I have always loved the story we are looking at today because of the mode of travel Philip got to enjoy at the end. One of my recurrent dreams is flying and this story speaks to that dream. I re-read it today and saw something even more exciting than that! It was obedience and open doors.
Philip has been sharing the gospel in Samaria for some time. Those that he ministered to have now received the Holy Spirit through the apostle’s prayers. I believe they were on a firm foundation to continue growing in the faith. I don’t know who God sent as a replacement shepherd for Philip but he was needed elsewhere, so off he went.
What was it about Philip that made him so quick to follow the Spirit’s urgings? We think of the apostle Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles but Philip was the one to break that ground first with the Samaritans and now with an Ethiopian. He went wherever he was led without a fuss. VERY fortunate for this Ethiopian eunuch that he did so too.
We never learn the name of the man Philip met but I’m going to call him Paulo. I gave him a name so I could quit writing out “Ethiopian eunuch” every time I referred to him.
Paulo was a lifelong servant of Candace, the queen of Ethiopia. He was highly trusted and in a place of great authority. He was also a man seeking something more. Apparently he had learned of the Israelite’s God and learned that the place to meet with Him was in Jerusalem. We don’t know if he came as part of Candace’s entourage or if he traveled there on his own. We do know that his purpose was to worship God.
The Israelite’s God was foreign to him but very compelling. Paulo willingly read anything he could get his hands on about this God. He didn’t really understand all that he was reading, but it still spoke to his heart. I would not be surprised at all to learn that Paulo had actually prayed for understanding or someone to help him understand the texts he had acquired.
While looking at Paulo’s activities I realized something. Paulo was well educated and had financial means of his own. Unless he had purchased the texts he was reading through his master’s money, he would have had to acquire the scriptures with his own funds. It would be exciting to know if he had been allowed to go to Jerusalem to worship on the condition that he return with a copy of the Torah for the queen to read also. But then would he have felt allowed to open the queen’s property and pour over it as he traveled back? Probably not so this was most likely his own copy. Very fortunate slave indeed!
Back to Philip. Philip had no idea where he was going or for what purpose when the angel of the Lord spoke to him. “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (verse 26). No mile marker identified. No landmarks pointed to. No persons named to meet up with. And no indication of what to be looking for. Kind of like when Abram left the land of Harran. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Abram had a promise on the other end of this calling but I believe he was just as clueless as Philip when he struck out.
Philip didn’t have to wait as long as Abram did to find out what God had in mind. Once Philip stepped out in obedience the Spirit showed him the next piece of the puzzle. “Go over and join this chariot” (verse 29). In other words, “Go up to this perfect stranger and strike up a conversation so you can get in his car with him.”
Sure! Any time God. I live to do something like that. For me, not so much. But did you see what Philip’s response was? “He ran to him” (verse 30a) and eaves dropped on his private time. I’m wondering who Paulo was reading aloud to. Was he reading to himself or was there someone he was sharing this passage with? Was he asking his companion’s input or offering it as a passage for them to ponder?
The passage he picked was no accident. It was exactly the open door the Spirit had laid out for Philip to walk through. “Do you understand what you are reading?” (verse 30b).
Instead of being offended by Philip’s intrusion on his private time Paulo welcomed him. He recognized Philip’s question as more than a curiosity. He saw it as an invitation to explain to him the meaning he had been seeking. Again, was it an answer to Paulo’s prayer?
Paulo wasted no time on getting to know Philip or ask him for his credentials to teach him the scriptures. He invited Philip in immediately and began to drink deeply of the knowledge the Spirit was pouring out. Paulo was OVERJOYED with the answers Philip was providing. He was ready to do exactly as Philip had relayed as the evidence of believers in Jesus.
Paulo’s next question could have been a show stopper; “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (verse 36). Well, let’s see. You are not Jewish. I am not one of the apostles. We don’t have the proper witnesses or clothing…..
But instead of a litany of “why not’s” Philip trusts in the process that has brought him here. There is NO way this wasn’t ordained by God. First, sent on the road by an angel. Second, prompted to join the chariot by the Spirit. And third, given the PERFECT text to begin sharing the gospel.
Philip willingly and quite happily did exactly as Paulo had asked. And so began the spread of the word into Ethiopia. What an amazing story for the start of the gospel!
I love how unfazed Philip was with the next leg of his journey. “Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea” (verse 40). I personally would have either had a “Hallelujah moment” or been scared by “missing time.” Not Philip. Just another day in service to God.
So why did Philip get such an extraordinary experience? I believe it was because he had proven himself consistently faithful. Not once do we hear Philip say, “Not now, I’m busy”, or “Who? Me?” Instead at every turn he looks for the next opportunity to serve. In Samaria, in Jerusalem, while serving meals, while praying for the sick, and on the side of the road. He is ready and willing to share the gospel wherever he was and in whatever he was doing. That’s the kind of man God can use. And because He can trust him to be available God can do some amazing things through him.
Father God, how I wish I was as “available” as Philip. So many times in my life I’ve questioned if it was Your voice and held back just in case it wasn’t. I’m certain Philip developed his “listening ear” through time spent with You. I wish I had his confidence.
You just reminded me that I share a different kind of listening ear but one just as exciting as Philip’s. You speak to me through Your stories and help me find insight in them. Often I don’t even realize where we are going until we get there. My willingness to go without a plan or final destination is my trust point. Thank You for that and thank You for always meeting me at each turn. Some days I feel a bit more uncertain of where we are going but You NEVER leave me wondering by the end. Thank You Lord. And thank You for letting me share this journey, uncharted as it may be, with others. Thank You for my “open door.”