Wilderness Meditations: 16. The Place of Crucial Contact
Acts 8:26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
Continuing: So now we have to pick up the second of these additional thoughts for this series and it really is a continuation of the previous one in some ways. Remember Philip has been ousted from the comfort of Jerusalem, where he was a deacon just getting on with the job of serving the church, but now on the run from persecution and finding himself in Samaria. There, I suspect, is where he found himself very surprised as, when he dared share the news about Jesus with these ‘aliens’, they listen to him, believed him and received what he was saying. Somehow this must have boosted his faith for he starts rebuking demons and sicknesses and it all breaks loose – God is on the move in a big way! The town goes wild!
He even picks up some weirdo – Simon a sorcerer – who tags along, challenged by what he sees (v.13). The word gets back to Jerusalem and so they send Peter and John to check it out. (v.14) When they turn up, they lay hands on the new believers who are then filled with the Spirit (v.15-17). After a confrontation with Simon, “Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.” (v.25) Philip is left to just carry on the good work. End of story. Not quite.
The Kingdom always moves on: God has other ideas: “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (v.26) If this had been me, I have a feeling I might have questioned this – “I’m doing a good work here, this is where the people are, they need me, there are more to get saved, I’ve settled into this, I’m comfortable with what I might originally have thought was a wilderness crisis situation!” Whether or not Philip did, I don’t know. Again, it if was me, I might have added – “To Gaza, down through the desert? I’m not John the Baptist, I’m just a deacon on the run from Jerusalem, that’s not my gifting!” But God knows that, God knows exactly what He can do with Philip – and with you and me!
The point is that the kingdom of God is always moving on. We may not have the eyes to see it, but do you remember what Jesus taught? “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working,” (Jn 5:17) or, as the ERV puts it, “My Father never stops working, and so I work too.” God keeps on, Jesus keeps on, the kingdom keeps advancing, even if we cannot see it, even if we allow things like pandemics to cloud our thinking.
Philip goes: So yes, Philip goes and hopefully you know the story – he encounters a high official from Africa, leads him to belief, baptizes him and leaves him to return home with a new outlook. Job done. (v.27-40) And that is the end of the story of Philip here.
Lessons? So, what does this say to us? Well I guess the first thing has to be don’t get settled in what you are doing, however good it appears. We do what God calls us to do. That raises the question, do I know that what I am doing in life is God-called? Do I have the confidence that I can be at peace in my calling, getting on with life doing the stuff He puts before me, taking the opportunities He puts before me? But maybe we should add, am I sufficiently secure in my relationship with Him to realise that there may be things He wants to change in me, circumstances He wants to bring my way that will lead me into doing things differently or doing different things?
A Changed World: Let’s be honest, a year ago we could never have guessed that this year was going to unfold as it has done. I have read various writings and prophecies that indicated changes were coming but most of us never got a whiff of the Pandemic and all its ramifications. As we have written before, uncertainty for a disciple should be the norm, never quite knowing where Jesus will lead us next. However, I don’t think most of us in the Church accept that as a day-to-day working hypothesis; the theory we work on – or used to before this year – is that life should just carry on leaving us in comfort and ease. Perhaps that is why so many were finding ‘church’ boring. But it’s a new day, we are having to learn new things, new ways of relating to others, new ways of doing church, new ways of coping in trying circumstances.
In the previous study we spoke about the need to adjust our ways of thinking and perhaps for some of us that is a scary thing. If that is so, it is probably because we have lived a form of Christianity that is at odds with what we find in the New Testament. “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) We prefer to see what is before us, what is coming, but these days are challenging that.
Help! But can Philip help us? Yes, he started out on the run, but he dared open his mouth, and God took over. Wouldn’t you like it, if your neighbour, work-mate colleague, fellow-student (at a distance) responded to your belief-comment and conversation opens up and (at a social distance) you pray for them, they get saved, healed, delivered? God not you? So God gives you something different to do, less glamourous, unnoticed by most and you end up leading some seriously significant person to the Lord. I recently came across the testimony of a leader who preached a rubbish youth message at another church one evening and felt bad about it, but some years later, he encountered one of those teens now grown up who told how he’d given his life to the Lord that day, had become a youth leader and was now regularly leading many other teens to the Lord. We never know the impact we might be having! Don’t despise the small things God gives you to do in the wilderness, just be faithful in the way you do it, and leave the rest to Him. Who knows how you might be changing the world? Don’t think, “Wilderness! Doom! Persecution! Doom! Pandemic! Doom! Think, God opportunity! Hallelujah!”