ACTS 8 – THE DISAPPEARING ACT
Every time I sit down to talk about another chapter in the Creator God’s Epic storyline, I’m overwhelmed at the things that I could say. This chapter, yet again, holds so much. There’s the whole topic of blessing and prosperity vs. strife and persecution. [v1-3] The matter of how we hold up under the worst conditions, and how we respond to unexpected situations (such as being displaced and abused) is critical. [v4- 8] Then there’s the subject of deception and magic tricks vs. miraculous signs. Since a powerful deception is coming[a], how can we tell the difference between the two, when more and more of these baffling physics-defying “miracles” are performed before our own eyes? [v9-25] Today’s chapter then finishes with an amazing story of how Father God goes out of His way to help those who truly want to understand. [v26-40]
It’s clear from the Creator God’s epic storyline, that He’s had a global agenda from the beginning. He commanded His image-bearers (His representatives on earth) to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.[b] When they didn’t, He scattered them at the Tower of Babel.[c] Then, from among the nations, He chose a family for Himself so that through them, all families on earth will be blessed.[d] When they were neither an example nor a blessing, He scattered them abroad.[e] Then, in today’s chapter, the early Followers of The Way, were scattered once more.[f]
The unfortunate thing is that most of us don’t like to be moved on. Sheep, who are comfortable in one grassy field, become indignant (as only sheep can be) when being moved on to the next grassy field. Historically, it’s really only after trouble, that we’re forced onto the journey of seeking and finding our “spirit path” – what our Maker wants us to do. [v1-4]
It was easy for Simon the Sorcerer to delude the people, in today’s chapter, because they were looking for a miracle with the convenience of not going far to find it. After all, why go to Jerusalem when the mysterious is easily found on the High Street? Unlike Philip, Simon didn’t require his listeners to be baptised [v16], which would have included repentance: a complete 180° change in behaviour and viewpoint.[g] It’s more exciting to pay to see a healer, fortune teller, or even a “prophet”, than to look inwardly at the state of your heart. Philip’s message was the same as Jesus’ – “repent” i.e. feel genuine remorse for each separate thing that you remember doing wrong, then make life-style changes away from repeating those things again.
This here, is where the real miracle rests. It’s in the one who’s going out of his way to unravel the mystery, and it seems a most unlikely person – an Ethiopian Eunuch – who’s found searching “the script” for understanding. [v30-35] Against all odds, and quite miraculously by His own GRACE, Father God sent along Phillip to help this man with his search.
But panning out from this road-side encounter with a random stranger, is a much bigger picture, which includes modern day Africa. It’s an ever-expanding “bigger picture” – the Creator God’s Global Plan – and it now includes this Ethiopian Eunuch in today’s chapter.
We don’t know much about him except that he’s a “seeker”. He probably got time off work from the royal palace in Ethiopia, to go to Jerusalem to worship. [v27] My guess is that knowledge of a Creator God, and a surviving faith in Him, extended down from the days of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – who may have been from the same region. The Jewish exiles who were forced out of Israel at the time of the Babylonians, and deported to every corner of the known world in the days of Queen Esther, may have helped to keep an interest in the Creator God alive in North Africa, and it spread to Ethiopia.
As protector of the royal treasury of the Kandake, which means “Queen of the Ethiopians” [v27], this traveller in his chariot would have been one of the most trusted people in his country. And so, I wonder what role this important ‘protector of royal treasures’ had, in the spread across Africa of the ‘hidden treasures of God’s Word’.[h]
So when we read an isolated chapter, it’s never an outdated story simply recorded to entertain us. This epic saga, that has been miraculously preserved so that we can read it today, is a matrix of multi-layered information – an ancient map leading us back to our Maker.
When 2015 became Mark’s record-breaking year for hospital procedures, for example, and after severing his quad muscle from his knee, Mark began to joke: “If God wanted me to minister to sick people, He should just make me a hospital chaplain. It would certainly be less painful!” But then he experienced something special. Each day during his “recuperation walks” around the park, people began to stop and chat. For years we passed neighbours in the streets, prayed for opportunities and wondered how on earth we could “break the ice”. Then, unexpectedly, and not at all in a way that we would have wanted, Mark “struck oil“! Every day, when he went to the park, he’d return with story after story of conversations and opportunities for talking with people and passing out his tract: “A Father who Lost His Only Son”.
We want the blessing of protection against accidents (and miraculous healing when things go wrong), but – like Philip in today’s chapter – we’re finding the blessing of “fruitfulness” in being in the right place at the right time. Now I wonder if “encountering the miraculous” is hindered because we’re not searching for it in the right places.
Unlike the Ethiopian Eunuch two thousand years ago, we may never get to experience a disappearing act that will make us go on our way praising God. [v39] But the real miracle, that’s surely within our “law of probability” today, is when the Creator of the Universe goes out of His way to find us where we are – sitting on life’s road, alone, and without understanding of any part of the map that He’s provided for us. Then, He opens our eyes to the greatest mystery of all: when our faults disappear, in an incredible divine exchange.[i]
CLICK to return to today’s “Daily Breadcrumbs”
[a] 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12
[b] Genesis 1:28
[c] Genesis 11:1-9
[d] Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 26:4; 28:14
[e] Acts 2:5
[f] Mark 16:15
[g] Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:2-3
[h] Matthew 13:52
[i] Isaiah 53:7-10