The Philip that is the main character in this passage is not the Philip who is one of the Twelve. This Philip is one of the seven Greek speaking Christians that were chosen, along with Stephen, to make sure that the Greek speaking widows were fairly treated in the daily distribution of food in Acts 6. We can see that this is so, since Acts 8:1 tells us that “all except the apostle were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.”
Sometimes when we read about what Jesus or the Twelve or Paul did, we think that these were not ordinary people. But in Acts, we see people other than just the Twelve or Paul doing great works of God and spreading the gospel.
After preaching in Samaria successfully, an angel of the Lord tells Philip to head south on a wilderness road. On the road, he encounters an Ethiopian court official in charge of the treasury. We do not know the Ethiopian’s backstory, but he is a worshiper of the God of the Jews, having gone to Jerusalem to worship and now was headed back home. He is reading the book of Isaiah.
The Holy Spirit prompts Philip to join these travelers, and as Philip joins in, he hears the Ethiopian reading Isaiah out loud. Philip starts a conversation by asking whether the Ethiopian understands what he is reading. The Ethiopian admits that he does not understand, but obviously is interested in learning, so invites Philip to sit beside him as they travel.
The passage the Ethiopian happens to be reading is a section that points to Jesus as the coming Messiah. Philip uses the passage to proclaim the good news about Jesus, the Ethiopian readily accepts the good news, and coming upon some water, he insists on stopping the chariot so that he can be baptized by Philip.
The Spirit of the Lord immediately transports Philip to Azotus and he continues to proclaim the good news to all the towns until he reaches Caesarea.
An Ethiopian hears the good news, accepts it and is baptized. We can only guess how many people the Ethiopian told about this mysterious encounter with Philip and the good news about Jesus Christ. None of this would have happened if everything had not fallen into time and place:
- Had Philip ignored his calling, delayed his departure, or taken a different route, the encounter would not have happened
- Had the Ethiopian not been worshipping in Jerusalem and not been going home on this road at this particular time, the encounter would not have happened
- Just at the right time, the Holy Spirit tells Philip to approach the chariot
- The Ethiopian just happened to be reading the scriptures, and the particular passage about the sacrifice of the Messiah
- Not only was the Ethiopian reading the passage, but was reading it out loud, so Philip was able to use it as an opening to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ
- There just happened to be some water when the Ethiopian had accepted the Gospel and was willing to commit his life to Christ
Of course, this was not a series of coincidences. Luke makes it clear that the whole thing was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Due to Philip’s willingness to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he is able to respond immediately and do exactly as he is told.
We also see that after Philip is transported to Azotus, he apparently did not get detailed instructions from the Holy Spirit, but he knew to continue his travels and proclaim the good news to all the towns he passed through.
So how can we emulate Philip? We can first devote ourselves to proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ. Even without specific instructions from the Holy Spirit, we should be ready to share God’s love with others. We should diligently be doing the Kingdom work that has been delegated to us – Preaching, teaching, sharing, feeding, visiting, fellowshipping, preparing for Sunday morning services, board meetings, etc.
We also should be willing to act on specific things that the Holy Spirit brings to us. Often, these things can be time and/or location sensitive, so we need to go where we are guided to, at the time we are guided to go, and then proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to whomever and however we are prompted to do so.
Luke, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, did not write Acts to just preserve history or to entertain us. It is written so that we can see ordinary people doing extraordinary things through their faith and obedience to the Lord, so that we too, might carry on the Kingdom work until either the Lord comes back, or we leave this earth.
(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our worship service on July 11th.)