Philip crossed an ethnic barrier into Samaria, then came back into his “passport country” in order to reach a tourist from yet another people group. Does that seem strange to you? Sometimes obedience doesn’t square with common sense. I call it uncommon sense. But let’s keep going…
Through the Desert
It has been hours, maybe even overnight, since Philip left the northern city of Samaria. No cellphones, so he can’t call his associate pastor to check on church affairs. He can’t even let his family know he made it safely through Jerusalem, a city he previously fled because of persecution.
How many times did Philip consider turning around? How many chariots, carts, horses or people passed him as he trudged along? How many miles did he walk? Was he closer to Jerusalem or Gaza when the chariot passed him? The Scriptures say it was a desert or wilderness. Was he sunburned? Thirsty? Sweating? Watching for wild animals?
What appeared to be a setback
was a set-up.
Philip hears another large group coming up behind him. Maybe he hears the commotion and steps off the road to let them pass. Wait; you thought it was just the one chariot, like the Sunday School pictures when we were kids? I used to think that too, but this guy was a high official in the Ethiopian court. It’s very unlikely that he would be travelling alone! As the group passes, the Holy Spirit prompts Peter (as surely as the angel appeared to him) to catch up with the main chariot. Go to that chariot and stay near it (Acts 8:29). Yes, Lord. As soon as Philip gets close enough, he hears someone in the chariot reading from Isaiah. (It was customary to read out loud, even to one’s self in those days. I learned this fact from my study notes.)
Let’s just stop right there for a second. Do you see how many different strings God had to pull in order for this to happen?
- Philip left Samaria at a certain time, walking at a certain pace, taking breaks of a certain length.
- The Ethiopian man left his home on a certain day, travelled that long distance, stayed in Jerusalem for a certain number of days then began his return trip on a specific day at a specific time in order to pass Philip there on the road. The departure of an entourage is no small affair. His servants were probably up before daybreak. Someone decided the pace at which the group would travel, how often they stopped and how long they stayed at each stop.
- The Ethiopian man was already reading Isaiah, more specifically, a prophecy about Jesus. He wasn’t reading Genesis or Deuteronomy or Daniel. The Holy Spirit had to prompt him (an unbeliever) to open that particular scroll and start reading at a certain time of day in order to come to the specific prophecy at the specific time that Philip approached him. God even knew how long this guy would think about reading before he actually unrolled the scroll.
- After a quick conversation, they will pass a body of water at just the right time, and the guy will ask to be baptized.
Even if the chariot and Philip were going the same direction on the same road (just at different speeds), this is clearly far more than coincidence.
Why Ask Why?
I should have met my husband two years before I did. I shouldn’t have gotten pregnant as quickly as I did. We should have gone overseas earlier than we did. Think about all the should and shouldn’t occasions in your life. Have you ever stopped to think what that means? It means God has a far bigger plan than we think. It means my life is one cog in the beautiful, universal machine of His glory-filled will. It means everything is connected, with His hand in and between all of it. It means even in this moment, the fact that you are reading this blog post right now…it all has significance.
I just rest here, all tangled up in the threads of His glory.
Why? Why are you reading this right now and not tomorrow? Why is my daughter twelve and not eleven? How did when we went overseas affect where we went? I don’t know. I don’t have to know. I quit trying to know. I just rest here, all tangled up in the threads of His glory.
I don’t think that every single decision I make (like if I wear cowboy boots today) has some profound significance, but much of what happens to us does have meaning. The people I look in the eye today at work or at Wal-mart may need a glimpse of Jesus. The e-mail I procrastinated to write until today may be more needed now than it was yesterday.
If I know I’m being obedient, I don’t have to know everything else.
It takes obedience—active, responsive obedience—and I don’t always get it right (like with the procrastination on email thing), but when it is right, I know it. And that means I don’t have to know everything else.
Okay. So we still didn’t actually see Philip climb into the chariot. This is just so rich! Let’s keep going next week.