Good morning! I have a lot of favorite passages in the Bible, but the stories in today’s reading (Acts 8-9) contain a number of truly remarkable accounts. I’m inclined to say less and give you more time to just engage the stories, but there’s one theme here that keeps jumping out at me: how outsiders repeatedly find their way into the community of Christ-followers.
After Stephen’s martyrdom (which we read yesterday), early Christians face intense persecution and are scattered beyond Jerusalem. This development is actually a good thing, because the message of Jesus gets sent more broadly throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Philip preaches and heals in Samaria, bringing many to belief in the power of Christ even though Samaritans at this time are all-but-sworn enemies of Jews. While in Samaria, Philip has a hand in the conversion of the famous magician Simon, who doesn’t understand divine power and actually tries to buy the Holy Spirit to use it in a magical act! Though they don’t fit easily with the Hebrews and the Jerusalem Greeks already there, the Samaritans and Simon are added to the widening table of Christ-following fellowship.
Philip then encounters the Ethiopian eunuch, another outsider who finds his way to faith. Eunuchs were uncommon enough to be curiosities, even in ancient times. Those we read about in the Bible are entrusted with a great deal of official responsibility, because they are regarded as loyal (undistracted) servants. However, eunuchs experience life as “always a bridesmaid, never a bride”, excluded from reigning because the ability to father children was considered one of the prime powers a man could have or exercise. But this eunuch demonstrates curiosity and wants to learn more about the prophet Isaiah that he’s reading (a rare feat already). When Philip shares with him a Christ-centered interpretation of Isaiah, the eunuch is committed on the spot and wants to get baptized immediately. Philip obliges in some water by the side of the road, and another “queer” person shows up in Christian circles.
There is no greater misfit, nobody more justifiably excluded from the earliest Christian communities, than the Jewish man Saul. His zealous persecution of Christ-followers, dragging them to prison, gives him a reputation throughout Judea. Yet Saul of all people receives a heavenly manifestation of Christ, expressing divine displeasure in bright light and resulting blindness. Ananias receives the vision saying to welcome Saul, and Saul gets the same vision back to look for Ananias. But it wouldn’t have worked, had not Ananias been willing to get over his (fitting) fear of Saul! Despite grave misgivings, Ananias greets Saul as “brother”, Saul regains his sight and is baptized. He becomes such a powerful apologist for the Christian message that other Jewish leaders try to have him killed.
This is precisely how the early Christian church realizes such explosive growth: it dares greatly and risks welcoming in people who are the farthest thing from orthodoxy. I lift that up because it’s one of the reasons I’m in the church today—because I too was an outsider, welcomed in. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Acts 10-12. Thanks for reading!