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 was a wilderness road (Acts 8:26). Perhaps Philip was sitting comfortably somewhere in Samaria, after preaching the gospel there. In the previous chapter we read about how Philip was sharing the gospel to the ‘good Samaritans’ and how they accepted the good news with an open heart. It was truly a big catch of souls for Jesus because Samaritans were traditionally hated by the Hebraic Jews. Encouraged by the quick results of his ministry, Philip would have been too happy to continue somewhere nearby. But the angel of the Lord often comes at the most unexpected of times. God knew that the assignment of Philip in Samaria has to be suspended for the time being so as to relieve him for another important work somewhere else.
For this, an angel of the Lord made him get up and proceed toward the south and join the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. But Philip was still in the dark. He didn’t know where he was heading to nor did he know the purpose of this urgent journey. Nevertheless he obeyed the command from heaven and set out for an unknown destination with an undisclosed purpose. When he reached the highway to Gaza, he met an Ethiopian eunuch returning from Jerusalem after worshipping. He was a court official of the queen of Ethiopia and was in charge of her entire treasury.
Now let us have a quick look at the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 23. It opens with the prohibition of eunuchs to enter the temple. They were considered unclean in those days. Then how did this eunuch from Ethiopia come to worship at the temple? We do not know the exact circumstances, but one thing is sure. His heart was open to the Lord and what the Lord said. When Philip saw him, he was reading the prophecy of Isaiah about Jesus Christ; ‘Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living (Isaiah 53:7-8).
But I presume he must have read Isaiah 66:2 also before coming to the temple. ‘But this is the one whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word’. It is not a mere coincidence that Isaiah was the prophet who declared that the Lord welcomed eunuchs also to the temple. ‘For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off’ ( Isaiah 56:4-5).
Indeed, the Lord looked at the eunuch who respected His Word, kept His sabbaths, did things pleasing to the God and held fast to His covenant, with mercy and sent His apostle to him. Philip’s work was already half done, because the eunuch was ready to listen. In fact he invited Philip to get in the chariot and sit beside him in the hope that Philip would explain the scripture for him. This is what we call openness to the Divine Word. His heart was the perfect field prepared in advance to receive the seed of gospel which Philip would sow. We are familiar with what happened next. Philip explained the prophecies to the eunuch starting from the scripture which the eunuch was reading and proclaimed the good news about Jesus and finally baptized him.
Here ends the story, or so we think. No, there is something more to it. What happened to the eunuch and Philip after this ‘preaching in chariot’ and consequent baptism? Even before the eunuch could thank Philip, he was nowhere. ‘When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more and went on his way rejoicing’ (Acts 8:39). Philip simply vanished into thin air, so thought the eunuch. He continued his journey happily, realising the joy of meeting Christ. As for Philip, Holy Spirit snatched him away (certain translations use took away, caught away, carried away etc). In a moment, Philip found himself at Azotus where also he proclaimed the good news.
This brings to our mind another person who was carried away by the Holy Spirit. Prophet Habakkuk was on his way to his field with stew and broken bread meant for his reapers. But the angel of the Lord intercepted him and told him to go to Babylon and give the bread and stew to Daniel,in the lion’s den. Habakkuk knew nothing about Babylon, Daniel or the den where he was kept. ‘Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head and carried him by his hair; with the speed of the wind he set him down in Babylon, right over the den’ (Dan.14:36). When the assigned task was accomplished, the angel of the Lord immediately returned Habakkuk to his own place.
Every prophet and every Apostle is guided by the Holy Spirit. They are carried away by the Spirit. They are snatched away from a particular situation and delivered at another location. It is the Holy Spirit who directs them. Left to himself Philip would have continued to preach in Samaria. If not for the Holy Spirit, he would have returned to Samaria instead of Azotus after baptizing the eunuch. Unless the angel of God confronted Habakkuk, he would have gone straight to his field. This is the case with every person who lives in the Spirit. They have no pre-fixed tour programmes. They have no prepared texts to deliver. They simply do whatever is prompted by the Holy Spirit.
We know the history of the disciples before they received the Holy Spirit. They were ordinary and simple people. When Jesus appeared to them after resurrection, they were hiding inside the house for fear of the Jews. The defining moment in their life as apostles was the coming of the Holy Spirit. Since then, there was no looking back. Those who received the anointment of Holy Spirit were transformed into valiant soldiers of Christ. Their enemies rightly called them ‘people who have been turning the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6). It was the direct result of the disciples becoming totally new creations with the pouring down of the Holy Spirit on them. ‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation’ (2 Cori. 5:17). Once they become a new creation, then it is the Holy spirit who leads them. A new creation will not have an independant agenda except the one dictated by the Lord. They go along with the wind, which is Holy Spirit. The wind takes them to distant shores and drops them right over the dens where the gospel is most needed. When the assigned task is completed the same Holy Spirit takes them by their hair to drop them at the next location.
When they rise to speak, the Holy Spirit puts the correct words into their tongue. When they turn to the right or when they turn to the left, the Holy Spirit will gently remind them from behind; ‘This is the way, walk in it’ (Isaiah 30:21). When they lay their hands, the sick are healed, because they are anointed with Spirit. They will open the doors of the prison by praying and singing ( Acts 16:25) because the Holy Spirit takes their prayers to heaven instantly..
What we were discussing until now was about the acts of the Apostles. It happened long ago. What is its relevance in our days? Because our Blessed Mother fondly calls us the
‘ Apostles of the end times’. Whether it is in the early centuries or in the latter days, the duty of an apostle is the same. To preach, to preach and to preach the gospel. If the duty is same, the means to achieve it also should be the same. If the apostles mustered the courage to proclaim the good news with the help of Holy Spirit, it is no different in our times also.
Get up, you, the valiant Apostles of the end times. Position yourself on the way where many will come thirsting for the Word. Help them understand the scripture and let them go in peace. Do not worry about your next destination. It is for the Holy Spirit to decide. You need to simply surrender yourself to what the Spirit tells you. Act now. Our acts are also being written in the books of heaven.
In the book of Daniel we read that the angel of the Lord set Habakkuk in Babylon with the ‘speed of the wind’. Time is short and we also need to rush with the speed of the wind. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the help to proclaim the true gospel in these days when false teachings abound.