Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” – Acts 8:26-30
I was in college and very active in the Lutheran Campus Center’s evangelism program. We would go to dorms and visit students, talking to them about Jesus. One conversation, however, didn’t happen in the dorm, or even on an official evangelism call. I had just met a girl, and we were talking across the table in a booth at a local college student hangout. I asked her, “I see you’re wearing a cross. Are you a Christian?” Her reply surprised me: “No. I just wear this to scare off vampires.” The conversation went from there in such a way that I found myself sharing the gospel with her – without even realizing I had begun to do so.
Not every encounter with God must happen inside the walls of the church, or even on official church business. But God surely do orchestrate such encounters and allows us to share Jesus in many and various places. Such was the case with Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. God has brought these two people together in a providential encounter by which the Good News of Jesus will be shared, and embraced. All Philip has to do is go up, “join the chariot”, and begin the conversation.
Something had set the stage for this encounter beyond even this providential string-pulling of God. Somehow the eunuch had to have gotten a copy of the prophet Isaiah. This, in itself is providential, for what other book of the Old Testament so clearly points to Jesus Christ, and the message of salvation through him than this book!
Isaiah chapter 53 is perhaps the most powerful chapter in the entire Old Testament, and gives opportunity to point people to Jesus’ sacrificial and substitutional atonement, this rest in the grave, and his resurrection from the dead. God had brought things together in such a way that Philip has only to ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Eunuch was ready to listen and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.
The conversation might take place in a front yard, a restaurant booth, an office cube, or a dinner party. Wherever it may be, you might in fact cross paths today with someone who is ready to hear the Good News of Jesus. Maybe you can ask him, “What do you think of Jesus?” It could be that she is reading a book that gives you an opening to engage in conversation. It might be a movie or a news item that allows for conversation.
But the conversation will never happen if you don’t go up and “join the chariot.”