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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 — Acts 8:26
God, through His Spirit, often leads us, His people into a vast, uncompromising desert or wilderness, with deliberate intent, as to send us into some trial or test that we would often, rather not have. Even successful evangelists, have to go through the wilderness experience.
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 must have sounded like a strange command, but it was certainly obeyed. There was nothing of the spirit of Jonah about Philip. I wonder, did Philip remember Jesus in the desert and think he was going to meet his Master there? Then came the hour when the chariot Phillip was driving rolled by. It was a very impressive chariot too. 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” (Psalms 68:31). Here was the stretched-out hand of Ethiopia, and God had so ordered it that it was not stretched in vain. (1 Cor 15:58). Philip ran up to the side of the chariot — it was going very slowly on that rough desert road. He asked the Ethiopian if he understood the chapter. The answer came, “How can I, without a guide?” (Acts 8:31). 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. Phillip…”preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8: 40).
From Crowds to an Individual: the Value of an Individual
We must now note 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 one person? 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 of God. 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. (Psalms 30:5)
Let no person stand between your soul and Jesus Christ, thinking that the Lord tells another human being that which He Himself refuses to tell you. Give God a chance, ministering brethren, to operate on your mind. Place yourself before Jesus as one who wants to learn of Him. You must place yourself before the Lord in diligently searching His Word that He may communicate His ideas to you. Jesus does not design that you shall be dependent on human minds. He would have you look to Him alone, by faith alone to do large things for you, not through another person; but to you. (Ezekiel 14:14, 14:20)
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 one person. There is a touch of true greatness in the one soul. 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. That is our desert or wilderness experience, today. 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. (Psalms 30:5)
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 encounter any traveller. 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 “coincidences” of the journey. 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,” or “coincidence.” 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.
May you sense God’s presence in every situation of your life. He is there.
“God is our refuge and strength [mighty and impenetrable], A very present and well-proved help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1, AMP)