People grieve over many things. Loss is loss and it leaves us in a fog of grief and often despair. When one thinks of a childless grieving one thinks of a barren woman, maybe her husband. Seldom do we think of a barren single man. Yet the book of Acts tells us of a man who was barren and grieving the fact that he would never leave a heritage of children, a legacy of his mortal existence.
In Acts 8:26-40 is a compelling story of a man from Ethiopia. We are told in short form that he is a government official, and a eunuch. We know that in most ancient kingdoms, any male who works close to the royal family was often made into a eunuch. Dude, why would you sign up for that job? Well, in that time, the line of the family was critical to ownership rights, power and the enduring kingdom. Your name would not linger or long be remembered if you allowed your family line to be polluted. Even among not so royal people the ownership of land, heritage and community depended upon your offspring and your name. The Ethiopian was Rendered incapable of fathering children. He then would not be remembered. His life would be lived in anonymity and service to someone else's dream and vision.
The narrative tells us that he was a seeking man. We do not know all the details but he had a strong compulsion which drove him to travel all the way to Jerusalem to worship. His seeking would have left him wanting in the city of God because scripture tells us that no man made a eunuch would have been allowed in the Temple to worship. His longing and seeking would have turned away disappointed. Yet he was able to find a copy of the scroll of Isaiah which no doubt cost him handsomely. We find our eunuch friend on a desert road, heading back toward home, reading, searching, longing for understanding. We know this was the condition of his heart because God interrupted one of His choice servants named Philip and send him to meet the eunuch.
The encounter Philip had with this Official of the Queen of Ethiopia is an amazing example of the work of the Holy Spirit to bring a soul to Christ. Don't skip over the passage the eunuch was reading too quickly.
Acts 8:32-33 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the 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.”
We know very well this side of the cross that the prophet is talking about Jesus. I believe however that these where not the only words that captured this eunuch's heart and mind. "In his humiliation he was deprived of justice." I think the eunuch could identify with the injustice and humiliation of being deprived of a future for the sake of others. He could also identify with the next statement. "Who can speak of his descendants?" Imagine being a eunuch and discovering that the Messiah who was slaughtered like a lamb for your sins was also a man who would have no biological descendants. I cannot help but see this Ethiopian eyes fixed on the words of the text and those same eyes brimming over with overwhelming tears.
Philip knew the joy of taking a person at the point of ultimate discovery of the truth of who this person is, it is Jesus. Later Isaiah would write these words:
Is. 54:1 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD.
Who in their right mind calls a barren woman or man to sing for joy? Only someone who knows that the ultimate joy is yet to be had. There is joy in children, joy in life, joy in legacy but God has created more to this life for us. We where made for ultimate joy in the Lord himself. So rejoice in your grief, rejoice in your barrenness, rejoice in the God of your salvation.
Is. 54:4-5“Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.
Today in your daily movement you will encounter people for whom you have no possible way of knowing the private longings or suffering of their heart. Yet, you can trust that there is some kind of barrenness in their lives. An empty longing that only Jesus can fill. Be ready to start from where they are and tell them the "good news" the gospel of Jesus. It is the only cure for the barren heart.
I am amazed that a man who knew he would never be remembered is still spoken of two thousand years later. Why? Because our God sent His son to bear the barrenness of our lives so that we could be His offspring forever.
What An Amazing Gospel!