Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

February 2003
And now what?
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Comment on this column IN ACTS CHAPTER 8, Luke tells the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. It's one of my favourite stories because it seems to me so typical of the way that God leads.

The first thing that happens in the story is that an angel of the Lord gives Philip some pretty clear directions: "Go south on the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."

Now I don't know about you, but I know what I would assume from such clear direction and call. God wants me in Gaza, I'd think. If you know the story, you know that Philip is never going to get to Gaza. God wants him on the road not because of where that road leads but because of what's going to happen on the road. Typical.

The next bit of God's leading happens a little later; Philip has come within sight of the Ethiopian. That man is sitting in his chariot or sedan chair or something. Whatever it is, it's something swanky and expensive. The Ethiopian is not just from someplace far away and exotic, he's also rich. Philip, by contrast, is a refugee, an asylum seeker, no doubt carrying all his belongings in a shopping bag or two. He hasn't come along the road in comfort, he's on foot, dusty and sweaty.

The contrast between the two men's situations must have been even greater than the contrast between their skin colours. Yet the Holy Spirit comes with some guidance: "Go to that chariot and stay near it." It's like telling a homeless person to go and stand near that stretch limo. Philip is definitely out of place.

The clear leading of God gets Philip on that road and to place himself in a vulnerable position. But from there on, he's on his own. No word comes from God as to what he's to say, nor when to say it. From here on, it appears, Philip is meant to take over and do his stuff.

How typical that is of the way God sometimes leads in our lives. "Oh, great; what am I supposed to do now, Lord?" Is perhaps one of the most prayed prayers of all. At least we're in good company. Philip must have felt just that way back in Acts.

But if you look closely, you find that God didn't leave him totally to his own devices. The Ethiopian, by some suspicious coincidence, was reading in a scroll of Isaiah at arguably the most pointed reference to Jesus in the whole book. Lucky for Philip. It's also tremendously lucky that the Ethiopian just happened to be in a good enough mood to invite this smelly homeless Christian into the limo to sit next to him and talk to him.

My, my. Maybe "coincidences" like this have happened to you too when you've lost sight of the clear direction, or think you have.

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

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