A Lesson on Chariots

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. (Acts 8:26-38)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation that seems a bit… strange? I’ve found that when you’re walking with the Lord in faith, He sometimes places you in situations that stretch your comfort zones in order to give you opportunity to share your faith. I’m not talking full “four spiritual laws” kind of sharing but simple conversations. Usually, these conversations happen to me when I’m least prepared for a spiritual conversation — like when I’m getting my hair cut or getting the oil changed. They never happen right after I study the Bible. I guess that’s why it’s important to hide God’s word in my heart.

Look at Philip. He found himself in several awkward situations in a row. First of all, there was a conversation with an angel. I don’t know about you, but conversations with angels aren’t everyday occurrences for me. But then again, maybe they are. When I think of angels I think of glowing beings of light with reverb voices and a marshmallow-like demeanor. But Hebrews 13:1 says that some people have entertained angels without ever knowing it. So I wonder if this angel that spoke to Philip was just a passer-by who stopped, turned and spoke plainly to the man.

The instruction was strange: Go into the wilderness. I don’t know what type of survival gear Philip was carrying but if there’s one thing those TV survival guys have taught me it’s to avoid hiking in the wilderness alone. Recipe for trouble. At least carry two liters of water, a fire starter, a mirror for signalling and… I’m off track. But Philip, sensing the angel was from the Lord, obeyed and started down the desert road towards coastal Gaza.

Lo and behold, by sheer coincidence, whattaya know, just happened to be an Ethiopian eunuch. Those guys are everywhere! Oh, right. One in a million. And this one needed a saint of God. Funny how things happen, right? Philip saw a chariot and a traveling party of Africans from Ethiopia up ahead of him on the road. There was only one major travel artery between Africa and Palestine and it ran along the coast of Sinai and through Gaza. In order for any Egyptian or Ethiopian or Syrian to get to Jerusalem or Damascus, they were wise to travel on this roadway. The other option was the King’s Highway, an inner road that went east of the Dead Sea. It was all desert and danger. So it makes complete sense that the Ethiopian eunuch would be traveling on the coastal road. That wasn’t necessarily an act of God. But Philip’s instruction to go down that road was from God. And when he saw the eunuch’s party, the Holy Spirit nudged him forward to make contact.

Philip, again, obeyed the Lord, no matter how awkward. And it was awkward. Trust me. Have you ever been eavesdropping on a conversation and wanted to say something but social protocol kept you from breaking in? But Philip heard the Spirit urge him to join in the conversation and he did. By asking a simple question. It’s amazing how much power questions possess. Especially disarming questions. Philip’s question, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” was a chit-chat question. But the eunuch was in deep thought. As if his answer wasn’t invitation enough, he actually invited Philip, a Jew, to get in the chariot with him. I imagine it took big guts for Philip to actually step into the chariot. What was he doing? Even though he was a proselyte, this was still a Gentile from Africa and a wealthy one at that. An Ethiopian CPA with major devotion to God and country (or queen). (Side note: the Ethiopian church believes the Jewish faith came to its country during to the time of Solomon but they credit this eunuch with the birth of the Church in Africa.)

Climbing into another’s chariot is not easy. It takes courage and intention. When the Holy Spirit says, “Go,” and you go, be prepared to step into a lot of strange chariots in His name. Whenever the Spirit compels you to say something, do something, be somewhere, it will likely be uncomfortable. But being missional — sharing the mission heart of God for mankind — requires entering someone else’s space and being open and available to the Lord’s leading.

“Imagine this moment, ” says theologian Michael Frost, “The chariot door opens. (Do chariots have doors?) Just imagine this moment, ‘I obeyed the Spirit, I came on this road, he told me to get closer, I got closer, the guy’s reading the book of Isaiah, and now he says, “Climb into my chariot.”‘ How many religious rules is he about to break by doing that? But he followed the intuition of the Spirit.”

The fact that the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53, the great suffering servant song, was the awesome timing of God. But it serves as a reminder to me that most people in the Western world have heard about Jesus and they think they know what the church stands for. But they are also very confused, so their first inclination is to reject what they’ve heard. That’s where the Christian can make an impact. Those who are seeking the Lord and walking in the Spirit have a key that the world does not have — understanding of the Gospel story. Philip was able to explain the Gospel to the eunuch and the eunuch believed.

Michael Frost, the popular Australian theologian and speaker, has a wonderful take on this famous Bible story from Acts 8. He sees at least three principles about mission from this passage:

  1. All missional practice is as a result of obedience to the word of the Spirit. One thing we, as believers, need to be persistently asking the Lord is, “To whom are you sending me?” Just don’t expect an angel to appear! When the Holy Spirit speaks in Acts, it is not devotional or intimate fuzzy feelings — it is missional (meaning “sent-ness, propelled by mission”). He says, “Go and do,” and He does this in a wide variety of ways.
  2. Mission is always expressed in relational proximity to the people to whom we’ve been sent. Your missional effectiveness is directly proportional to your relational capacity. If you’re busy doing other things, your missional effectiveness will be limited. Philip made himself available and God put him to use.
  3. You’ll be inspired by God’s prevenient grace. God had been working on the eunuch’s heart long before Philip arrived. The fact that he had Isaiah 53 open means the eunuch was seeking, searching for understanding. Preveniet grace happens all the time, when God works on the hearts of unbelievers before they are introduced to the truth of the Gospel.

Frost says, “I want to suggest to you, friends, that I have met Philips all around the world. People have actually heard the angel of the Lord speak to them, who have been obedient to that word, who have met eunuchs and climbed into chariots and found themselves interacting in the most extraordinary manners. If you get too caught up with all the marvelous elements of this story, you lose some of the really gritty, earthy, dirty elements of what it’s like for ordinary men and women like you and I to be open to following the missional God into some of the most strange and marvelous places.”

So have you heard the Holy Spirit urge you to “go and do?” How have you responded in the past? What is stopping you from obeying? What if that someone asked you to get in their chariot (so to speak)? To enter into their world? To answer their questions? What will you do next time?