip “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” Put yourself in Philip’s shoes. Where would you start, and how would you share the message? What elements of the Christian gospel (and life of Jesus) do you see reflected in the Isaiah passage?
When sharing the Christian message, it’s important to start where people are at. How would you frame the gospel for someone who is:
· A seeker who is actively exploring/comparing spiritual paths?
· Someone who had been hurt by Christians?
· A Muslim?
· An Orthodox Jew?
· An passionate atheist (does not believe in God)?
· Someone who grew up in church, but has drifted away?
· An agnostic (doesn’t know what he/she believes) who has had no exposure to Christianity?
Are you willing to be used by God in “coincidental” opportunities to share your faith with others? Ask him to use you in this way, and to help you have the words to say in the moment.
Bonus:Have you ever wondered how Jews who don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah interpret Isaiah 53? Read http://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/isaiah-53-a-jewish-perspective/and reflect on whether you find the arguments valid, or if you find the Christian interpretation more convincing.