How a Hitchhiker Changed a Nation

May 10, 2014

by Maria Fontaine

Because of the scope of events that God included in the Bible, it wouldn’t have been possible to present many details of such things as the thoughts and personal musings of those whose lives are described in its pages. But when we look at what they faced and what they chose to do, I think we can at least have an idea of what might have been going on in their heads and hearts. We can look at the events in the life of Philip, one of the early witnesses described in Acts 8:26–40, from several viewpoints; here is one that came to mind when I was meditating on these verses.

It was around 34 AD. The persecution that had been sparked by the killing of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, had forced many Christians to leave Jerusalem. Philip was among those who fled, heading for the city of Samaria. Despite the historical animosity between Jews and Samaritans, he couldn’t help remembering the Samaritan woman who Jesus had met at the well. He could still see the sincere hunger for the truth in the eyes of the townspeople whom the woman had urged to come and see for themselves.[1]

As Philip began telling the people of the city of Samaria about the Messiah and the wonders and miracles he himself had seen, many began to bring the sick and those who were afflicted by evil spirits, begging him to pray for them. The resulting miracles caused many to become followers of Jesus. When news of these happenings reached Jerusalem, several others joined him to assist in this blossoming new work.

It seems to me, however, that Philip was about to discover something even greater than having crowds of people rejoicing that he’d come to help them. The Lord spoke to Philip and asked him to leave behind the exciting happenings in Samaria and launch into a new mission.

Philip showed once more that following Jesus and making disciples held first place in his life as he grabbed his gear and hit the road. I would imagine his conversation with the one he loved so much might have gone something like this:

“Well, Lord, where to now? I hear the weather and beaches are really nice in Joppa.” Silence greeted him. “Okay, not Joppa. Maybe Caesarea? It’s a long trip, but I’m ready for anything.”

Jesus’ ministry had never reached further south than Jerusalem. So when the answer came, Philip felt his faith stretching even more than it had when he had headed for Samaria.

“I need you to go down to Jerusalem and then take the road toward Gaza,” came the reply.[2]

Although these instructions pointed to an unknown mission for Philip, he was determined to obey. He was probably expecting some exciting new mission to reach big new crowds with even bigger miracles. After all, he’d followed the Lord’s instructions to go to Samaria, and look what had happened.

But as the hours of walking turned into a couple of days, Philip was probably wondering where the crowds were going to come from out there. Finally, through the shimmering heat of the parched landscape, he saw a few figures in the distance, resting in the shade of a large rock. Coming closer, he sighed. It was nothing more than a lone chariot with a small escort of horsemen.

“Lord, can this be what You’ve brought me all this way for? Did You bring me out here in this sweltering heat for one little chariot? Anyone could witness to just one lone person. I mean, how many miracles can one person need?” With the stopped chariot only a short distance away, he could now clearly see a well-dressed African man seated behind its dozing driver, its richly adorned horses pawing the earth, impatient to be on their way.

The man seemed to be intently studying something. Coming closer still, Philip realized that something about the scroll in the man’s hands looked familiar. He could just make out the words the man was reading out loud to himself: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter: and like a lamb, dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.”[3]

The man had been so deeply focused on the scroll that he hadn’t noticed Philip as he came up alongside the chariot.

“You wouldn’t by chance be wondering what that scripture means, would you?” Philip questioned.

The startled Ethiopian stared at this stranger who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Yet this man’s curiosity was piqued and he invited Philip to join him in the chariot as they set off again along the road to Gaza.

The two were soon lost in conversation, the Ethiopian eunuch posing question after question as he studied first the scroll and then his new teacher’s face. Philip excitedly told of his experiences with the Messiah: the many miracles, the unconditional love, the words of wisdom formed in such simplicity, and of Jesus' death and resurrection.

I can imagine the Ethiopian man finally uttering in amazement, “I have studied these scriptures, but the meaning of these words has been a mystery to me until now. Yet, in so short a time they have suddenly come to life through someone who is not even a scholar. What must I do to have the key that will continue to unlock these truths? How can I discover what this Jesus alone can reveal: the answers to all that I seek?”

Philip explained that the first step was to believe in Jesus, and that a way to declare this was to be baptized. Since they had at this point arrived at an area where there was water, the Ethiopian asked to be baptized.

Now when your job is done, your job is done. Philip had instilled vision and fire in the heart of this Ethiopian eunuch, who turned out to be a top advisor to the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch already had the scriptures to work with. Philip was igniting the fuse of his belief, faith, and understanding, and the Ethiopian was able and ready to pour out to many others all that he now understood.

The Lord topped off this Ethiopian eunuch’s experience with one last confirmation that must have convinced him that he’d been part of a miracle. As Philip and the Ethiopian both came up out of the water after the baptism, in this flat desert area where you could see for miles, Philip was suddenly gone!

History tells us that apparently the efforts of this single Ethiopian man resulted in one of the earliest known branches of Christianity in Africa that continues to this day.

After finding himself at the town of what is now called Ashdod, miles away from where he’d met the Ethiopian man, Philip may have wondered if what seemed so totally real might have all been a dream, or maybe the result of a little too much heat. Yet there was one thing he couldn’t deny: his vision to follow Jesus and give others what they needed in order to be disciples had become the driving force in his life.

The Bible says that he set off traveling to a number of other places telling others about the Messiah, instead of going back to Samaria. Historical accounts indicate that Philip’s journeys eventually led him to Asia Minor, or roughly what today is the Asian part of Turkey, to make disciples and to teach them to teach others.

I believe he discovered that there is unlimited potential to make disciples wherever the Lord leads. It may be found in the slow, plodding task of teaching others step by step, or, as with the Ethiopian, it may be found in the culmination of the work of God’s Spirit in a person’s life.

Jesus was a man of action, and His Spirit in us inspires us to share His message with others and to guide them to Him and to motivate them to tell others about Him.

You just never know what a day may bring or what a far-reaching chain reaction of winning and discipling and changed lives can be set off as we faithfully do our part to teach others to teach others.

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

 26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, "Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a desert road.)

 27 And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship.

 28 And he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.

 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot."

 30 And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

 31 And he said, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: "He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He does not open His mouth.

 33 "In humiliation His judgment was taken away; Who shall relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth."

 34 And the eunuch answered Philip and said, "Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?"

 35 And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

 36 And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"

 37 And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him.

 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing.

 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus; and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.

(Acts 8:26–40 NAS)

[1] John 4:4–42.

[2] Acts 8:26.

[3] Isaiah 53:7.