I am born in February. Feb the 1st in fact. Recently I have decided that this one month out of the entire year I am going to take a break from my usual quiet times and and rather focus solely on going over previous entries and meditations in my spiritual journal.
And so after a few days it’s becoming fairly clear that without even realizing it, the last 12 months have been a journey of discovery in relation to the Holy Spirit. Who he is, what he does and what he is like. Interestingly enough, right now there seem to be many people in my ‘sphere’ talking about how much we need to get some more teaching and study on the Holy Spirit. My Bible study being one of those groups.
So it’s really handy that at this time, I’m digging up all this old stuff from last year full of discoveries about who the Spirit is and today, I stumbled across one of my absolute favorites that I had essentially forgotten about. Here it is:
Acts 8:26-31 6 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road– the desert road– that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
There are so many things in this passage that for the first time last year I discovered. I am starting to wonder if this is the most packed, rich, revealing text in relation to the study of the Spirit’s character and being. Here’s a few things which I think you too will enjoy finding out about:
- Angel or Spirit?
So verse 26 specifies an (some translations ‘the’) angel of the Lord and then in verse 29 it uses the term ‘Spirit’. Are they the same thing? Well, if you take it to be ‘THE angel of the Lord’ then it comes pretty close to the Old Testament phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh’ which of course in the Old Testament seemed to refer to a being that had very ‘God-like’ attributes and could be said to be speaking the very words of God. For example, ‘the angel of the Lord’ (Ex 3:2) speaking to Moses through the burning bush and then commanding Moses as if this he is equatable with God.
Even if you take this as merely ‘An angel’ let us not forget that at the end of the day, the word ‘angel’ here is simply the transliteration of the Greek work for ‘messenger’. Strictly speaking all we have in verse 26 is a messenger, without any more context or information to define him. That is of course until you get to verse 29, where this messenger seems to be the Holy Spirit.
There’s one big reason why I tend to interpret these two different words as referring to the same being. The nature of the commands that emanate from this being in both verse 26 and 29 are very similar in that they both leave room for the free will of Philip.
2. The beauty of how he works.
In verse 26 the directions given to Philip is pretty general, essentially: “go south down that road.” There isn’t a set of directions a paragraph long saying things like ” about 4 kays down the road you’ll see a Caltex servo, once you get there, you’ll see a guy wearing a red shirt sitting on top of a carriage pulled by two camels, one with two humps, the other with one hump……” Nope, just: “Phil, head down this road.”
Now in that moment, Philip has a pretty simple choice to make. Obey or not.
God doesn’t complicate stuff, we do.
All Phil’s got to do is start walking down the road. Notice he never complains that Gaza might be ages away or that he really doesn’t like Gaza anyway. No, he just starts walking down the road. Sure enough, we soon find that God’s not that immediately interested in sending Philip to Gaza anyway, but rather having him do something and experience a blessing along the road.
Are you resisting God’s command to walk down a certain road because you don’t like the ‘town it goes to’? What if the blessing you’re missing out on has nothing to do with where the road goes?
What if God is just waiting to see if you’ll be willing ‘go there’.
There is a military training tactic where soldiers are told that they will be put on a 30km pack run. However, what soldiers are not told is that when the entire unit just sucks it up and gets on with it together, the instructor pulls up after a single kilometer and essentially says “just kidding, you can all go and have a shower and a meal, we just wanted to see if you were going to do it.”
What if in the spiritual life, the really important stuff happens not in some ‘final destination’ but at some point on the desert road?
See, Phil obeys and because of his obedience God trusts Philip. God knows he can trust Philip, because he knows Philip. We read in verse 29: The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Man, there is so much in this one verse. We know the Spirit is personal and that he has a relationship with Philip because in this moment, the words of the Spirit to Philip reveal an acute awareness of:
- What the Ethiopian is doing (reading aloud)
- What Philip is going to do when he hears him.
- Philip’s ability to effectively minister to this person’s need.
OK, so the being behind this voice is revealing intimate insight into the details and people involved in this situation. But in spite of this, at no point is this being using such intimate knowledge to micro-manage it.
Evil seeks to manipulate and squash individuality, God however always seeks to provide opportunity for us to shine for him. It’s funny how it’s only when you become an adult that you realize why your folks took the training wheels off your bike, a move which seemed like betrayal at the time.
Please don’t miss the fact that the Spirit does not say to Philip “go evangelize that bloke on the carriage over there,” NO, the Spirit says, “go and hang out near it.” Why? because he knows Philip and he loves him enough to give Philip the opportunity and the freedom to change history.
Yeah that’s right, history. This guy turns out to be an important official in the royal court of what was at the time a powerful nation.
The Spirit knows you.
He knows what you need. He knows what you are scared of, but what I love so much about this passage is, he knows what you and I are capable of when we drop the excuses and embrace the desert road.
I believe that to pursue the Spirit is to pursue discernment and awareness of opportunities.
Do you know the Spirit?