An Angel Tells Philip Where to Go
The Bible story begins with an angel giving instructions. “Now an angel of the Lord told Philip, ‘Go south to the road –the desert road -that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’” (Acts 8:26) We don’t know if Philip actually saw the angel or if the angels’ message was delivered to him in a dream. But right away Philip obeyed the angels’ command and started walking down the road through the desert to Gaza. Gaza was about fifty miles from Jerusalem.
As Philip was on his way he passed an important Ethiopian official riding along in a chariot and reading the book of Isaiah as he was traveling. Scripture says that this Ethiopian was a eunuch (a man who had been altered sexually) who worked for Candace, queen of Ethiopia. He probably had been sexually altered so that he could be trusted to work closely with the queen. Eunuchs back then were used in Oriental courts to fill positions of high authority. We aren’t told his name, but he was in charge of all the queens’ treasury. This Ethiopian had gone to Jerusalem to worship and now he was on his way back home.
And as Philip was passing the Ethiopian on the road he got a second message from the Lord. This time his instructions didn’t come from an angel but from the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go over to that chariot and stay near it.’”. (Acts 8:29) And again Philip heard and obeyed the Spirits’ instructions! “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading from Isaiah the prophet.” (Acts 8:30a) The Ethiopian was sitting in his chariot reading aloud as he traveled down the road.
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. (Acts 8:30b)
“How can I unless someone explains it to me?” the Ethiopian answered. (Acts 8:31)
So Philip got up in the chariot and sat with the Ethiopian and the two continued traveling down the desert road together. The Ethiopian was reading a passage of Scripture from Isaiah 53:7-8.
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
And as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
“Tell me, please, who is Isaiah talking about, himself or someone else?” the Ethiopian asked Philip. (Acts 8:34) He really wanted to know the Scriptures and have a deeper relationship with God.
So Philip explained that in the passage where Isaiah was describing the sheep that was led to the slaughter and the lamb that was silent before the shearer, that he was describing Jesus. And the Suffering Servant, pictured in the book of Isaiah, is also a picture of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior. Philip went through the scriptures with the Ethiopian and shared the good news that Jesus had died to take away our sin. And the Ethiopian kept nodding and smiling and asking more questions.
After the two men had been talking and traveling together for a good long time, they came upon a pool of water beside the road. The Ethiopian said, “Look, here is some water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” (Acts 8: 36) And Philip answered, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And the Ethiopian answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:37)
So they stopped the chariot and the two men got out and went down into the water. And with great joy, Philip baptized the Ethiopian. As soon as they came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit carried Philip away out of the Ethiopians’ sight. And thus the story ends with the Ethiopian getting back into his chariot and traveling on down the road rejoicing that he has found Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
This short story from the Bible perhaps leaves us with some questions. For one, the curtain is pulled back and we see that angels sometimes serve as messengers to Gods’ people. Not only in this story but throughout the Bible there are stories of angels coming to the aid of believers. Angels have also been known to protect believers, feed them, and assist them when they are in need. All of these angelic actions and more have been recorded in Scripture.
We may be questioning why we don’t get directions from an angel like Philip did. Or could there be occasions in our lives when there have been messages delivered to us or angelic intervention taken on our behalf and we didn’t even recognize it? Indeed we read from Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels unawares.”
We can not get away from the fact that, in this story, Philip would not have been able to meet the Ethiopian and bring him to faith in Jesus, if he had not on several occasions received supernatural guidance. After the angel told him to walk down the Gaza road, Philip still received more guidance with the Holy Spirit telling him to walk over to the Ethiopians’ chariot and to stay near it. Philip was a great evangelist. Many thousands of people came to Christ through his preaching. But we can see that he didn’t lead people to Christ in his own strength. He must have been open and listening for the Holy Spirits’ voice to show him what to do.
But the question may still linger. Why don’t we get instructions from a visible angel like Philip did? I don’t know all of the reasons, but in reading the book of Acts we do notice that the twelve apostles seem to have received more of the charismatic gifts - like the power to heal and prophesy and evangelize. These dramatic gifts perhaps made the apostles more visible to the public, and angelic intervention might have been recorded more often when it occurred with these public figures that were in the limelight. The rest of the believers often seemed to be given gifts like serving or teaching or helping. Since every believer is a part of the body of Christ, we are each given different gifts by the same Holy Spirit. We can not all be an eye or an elbow. We function differently in the body. But all the gifts are useful and important.
Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you.” We have Gods’ promises here and everywhere in Scripture that He will always be with us. But do we sometimes forget His promise that He is present with us? He promises to continually teach us how to live. But do we take time to listen for His teaching?
Perhaps the Holy Spirit has tried to speak to us again and again but we have been too busy to listen. Could it be that we can’t hear His quiet voice over the noise of our games and shows and the stuff that clutters our lives? When the angel told Philip to walk down the road to Gaza, he heard and obeyed right away. He had a listening heart and he didn’t let anything get in the way. God was able to do great things through Philip because Philip’s whole life was about loving God. If we have a listening heart and our whole life is about loving God then He will be able to do great things through us too.