The Desert Road Disciple
Philip was a disciple of Jesus in the early church. We first meet him in Acts chapter 6 where he is chosen and appointed as one of seven men tasked with the responsibility of ensuring an equitable daily distribution of food to widows in need. You see, the early church was not without practical problems when it gathered. The Hellenistic (Greek) Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked. Big problem! No one is happy when they are hungry! I speak from experience.
Philip and his six colleagues are chosen because they fit the description: (v3) “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” They are to serve others – in this instance, to wait on tables – and known as Deacons of the church – the Greek diákonos means to “actively serve” – it literally means "kicking up dust" because "on the move."
Thankfully the contentious issue was addressed successfully, thereby releasing the Twelve Apostles to (v4) “give [their] attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This, in turn, lead to expansion and numerical growth – (v7) “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. The ‘gathered church’ was growing!
Philip – Task # 1 Complete!
We then follow Philip, in chapter 8, as he finds himself to be part of the ‘scattered church’ going – escaping murderous Saul (later to become Paul). Philip does not waste the opportunity granted by persecution for (v4-5) “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.” And we note that Philip’s proclamation is not just with words (v6-7) “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed.” Even where there is a grieving (the martyrdom of Deacon Stephen – Acts 7), scattering, dislocated church we find triumph in the midst of tragedy (v8) “So there was great joy in that city.”
Philip – Task # 2 Complete!
In that unnamed Samaritan city, being transformed by the good news of Jesus, was Simon the Sorcerer – who thought of himself as a big deal – others did too! However, he paled compared to Philip and the power by which he operated. (v13) “Simon himself believed and was baptised. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.” However, how deep did that change go? At the end of the episode, his transformation’s completeness is not clear. He (v20) “thought [He] could buy the gift of God (The Holy Spirit) with money!” Of course you can’t!! God cannot be bought or manipulated. His (v21) “heart is not right before God.” Surely, the very heart of the matter is – is your heart right before God? He is (v23) “full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Even someone who professes to believe can be in this state. Jesus came to set us free! Simon is called to (v22) “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.” Simon asks for prayer but we aren’t told of the outcome.
Philip – Task # 3 Complete?
The final part of Philip’s story I want to mention is in Acts 8:26 - we read how “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road...”
After all this astonishing, wonder-working, miracle moving, Philip is sent to a DESERT ROAD. I may have questioned the wisdom of such a move – Philip – you’re onto a good thing, great things are happening – what good are you in the wilderness? I mean, who are you going to meet there? What are you going to do there? Yet, to the desert he goes – he seems eager in fact. Eager to obey. (v27) “So he started out …” No hesitation – no “So he waited about”. No deviation – no “So he grumbled and complained”. We even read how Philip “ran” (v30) to obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting. The Lord had wilderness work for him, and he was eager to please his Lord. You can follow this task’s progression in Acts chapter 8.
If you find yourself down on the Desert Road today, do not despair or delay as a disciple in the desert – for even there the Lord is able to use those who are obedient, especially in ways not expected or initially understood.