Last month I wrote about the Power that comes from the Resurrection, and in particular the power of change signalled by that event and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and not just historically, but in the present too. Sadly, all too often our response is muted when we are put off by the challenges that life brings to us. In the present time we are often deterred by small numbers and feelings of apathy that seem to be expressed towards Christians and faith in general. However, if we think we have it hard then spare a thought for the early believers. Empowered by the Spirit at Pentecost they soon faced hostility from the Jewish authorities that degenerated into harsh persecution.

In Acts chapter 8 we read about how one believer, Philip, responded to these difficulties not by giving up, but by following the lead given by the Holy Spirit. This Philip is also known as the Deacon or the Evangelist. He was one of seven men originally selected to help ensure that the widows of Greek speaking Jewish believers were treated fairly and got the resources that they required: hence the title deacon, from the Greek diakonos or servant. Because he was one of The Seven it is usually (but not always) believed that he was a different person from the Philip who was an apostle and one of the twelve, and who had been one of the original disciples. Be that as it may, Philip the Deacon would not stay as a helper or administrator, because God knew that he had other talents that could be used (as incidentally happened with another one of The Seven, Stephen, who became the first Christian martyr).

When things got too “hot” in Jerusalem, Philip went north to Samaria and preached the gospel. Then he headed south and it was on an otherwise deserted road from Jerusalem to Gaza that the Holy Spirit led him to meet with an Ethiopian eunuch. Eunuchs have an ambivalent place in Old Testament scriptures: in Deuteronomy 23 verse 1 it was stated that they could not be a part of God’s people. However the harshness of that stricture was changed by Isaiah 56 verses 3 to 5 “…if you do what please me and faithfully keep my covenant, then your name will be remembered…You will never be forgotten.” Interestingly the eunuch was reading a passage from Isaiah 53, the suffering servant. Had he read the other passage and realised that he had a place in God’s Kingdom too? Although eunuchs were servants they had important roles in various kingdoms in ancient times, and through spending a little time with him, Philip was able to explain the scripture that the eunuch was reading (the passage about the suffering servant) and the Good News about Jesus. The eunuch was baptised as a consequence of this short, but life changing encounter, since Philip was called away and subsequently spent many years living in Caesarea, on the coast (much later he would host Paul on his way to Jerusalem for the last time). Although it was brief, that encounter on the Gaza road would be an influential one, because others would learn about Jesus from the eunuch, and from the way in which the eunuch would treat others as an important official of the Queen of Ethiopia.

So, we are reminded that the Gospel of Christ is inclusive and that God also brings opportunities for service and witness. Moreover individual encounters are every bit as important in spreading the Good News as larger gatherings, and we should take time to get alongside others, whilst allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit. Our God gives us opportunities to work with others today, and bear witness to Him.

I was much reminded of this when Christian Aid collecting this year. I must admit that the first thirty to forty minutes of collecting this year were not at all promising, and I wondered if it would not have been quicker and perhaps more financially rewarding for Christian Aid if I had put a tenner in an envelope and left it at that! However things changed and thereafter, and on the following four evenings, things were quite different. Firstly it was good to renew old acquaintances, and to be able to pray subsequently for some situations. Although quite a number of people now give in other ways, there were many good wishes for success. Then there were the good-humoured replies, “I’m sorry about the delay…I was just manufacturing the money”. And then the humbling responses from people who genuinely wanted to give and were keen to do so, including a lady I caught on my second call to her house who told me that she was so glad to give, because she realised how good God had been to her, and how very fortunate she has been in comparison to others.

The Spirit is at work in others, and around us, preparing the way, and wants us to play our part too!

Chris Noyce