OBEDIENCE BEARS GOOD FRUIT. ACTS 8;26-END;1 JOHN 4;7-END ,JOHN 15;1-8;GENESIS 22;1-18.
The story in Acts tells us of events for which more detail would be wonderful. How did Philip,then based about 40 miles north of Jerusalem,know that he had to take a trip down the wilderness road south-west of Jerusalem for no apparent purpose? It was hardly an everyday thing to do. What would he say to people he met on the way who asked;''Where are you off to Philip?'' ''Oh,just a quick trip to the wilderness. I suddenly felt like seeing if there was anyone in the desert,or how it had changed since I was there last''. How could he be sure that this sense that he should go was not some wild figment of his imagination? Did he know why he was going? Was it wise to enter the wilderness alone?.
We do not know the answers,and probably Philip pinched himself to see whether this was real. Was he really setting off and leaving his family,which included four daughters,without any explaination except that God had called him? Who was Philip, anyway--someone given to wild ideas and crazy action ? No anything but that,He was chosen by the early Christians for the work of serving widows at the daily distribution of food,and had gone to Samaria to preach the gospel,becoming known as an evangelist(Acts 6;3,8,5,21;9) Acts tells us that he was of good standing in the community,full of the spirit and of wisdom; so he was reliable,and good with people,not given to flights of independent fancy,and the last person to do anything impetuous,or let people down by taking off at short notice.
But when God called this steady reliable pillar of the Church,he went to the wilderness,not knowing why,just convinced that God had called him to do so. Although the resulting action may appear odd to us,it was in character for someone who could trust God not to lead him down the garden path. There must be a reason for this strange command and God would make it clear. We know the reason. An Ethiopian government official was setting out on this road in his chariot,his time in Jerusalem over. He had been worshipping God--there was a Jewish community in Ethiopia at the time--and had acquired a scroll of scriptures to study on the way home. It was not just any part of the scriptures,but the part of Isaiah that Philip and the other early Christians now understood to refer to Jesus;the lamb of God sent to the slaughter. He needed to have it explained and Philip,the evangelist,was the one to do it. It seems that God even gave Philip a few days head start otherwise he could not have caught up with a chariot.
Later tradition identifies the man as the founder of the Christian Church in Ethiopia,so Philip's obedience had immense consequences. With hindsight,knowing the end of the story,we can see that this makes perfect sense--except that we do not live our lives with the benefit of hindsight. For us as for Philip,the bigger challenge is what we do in the middle of daily life,when there is no hindsight to affirm our actions,and it seems that we are being called to do something unusual or demanding. In the Gospel,Jesus exhorted his disciples to abide in him,and let his words abide in them. We pray for God's grace to put good desires into our minds,and to bring them to good effect. Abiding in Christ is the way to ensure that we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit's nudge,but not at the mercy of our whims.
There is still another twist to the tale. Philip was dropped off by the Spirit in Azotus. Azotus? That must have been a surprise,because although it was on the way back,it was not where he started from being near the coast,40 miles south-west of Jerusalem. So he simply made his way back north,preaching as he went. Our gifts and vocation come into play wherever we find ourselves. May the good Lord help us to be always ready to trust and obey him in His ministry to his people. Sometimes we doubt voices of God and men or our own inward voices. Our God has ways to convince his people the way forward through his own timing. There should be no confusion but we need to wait patiently on his own time and we shall never miss the mark.