26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.’
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’ 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him.
Many of these posts have been partly me trying to get my head around trying to be faithful to God in a world and (a) role(s) which sometimes are a very struggle.
Often people talk about strategy which definitely is important, I think God is into people being intentional and visionary (after-all if where there is no vision the people perish, the reverse must be true, when we have God’s vision people are saved and made whole!).
Yet I worry sometimes that when we talk of strategy, God can be put in a box, as he’s pretty unpredictable and likes to keep us on our toes!
Strategically, Jesus chatting to the woman at the well (John 4) was a pretty poor strategy, she had no real influence, was shunned by her community… There was 1000 good reasons why Jesus SHOULDN’T have talked to her, but she becomes an amazing ambassador telling everyone about Jesus (in fact their conversation is interesting as its the first time in John he directly identifies himself as the Messiah, contrast this with Nicodemus in the previous chapter).
Strategically, Philip should have stayed in Samaria. It’s working well there, people are being saved and signs and wonders are happening. Its a key hub for the area. It certainly makes more strategic sense than standing in the middle of the desert.
But it wasn’t just standing in the desert, it was standing in the desert at the hottest point of the day, most of the time being obedient isn’t easy, its the tougher choice… It is often a calling out of your comfort zone.
And presumably Philip hung around there for a while, I am convinced as Christians too often we quit too early, I was challenged early on in my Christian life by Bill Wilson (of Metro-Ministries, the worlds largest Sunday School in Brooklyn New York) who said: “Christians often quit before the miracles kick it”.
Philip must have wondered why he left the ‘fruitful place’ for the ‘barren place’, in todays’ imagery why he left the stadium for the scout hut, the crowd for one individual…
Like the Woman at the Well there were a 1000 reasons why he SHOULDN’T speak to him… He was a gentile, he was ‘defiled’ as he was a Eunuch and good Jewish young men don’t talk to defiled gentiles. Philip probably had identity issues as it is thought he is the Philip who is one of the deacons rather than the one of the 12 (a second generation disciple).
In fact God was asking him to spark up a conversation with someone in a carriage so probably meant running a bit, breaking a sweat, a bit of a challenge… But then by his obedience, God opens the door, the Eunuch is reading Isaiah, a bit like coming across someone on the train reading a ‘Why Jesus’ and saying to you “can you help me with this”…
The Eunuch clearly was a person of peace, have spoken about this before in missional posts, people to look out for who are open to the Kingdom and welcome you and often are gatekeepers to wider networks. Christian tradition teaches us that from the Eunuch’s encounter with Philip, Ethiopia and the continent of Africa, heard about Jesus.
We often see things with our own eyes and our own strategies in our head, often we are task-focused too, and so often we forget the importance of the one person, the individual.
The old youth work joke is “in your Sunday school class you may well have the next Archbishop of Canterbury so make sure you are nice to her”.
Sometimes our work can feel hard, and low numbers can be discouraging, but we don’t always know what God is doing behind the scenes, the seeds that germinate later on in peoples lives, the throw away comment that says so much more than we could ever think.
That smile when the day was tough, the hand on the arm when you needed some comfort… The Bible says “Do not despise the day of small things”.
As people we often want to be broad, wide and superficial… yet God is often localized and deep, doing unobtrusive work often where we least expect it.
Often it is in the challenge and pain of obedience that later on we realize the fruitful work of the spirit which at the time often seemed strategically crazy but divinely right.