“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place.” (Acts 8:26)
In the midst of a powerful outworking of God’s Spirit in Samaria, Philip was told to depart and go to Gaza. He was one of the first deacons, a spiritual man responsible for material things in the church, but by the time we see him here, he has become a preacher of the gospel. Persecution had struck the church in Jerusalem. People fled, so did Philip, and he went down to Samaria. God did amazing things through him, and the people there were receptive to the Lord and his message. Many were saved. God’s power was evident. But in the midst of this powerful outworking of God’s Spirit in Samaria, Philip was told to depart and go to Gaza.
Luke, the author of Acts, adds this commentary: “this is a desert place.” In other words, uninhabited. God took Philip from the bustle of fruitfulness and placed him where no one lived. As the story unfolds, God’s plan becomes clear. A prominent Ethiopian official is headed back home after a time of searching for the truth in Jerusalem. In his chariot, he read the book of Isaiah, but without any understanding of the text. When Philip saw him he asked if he could teach the man. The Ethiopian obliged, and Philip proceeded to show him Christ from the passage, subsequently leading him to saving faith.
But what are some lessons we can glean from this movement in Acts, this portion of Philip’s life?
1. God’s leadership of our lives often defies human logic
God had something for Philip in the desert, but it took faith for the man to go. Joy and gladness and salvation, everything the early disciples (and current ones) could have hoped for, was occurring at a rapid rate in Samaria. But in the midst of the good times, God asked his man to move out to the desert. Sometimes God has something for you in the desert. Too often we feel led out only when times are bad, but what about when they are good? Philip allowed God to direct his life in ways which defied the human view of things.
2. Some people are driven to Scripture in search for more
The Ethiopian man was a eunuch, a servant of Queen Candace. He had gone to Jerusalem for something, perhaps to experience God, but he returned empty-handed. He knew he had not found what he was looking for, so he read the scroll of Isaiah. As he read, his heart longed to know the God who wrote it. People like this Ethiopian exist today. They are alone, reading the Bible, in search of a deeper and more meaningful life. They are yet unfulfilled, and God, by his Spirit, is ready to speak to them.
3. We must obey the promptings of the Spirit
Philip was told to go to the desert by an angel. Once there, the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot” (8:29). We don't know how the Spirit spoke to Philip, but we do know the Spirit lived inside him. Perhaps he experienced a simple inner prompting, clear and precise, that he was to overtake the vehicle. He knew the Spirit was speaking to him, so he went. Believers today, in obeying the promptings of the Spirit, might be able to bring clarity and insight to those seeking the truth. Philip listened to the Spirit and this man was saved.
4. We must provide guidance in the Scripture
The man told Philip what he had been reading. The passage could not have been more perfect, an evidence of God’s providence. Not only was he in Isaiah, but the fifty-third chapter, which is one of the most explicit texts prophesying of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. God had set Philip up nicely, so with ease, he entered into dialogue with the man and “beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (35). Times will come in your life when you will be asked to open up the word of Christ to another. Much misinformation about the Bible is prevalent. Believers must equip themselves and, at times, bring a word of explanation to a seeker.
5. The Scripture connects with people’s personal experiences
The man pondered a passage in Isaiah which read, of Jesus, “who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth” (8:33). He may have, as he read, thought of his own singleness, as an eunuch, and the fact he would not leave offspring. As he read of Christ taken away from the earth without a generation to follow him, no children, he wondered. Interestingly, a few chapters later in Isaiah, the text would read “let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3-5). All this would have stirred the heart of this man. The Scripture does this. The word of God, it connects with the hearts and souls and minds of the people God has created. It speaks.
6. Get to Jesus as quickly as you can
Again, Philip jumped at the chance to declare Christ from the Scripture. He began with Isaiah 53 but went elsewhere in the Old Testament to proclaim Christ. He told the man of the “good news about Jesus.” He gave him the gospel message. Jesus said the Scriptures are they which bear witness about him (John 5:39). Philip believed this and acted as if were so. Often we debate over nonessential or inconsequential themes, questions, or doctrines, but we must take people to Christ as quickly as we can.
7. Try to dream about what might happen if you said “YES!”
Philip is a fascinating character, especially when you consider the various ways God led him. He was led to Samaria by persecution. He was led to Gaza by an angel. He was led to the Ethiopian’s chariot by the Spirit. After this, “the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away.” He “found himself at Azotus.” He then passed through various towns, preaching the gospel, before entering Caesarea, where he lived for at least twenty years, raising a family with four daughters devoted to Christ (Acts 21:8-9). But none of this had been planned by Philip. When the Hellenist widows complained they were neglected in the daily distribution (Acts 6), and the church decided to appoint seven good men for the task, they asked if Philip would help out. He said yes. He submitted himself to the task. And the rest is history. Philip went for it, and God exploded it into a beautiful life. What might happen if we said yes to the Lord?