Thursday, June 26, 2014

Can I Also Be Included?

            By all accounts, the story that Luke tells of the Ethiopian eunuch is a strange tale. This man is willing to travel 1,000+ miles in a chariot through the desert to go to Jerusalem to worship. Once he gets to Jerusalem he knows that the chance of his being admitted to the temple is very slim – being Ethiopian, he is not a pure Jew and possibly not Jewish at all. If he can convince the authorities that he is either Jewish or a “god-fearer” he still has that verse from Torah (Deuteronomy 23:1) that works against his desire to worship: “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.” It seems hard to imagine a door being more tightly shut on someone who obviously wants to enter!

            And yet he was returning from Jerusalem where he wanted to worship. He was reading from the prophet Isaiah about the suffering servant: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” This passage likely resonated with a man who also had no descendants! The eunuch had found in Judaism the seeds of faith that he wanted to flourish in his life. But he was plagued by a serious question – “Can I be included?”
            A little further in Isaiah he could have read this amazing passage: “Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.” (Isaiah 56:3-5) In contrast to the door slamming passage from Deuteronomy, this promise from Isaiah was a welcoming breath of fresh air.

            Phillip began with the Isaiah passage and told the eunuch the good news about Jesus. It must have inspired the man with hope and confidence for when they passed some water, he asked: “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” I am sure that this request brought a smile to Phillip’s lips. No doubt his mind also registered complaints he was likely to hear as he reported this story of his mission activity! But to his credit he baptized the eunuch. And then they went their separate ways – Phillip to Azotus, and the eunuch back to Ethiopia. But as he rode for days headed through Egypt to Ethiopia, he rejoiced the whole way.

            Jesus’ love and forgiveness extends to all. That is surely a reason for rejoicing. Amazing Grace!

- Kenny Payne



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