In Brother Andrew’s book, God’s Smuggler, he recounts numerous tales of how he smuggled bibles behind the Iron Curtain. One of the things that struck me as I read it was how Brother Andrew’s ears were always open and ready to hear and respond to the voice of the Spirit. But it wasn’t a booming voice of God accompanied by a few lightning bolts for good measure. It was, well, it was all pretty normal, it was pretty every day stuff for Brother Andrew. And it sounds like it is here too, for Philip.
Philip is open and ready to respond to the voice of the Spirit. ‘The Angel of the Lord says “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” And so Philip did. Then the Spirit nudges him to go over to the chariot, where the Ethiopian court official was struggling his way through the book of the prophet Isaiah.
Can you see how the risen Lord Jesus is orchestrating this encounter and speaking to Philip? And reading between the lines, it seems that Philip was ready to listen. He wasn’t preoccupied with his own concerns and to do lists, he wasn’t distracted about what he was having for dinner or what he’d watch on Netflix later on that night. His every day life, his way of living was one of listening and obeying the guiding of the Spirit.
I wonder how many times I’ve either not heard God’s promptings for me because I’ve been so fixated on what I think I should do with my day. Or how many times I’ve dismissed the guiding of the Spirit, or outright disobeyed because it was too costly.
Philip isn’t some super-Christian. He’s just the same as you or me. And so what if we began each day with an attitude of ‘here I am Lord, send me’? What would the Lord use us for?
So next in the story, Philip approaches the carriage and asks a very simple question – ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’. His question is not particularly clever, or notable, it just opens up the space for a conversation. But as a result, Philip is invited into the carriage and they start opening up scripture together. The Holy Spirit speaks through Philip and opens up the official’s eyes to the true meaning of the passage. All this from a simple question.
How good are you at asking helpful, gentle, loving questions which create space to talk about Jesus?
You may have heard the incredible stats that Jesus asks 307 questions in the Gospels. He is asked 183 and only gives answers to 3 of them. Asking questions was Jesus’ way of empowering those he spoke to, giving them space to express themselves and explore what they were thinking. Jesus didn’t feel the need to put words in people’s mouths or to give extensive teaching about what they should be thinking. Jesus made space for people to think for themselves, so did Philip with the court official and so should we.
And then, remarkably, through this conversation, the Ethiopian official gave his life to Jesus! Jesus is powerfully at work here. They come across some water and the official declares he wants to get baptized. Who was Philip to stop him?
Now this isn’t to say we should always baptize people in puddles as soon as they give their lives to Jesus. But it is clear that baptism is an essential part of the start of the Christian life. Baptism symbolizes the death of our old lives and our new life in Jesus, it is a washing from our sins and a promise to God. It is an act of obedience and is an essential part of discipleship.
Philip doesn’t just leave the official once he has become a Christian. He walks this next step of discipleship, baptism, through with him. Notice Philip doesn’t feel the need to walk the whole journey of discipleship with the official. God clearly had other plans for Philip. But Philip knew could trust that the God who had orchestrated this encounter would also find a way to welcome the Ethiopian official into the church and to grow his faith.
And so we too should seek to walk the next step alongside those we share our faith with. If you meet someone on the street and share your faith with them – invite them to church, if a friend expresses interest in finding out more about faith – invite them to alpha or read the bible with them, and if they become a Christian, help them find a church, get baptized and begin the journey of discipleship. And then trust Jesus to do the rest, it is His mission after all.
Father God, thank you that you partner with us in your mission to the world. Help us to have listening ears and obedient hearts to the prompting of your Holy Spirit. Help us to ask loving, gentle and helpful questions which open up conversations about faith. And help us to know our part in walking alongside those we encounter, and to know when to trust you to do the rest. Fill us with your Spirit Lord, and send us out, in Jesus’ name,