And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert–Act 8:26
God Removed Philip from the Middle of Evangelistic Success
Philip was in the full tides of work for Christ when the message came from God that he must leave it. He had been preaching in Sebaste, the old city of Samaria, and his preaching had been crowned with wonderful success when suddenly there came the angel of the Lord with this summons to get southward towards Gaza. It was a strange command, swiftly and well obeyed. There was nothing of the spirit of Jonah about Philip. Perhaps Philip remembered Jesus in the desert and thought he was going to meet his Master there. Then came the hour when the chariot rolled by. It was a very picturesque and lordly equipage. Its occupant was the chancellor of the Nubian exchequer, and he was reading aloud, as the Eastern custom is. A few broken syllables fell on Philip’s ear in the brief respites of the jolting and the jarring, and Philip (to whom the Old Testament was doubly precious now) recognized the priceless chapter of Isaiah. Did he remember the prophecy of the psalms, “Ethiopia soon shall stretch out her hands to God” (Psa 68:31). Here was the stretched-out hand of Ethiopia, and God had so ordered it that it was not stretched in vain. Philip ran up to the side of the chariot–it was going very slowly on that rough desert road. He asked the courtier if he understood the chapter. The answer came, “How can I, without a guide?” And the passage closes with the preaching of a Savior, and with the conversion, baptism, and joy of this true seeker from afar for God.
From Crowds to an Individual: the Value of an Individual
Note then the value of a single soul. It must have seemed very strange and dark to Philip that he should be summoned from his Samaritan work. The tide was with him; enthusiasm was heightening vast crowds were moved by the preaching of Christ crucified. It would have been hard to leave all that through sickness; it was doubly hard to do it when well and strong. Could no one else be found for that desert work? Was it right to leave the thousands in Samaria for the single chariot of a southern courtier? I am sure that Philip had many a thought like that, for he was a man of like passions with ourselves. Then gradually it would grow very clear to him that a single soul must be very dear to God. He would remember how the shepherd had left the ninety and nine that the one sheep in the desert might be found. From that hour on to the day he died, Philip held fast in all his work for Christ to the infinite worth, in the eyes of Christ, of one. We must never forget that in a busy city. Where God is, we are not lost in any crowd. We are separately precious and separately sought. In the love of Jesus we all stand alone. One by one we are found and led and humbled till the day break and the shadows flee away.
Disappointed in Jerusalem, the Courtier Did Not Quit
Again observe that the earnest do not despair when disappointed. There is something very noble in this courtier. There is a touch of true greatness in the man. In a heathen court and with everything against him, his life had grown into a great cry for God. Somehow, he had got his hands on the Old Testament. Never a Jewish trader came to Meroe but the chancellor had earnest converse with him until at last nothing would ease his heart but the resolve to journey to Jerusalem. The Temple was there, and the priests and scribes were there–would he not learn all that he craved for there? And now he is returning homeward, a weary, baffled, disappointed man. He had craved for bread–they had given him a stone. He had cried, like Luther when he first saw Rome, “Hail, Holy City“; and the holy city had brought no solace to him. How many a man, in such a disappointment, would have cast his Scripture to the winds of heaven? But the eunuch was of another mould than that. His was too great a heart to nurse despair. He must still seek; he must still read; he must still study. He was deep in Isaiah on that desert road. And it was in that hour when his journey seemed so useless and his hope was quenched and his heart was sick and weary–it was then that he stepped into the light of Christ. We must remember there are disappointments in all seeking There come times when we all seem baffled in our quest. We are tempted to ask, What is the use of it? Is it worth while? Had we not better give in? We are often brought to the point of losing heart. In such moods recall the Ethiopian. He would still hold to it in spite of all failure. And on the day when everything seemed vain, the footsteps of the dawn were on the hills.
God Ordained What He Thought a Chance Meeting
Then lastly, God is behind many a chance meeting. I think that the driver of this Nubian chariot was not a little startled to see Philip; it was an unlikely place to light on any traveler. And when he got home to the stables of his master and told the story by the fire at night, all would agree that this accidental meeting had been one of the strange chances of the road. But we know that the meeting was not that. The hand of God had ordered and prepared it. It had been arranged for in the plans of heaven, though it seemed an accident to the dusky charioteer. We must believe that it is often so. Our friendships and comradeship’s do not begin haphazard. We seem to be thrown across each other’s path, but the hand of God has been ordering the way. Two people meet–we call the meeting chance. But life will be different evermore for both. It were well to strike out chance from our vocabulary, and in its place to put the will of God.