Understanding Grace: A Eunuch’s Story

(This is a story I wrote back in 2011 based on the story of the Eunuch in Acts 8. It is his perspective of the events that took place that day.)

I am proud that I can trace my ancestry all the way back to the days when Babylon attacked Jerusalem.  While Nebuchadnezzar was sacking the city, a group of my ancestors fled south.  They established themselves in Ethiopia and we’ve had a strong Jewish presence there ever since.  I was raised to be faithful to YHWH, my God.  You see?  We learned the lesson that he was trying to teach us.  He wanted us to be faithful to him, not to other gods.  He wanted to be first in our lives.  So, when we arrived here, we built a synagogue and we’ve been faithful in our worship.  Imagine the joy of my ancestors when the temple was restored and we were, once again, allowed to come to our God in worship and to offer the yearly sacrifice for our sins.  I wished I could share in that joy.  But, I could not.

I am a eunuch.  I didn’t choose this.  It was forced upon me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bitter…or at least, I’m not anymore.  Candace, my queen, has seen that I have a quick mind, I’m shrewd in trade, and I’m a great bookkeeper.  She’s placed me in charge of the entire Ethiopian treasury.  When she holds banquets, I’m allowed to sit at her table and I am wealthy in my own right!  I lack for very little.  Even though I am her servant…well, truly I am her slave, I have a great deal of freedom.  I cannot marry.  That has been denied me, but that’s alright.  I know quite a few people who are normal who’ve never married.  Instead, I’ve contented myself with the responsibility I’ve been given and with the pursuit of my God.  And, it’s my pursuit of God that led me to a crisis.

You see?  As a Eunuch, I could not truly worship my God.  Because I am a eunuch, I cannot prove that I am a Jew and according to the law, I’m not allowed into the Assembly.  I’m welcome in the court of the Gentiles, but I’m one of God’s people!  I wanted so badly to be able to enter the Assembly, to worship with the rest of my nation, and to receive that special ministry from my priests!  I wanted to be able to sit and listen and discuss God’s word.  And you know what’s so wrong with this?  The gentiles could move from the gentile court to the Assembly by becoming Jewish!  They could convert and be circumcised!  They could enter fellowship with fellow Jews and I couldn’t!  Because I couldn’t be circumcised, I could never move beyond the court of the gentiles and by birth I am a Jew!  The desire to learn about God was so strong in my heart, but I was considered unworthy of teaching because I could never truly become a recognized Jew or move into the Assembly.  So, I tried to learn on my own.  I read God’s word faithfully and struggled with understanding.  In fact, the scripture says that the fear of the Lord comes from understanding and I wanted nothing more than to understand my God and not just understand him, but to have the deep relationship with him that I see our forefathers share with him.

My story, then, begins on a day when I was returning from Jerusalem.  Once again, I had traveled to Jerusalem to worship and once again, I was only allowed into the court of the Gentiles.  But, I love my God and I worshiped as fully as I was allowed.  I had so many questions, but I wasn’t allowed to ask them.  After the time of worship was finished, I was on the long trip back to Ethiopia.  I was on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza and it was a hot day.  In fact, it was especially noticeable because we were riding through a desert area.  I was reading from the book of Isaiah and pondering it out loud.  Have you ever read something in the Torah and not understood it?  Well, this was one of those passages.  I’d always wanted to ask someone about it, but whom could I ask?  I’d prayed for understanding, but it never came!  Anyways, I was reading this section out loud hoping that it might help me to come to grasp with it if I heard it out loud.  As I was reading, I became aware of a man running beside my chariot.  I was surprised when he called out over the rumble of the chariot wheels, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

With a touch of of bitterness and frustration, I answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  Like that was going to happen.  As I said, before, I was never really considered worthy of teaching, because I could never move beyond the court of the Gentiles.

He introduced himself as Philip and asked if he could sit with me.  He said he’d been waiting for me to come along.  I was a bit skeptical, but even though he was a bit dusty from running next to my chariot, he was dressed well and looked educated.  To my surprise and that of my guards, I actually invited him into the chariot.  Once he was settled and had a chance to refresh himself with a drink from his water bottle, I showed him what I was reading and read it out loud, “Like a sheep led to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.  In his humiliation, justice was denied him.  Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken from the earth.”

“About whom,” I asked him, “does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”  You see?  I could relate to the feeling of the person about whom this was written!  I felt like justice was denied to me as well!  I mean, how just is it that I, a Jew, would be denied worship with my brothers just because a part of my body was amputated?

Then, Philip began to explain the scripture to me.  Beginning with Genesis, he started to share the story of God in a way I’d never before heard it explained.  He took me book by book, promise by promise, and explained to me about how man had chosen to turn his back on God.  He fully explained how anytime a person sins, he is breaking God’s commandments, because he is placing himself and his own desires before those of God.  He explained how God had called his people to be a beacon of light and how badly they’d failed.  Explaining the Law, he showed that no one was righteous enough to come before God.  It wasn’t just me as a eunuch, but it was every man, woman, and eunuch.  He explained that the law was supposed to drive us toward God.  We were supposed to see how impossible it was to be the perfect person God demands that we be, because we are flawed by sin.  Then, continuing with the law, he showed me why a sacrifice was necessary.  Yes!  I know!  I wanted to take part in the national sacrifice!  I mean, there were special provisions for people like me, but I was never fully allowed to worship.

He grinned and continued, explaining the need for the yearly sacrifices and the offerings.  I learned that, while the sacrifices were given annually, they weren’t sufficient.  He explained that they were designed to point toward one ultimate sacrifice, one that must be provided by God.  He led me through the story of Abraham and Issac and showed me how God provided the necessary sacrifice after Abraham demonstrated his faith.  The day passed as he told the story of Moses and how God provided salvation for his people by their deliverance from Egypt, from their hunger and thirst in the desert by giving them bread from heaven, and their deliverance from the desert into the promised land with Joshua.  I listened raptly as he took me through the many stories of sin and salvation at the hands of God’s appointed judges, the sweet story of redemption with Ruth, and the establishment of the kingdom under David after the failure of Saul and the promises given to David because of his faith.  In those promises, God said that he would establish his throne forever through David’s descendant.

David’s fall and redemption fascinated me and he took me through prophet after prophet and and their calls to repentance for a rebellious people.  He even quoted some of the Psalms and took me to the book of Daniel.  I was amazed to learn that God didn’t just call us, the Jews, to repentance.  He called all of the nations!  And, he showed me the promises of a Messiah, a promised one who would provide the means of that repentance.  He showed me the one who would establish God’s kingdom and explained how he was also to be the one who would offer the sacrifice that would end all sacrifices.  And that brought us back to my original question.  “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?”

Then he started to tell me about the coming of the Messiah, one Yeshua of Nazareth.  In Greek, his name was Jesus.  He told me of the years that he’d spent living with and learning from Jesus.  From his conception to his resurrection, Philip showed me how Jesus met the prophecies concerning the Messiah.  He told me about the ways Jesus was tempted and how he resisted and he shared with me the the ways Jesus had made the Torah come to life for his followers.  He explained how Jesus, through his sacrifice, had met the need for the sacrifice.  All thoughts of my voyage were forgotten as I listened to this man explain the scriptures to me!  Finally, someone was willing to talk to me!  Someone was willing to explain!  And my heart was close to breaking with the joy of what I was learning.

And then it broke.

He paused in his teaching and said something special to me.  He explained to me that we come to God through faith.  It isn’t the physical mark of circumcision that gives us entrance into the presence of God.  It isn’t the physical mark of circumcision that allows us into the Assembly.  We’re allowed in through circumcision of the spirit.  In his grace, God provided His son Jesus as a substitution to receive His wrath and as a sacrifice to remove our sin.  We gain entrance through faith in this Jesus, the Messiah.  He even explained that Jesus had taught that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no man can come to the Father except through him and that God so loved the world that He sent His only son, so that any who believed in him would be saved from God’s wrath and that they would have eternal life.  He told me wondrous stories of Jesus healing the blind, the sick, the deaf, and raising the dead.  He told me of Jesus accepting prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, zealots, and all manner of folks.  He told me of how Jesus is the bread of life, the water that flows up and quenches our spiritual thirst eternally.  Unbelievably, he showed me that Jesus was not just a man, but that he was God and even gave me scripture to back it up!  He explained to me about our need for a savior because we are drowning in our sin.  And he explained how Jesus is that Savior.  He told me of those who had repented of their sins; those who had surrendered their lives to Jesus as their Lord, their ruler, their savior…their God.  He told me of their new faith, their new lives, the joy they shared, and how they had been baptized to show their entrance into the Kingdom of God, an entrance already gained through their acceptance of the faith given to them by God! He explained to me how our bodies were the true temple and told me about how the Holy Spirit comes into and dwells within his believers.

As I listened, my heart broke!  It broke because I realized something.  While I might never be able to be circumcised, that didn’t matter.  What mattered was the faith that I had in YHWH, my God.  What mattered was my willingness to surrender control over my life to Jesus.  I knew how to be a servant.  It was my profession, but while I was a servant in body to Candace, she’d never owned my heart.  It had always been my own.  And, in that moment, I surrendered my heart, my body, my whole life to Jesus.  Suddenly, I felt close to my God like never before in my life!  I realized that I had finally entered the Assembly, passed through it, and stepped into the Holy of Holies itself to stand and worship before my High Priest, Jesus of Nazareth!  I was never able to enter on my own.  While I’d always blamed my physical imperfection, I truly wasn’t able to enter because of the sin in my heart.  I was as guilty of those sins as our forefathers who brought down God’s judgment on our land and led to my ancestors’ need to flee the land.  And though I was unable to enter the Assembly in the temple in Jerusalem, that was no longer important.  God’s temple was right here!  When I surrendered, the presence of the Holy Spirit entered in and I was free to worship!

I wept!  I shouted with joy!  I did a dance in my seat.  I grabbed Philip and kissed him on the cheeks and hugged this laughing man close!  Then, looking out the window, I saw an oasis.  Hoping against hope, I asked, “See?  Here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

I shouted for the chariot to stop.  In front of God, my guards, and my driver, Philip led me down into the water.  I proclaimed my faith out loud and with a warm smile he looked me in the eyes.  “I baptize you in the name of YHWH, our Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  As he lowered me he said, “Buried with Christ in baptism” and the water closed over my head.  Then as the water cascaded off me, he pulled me back up and said, “Risen again in the newness of life.”  I’d done it!  I was not only in the Assembly!  I was finally recognized as a part of God’s kingdom!  I ran to my guards and drivers, hugged them, shouted in joy and turned to thank Philip.

He was gone.  I looked all around the oasis and the desert that surrounded us, but he was no where to be found.  I can only believe that God sent him and then took him away.  But, his disappearance did nothing to diminish my joy.

I am no longer just a eunuch.  I am a man, a new man, a man of God!

Acts 8:26-40; John 3:14-21; John 14:6; Isaiah 53; and Deut. 23:1

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