There’s a thread throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts that accentuates the reality of God’s providence and planning. People find themselves suddenly prompted to hit the road, or they suddenly show up just in time to encounter Jesus or the apostles. Through these many surprise encounters, God built up His church. On one such occasion, recorded in Acts 8:26-29, a disciple of Jesus was sent to the middle of nowhere without any clue why.
26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road
that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.)
27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”
When we think about sharing the gospel with a lost world, we often focus on the hostility and resistance Christians experience. That’s not without justification; often the world’s reaction to the gospel is visceral, violent, and harsh. But that’s not always the case. The story of the Ethiopian reminds us that many are seeking God.
In this case, the Ethiopian knew enough to come to Jerusalem to look for God, but in many cases, people will look wherever some semblance of hope and spirituality can be found. People rush to these transcendent promises because they’re hungry. They’re desperate, and they will cling to whatever hope they can find. If we’re attentive, we can see it happening all around us, and we just might be able to point them to something more deep, lasting, and meaningful in Jesus.
How have you witnessed people looking for God in all the wrong places?
Philip was sent by God for just such an encounter. Upon hearing the angel’s command, Philip obeyed, dropping what he was doing and heading out on the road. Just a few verses earlier, Philip was enjoying a thriving ministry in Samaria. (See 8:4-8.) One could imagine that a command like this might be met with some inner resistance. Any thriving work is hard to leave, and doing so takes a great deal of faith. Philip, of course, had such faith and hit the road, traveling through the wilderness until he encountered a single chariot bearing a single Ethiopian man.
There are many reasons for this encounter not to have happened. Philip had a good thing going in Samaria; he might have just stayed home and enjoyed the community he was already a part of. The Ethiopian might not have come to Jerusalem to seek to worship God; there was surely no shortage of religious opportunity in Africa at the time.
Likewise, Philip might not have overcome the social anxiety that would likely have accompanied this encounter. Not only was the Ethiopian ethnically different from Philip, a hurdle significant enough at any point in history, but he was also of a higher social status than Philip. Luke tells us that he was a high official of “Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.” Philip was an ordinary Jew living in Judea, a commoner; approaching someone of the Ethiopian’s higher station wouldn’t have been easy.
The Holy Spirit sent Philip in spite of all of these things, inviting him to overcome several layers of fear and resistance. His prompting ran against common sense expectations, reminding us that the kingdom of God advances in surprising and counterintuitive ways.
What are some ways you’ve been surprised by how God has led you, your church, or your friends to be on mission?
How can we cultivate a heart willing to respond obediently to the Spirit’s leading, no matter the risks?
This was an excerpt from Mike Cosper, The Gospel Project: The Spirit Who Empowers © 2018 Lifeway Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®. Copyright 2018 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.