Just before His ascension into heaven, Jesus instructed his disciples to spread the good news of the kingdom of heaven throughout the world, beginning in Jerusalem. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit was poured out onto these disciples during the feast of Pentecost, as witnessed by thousands of devout believers gathered together there to worship God and to celebrate the festival, in accordance with the law of Moses. Over three thousand of these witnesses were baptized as new believers in Christ, and afterwards took the gospel back to their own nations to further the growth of God’s kingdom.
Not long afterwards, the Lord instructed one of His disciples to go on a mission trip to witness the good news of Jesus to a God-worshiper who was traveling home from Jerusalem. An angel of the Lord instructed the disciple Phillip to travel down a dusty road south of Jerusalem to encounter an Ethiopian eunuch, a powerful official who was responsible for the treasury of the queen. Philip found the man sitting in his chariot, reading a section of scripture from the prophet Isaiah, and quite puzzled about its meaning.
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
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. Acts 8:29,32-35 NIV
The Ethiopian official had come to Jerusalem to worship in faithful obedience to God, but apparently had missed the Pentecost event and Peter’s teaching. But whatever the situation was, God had placed this scripture upon his heart, and it impacted him enough so that he stopped the chariot to consider it.
The section of scripture he was reading, found in Isaiah 53, is a remarkable chapter full of prophecy about Jesus Christ. It, in combination with Psalm 22, foretells of Jesus’ scourging, crucifixion, and resurrection. It was no coincidence that the official was pondering this exact section, and that God had sent Philip to be there to help him understand it.
Looking through the Bible and also back on our own faith journey, it is possible to see that many “Philips” have been sent our way by God to be with us at critical moments. They may have been put there to nudge us in a godly direction or to steer us away from a harmful one. They may have been sent to rescue us from a dangerous or potentially tragic situation, or to give us aid and comfort when we have already suffered a blow. Jesus told a parable about a person like this, the Good Samaritan, found in Luke chapter 10.
In the Acts 8 passage, Philip was directly instructed by an angel of God to participate in the eunuch’s spiritual growth, but for us today, that is not often the case. Although the Lord certainly knows when he wants us to play a role in helping someone, we may not, and often only have a brief moment to consider whether or not we should get directly involved when we see a need. We may feel the press of compassion on our hearts as we observe someone in trouble, then say a quick prayer, “do you want me to do something, Lord?”
A common problem is that, although our divine appointment is on God’s calendar, it is rarely on ours. Rather than hearing, “clear the calendar, I have something for you to do”, we often encounter the need when we are already on our way to do something else, perhaps to see someone on a tight schedule who is currently waiting for us. That is one of the complications of our faith journey, and I have certainly made plenty of wrong choices when deciding in a split-second whether to participate with God or not.
Other times, God’s call to help may simply be something we are not comfortable doing.
My friend Adam told me about a time years ago when he was in a cafeteria when the Spirit of God told him to speak to the cashier and say to her, “Yes, I care.” Feeling kind of silly, when he got to the register, he made small talk, but did not say this to her.
When Adam went to sit down, he thanked God for his food, but God nudged him again to go tell her the message. Again, he felt silly, and did not go. Finally, after God nudged him a third time, he got up, went to the cashier, and told her, “Yes, I care.”
The cashier immediately started crying, and Adam apologized for saying something wrong to make her cry. She said, “Oh, no, you didn’t say anything wrong. I had just prayed to God, asking Him, ‘Does anyone care?’”
Recently, Adam has been in a season of grief after losing his beloved wife of over forty years. A few days ago, he was in a church service when a person came up behind him to greet him – it was the cashier. God was telling him, “Yes, I care.”
Fortunately for the Ethiopian official, Philip, too, made the right choice, and was able to share a saving knowledge Jesus Christ with him at the exact moment he was ready to receive it. The window of opportunity for faith is often open for only a brief moment, and we need be willing to step forward to boldly speak the name of Jesus before it slams shut.
36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:36-39 NKJV
How have I responded when God challenged me with an opportunity to help another in need at an inconvenient time? How was I impacted by my own calendar appointments? What was the cost of missing my appointment versus the benefit of personally helping another in serious need? (I write this as one who has often struggled unsuccessfully with these types of often split-second decisions.)
Lord, grant me the faith, wisdom, and guidance to listen to You whenever You want me to stop what I am doing to offer aid, comfort, and Your presence to someone in a difficult situation. Teach me to love You and to love others. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen
God is always speaking – Am I listening? Adam S.