The Church Persecuted and Scattered
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Philip in Samaria
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. Acts 8: 1-7, NIV
Philip and the Ethiopian
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[a] 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…Acts 8: 26-30a NIV
There is an old hymn that says,
“Where He leads me I will follow…I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way….”
I can remember as a young girl singing along with the entire congregation, deacons with hands raised, people shouting, elders crying, members crossing their arms and rocking from side to side – great emotion in the room. But as I read this text, I wonder how many of us really meant the words that we were singing…how many really contemplated what these words meant.
It’s easy to say, “I’ll go with Him all the way…” it’s another thing to actually mean it and do it. In his book of meditations, The Inward Journey, ethicist and theologian Howard Thurman declared these words…
He Leads Us on by Paths We Did Not Know
Excerpt from Howard Thurman’s book, The Inward Journey.
There is an abiding desire to know the future, to see around the corner of the days and the years. Even when we say that we do not concern ourselves with what will happen next month or next year, the shy insistence still remains - we want to know.The disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit, prayer, fasting and encouraging one another were somehow able to defeat this daunting fear and anxiety associated with uncertainty. After being driven out of Jerusalem, his home, his place of familiarity, the place where his life had been spent, his family and friends were around…Phillip got up and went down into unfamiliar territory. Not only unfamiliar territory but as a Jew, hostile territory…Samaria.
This anxiety is the normal feeling we face on the threshold of any new adventure. If we could be sure that all would be well - if we could have some guarantee that our present hopes would not betray us and leave us deserted and in the lonely place, then we would find the peace that belongs to the contented. But life is not like that… he leads us on by paths we did not know.
They were somewhat related, but estranged. Imagine being driven out of your neighborhood and then deciding to go to the other side of town to share some good news with people you’ve heard didn’t like you, didn’t want you, and may harm you…imagine going over to them with all of your fears and prejudices you’ve had all of your life and sharing some good news!
Essentially that’s what Phillip did by the power of the Holy Ghost. Phillip had no assurances that all would be well. He had no guarantee that he would be well received. God led him down a path that “he did not know.” So often in life, the greatest victories, the greatest fruit, the greatest harvest is down a path we did not know.
There are people who all of their lives never travel outside of a certain radius, in other words, stay on their side of town, never leave the city, the county, the state where they were born, because of fear. Phillip had lots of reasons to be afraid. But by faith he went and he carried with Him the message of hope, deliverance and salvation. God used Phillip through the miraculous works that he did and the words that he said. When the people saw his works, they paid attention to what he said.
When the people in the city saw Phillips works, they paid attention to what he said. We may not be performing “sensational” miracles such as literally raising the dead, or by the waive of our hands making the deaf hear and the blind see, but the miracle of love, the miracle of faith, the miracle of hope in hateful, doubtful and difficult situations will cause the unbelieving to watch us and pay attention to what we say.
Our lives can be transformative for other people. God gave Phillip a thriving ministry among unlikely people. Many were healed, delivered and set free. I imagine Phillip thought to himself, “Whew… glad to be out of that crazy mess that was going on in Jerusalem. Things have worked out for my good. I am loved and accepted here. Folks are receiving the words that I say here. People are being delivered and set free here. I could stay here for the rest of my life!”
But God was not through with Phillip. Just as things were beginning to turn around the text in Acts 8:26 says, 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… “Get up Phillip…leave this fruitful land and go down into the desert…” Go down where? What! Why? Why are you uprooting me now? Of all places, down into the desert? Why must I go back to the path I do not know? Unlike most of us, Phillip did not argue. Phillip did not banter back and forth with God. Phillip did not run in the opposite direction. Verse 27 says… 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”)
We have the benefit of the rest of the story in the text. But Phillip did not have the benefit of the end of the story. All Phillip knew was that the Holy Ghost said, “Get up and go…” So often we won’t move until we think we have all of the necessary details. God may give us some, but not always. Phillip had an unusual spirit of obedience. He knew the Holy Spirit’s voice and he moved quickly as the Spirit led. Phillip obeyed the voice of the Holy Spirit…because Phillip somehow understood that even in the midst of what appears to be great numerical and spiritual growth in a ministry, he understood that the ministry did not belong to him. He was simply on assignment and God has the right to change our assignments. God has the right to say “you will serve in a thriving, burgeoning, ripe vineyard,” and God has the right to say, “You are to go down to the desert and preach Christ to 1 or 2.”
And because Phillip obeyed the leading of the Holy Spirit to walk down a path he did not know, God used him to witness to 1 who in turn witnessed to thousands. Phillip is credited with being one of the first evangelists to the Gentiles. When we ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit to venture down paths we did not know, paths that are unfamiliar, uncertain, uncomfortable, we may be effecting thousands of lost souls.
That one individual that God leads you to speak to, to begin a conversation with, to share the love of Christ with…that one individual may be tied to many more individuals that the Lord wants to touch. Your disobedience impacts more than just you. Likewise, when our ears are open and receptive to the leading of the Lord, God uses us to bless in ways we may never realize until we get to heaven.
May we have a heart like Phillip…faithfully walking paths "we do not know..." Where the Lord leads, will you follow?
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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,