We are returning to a series we did in November. If you can remember ALL THE WAY BACK to then, you might remember that we taught you about Evangelism. We admitted it was a word most of us fear, but over the course of 4 weeks, we laid down a foundation for the importance of evangelism.
First, we looked at the famous scripture from Romans 10 that says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” And then the passage works backwards saying, how can they call if they never believe and how can they believe if they never hear and how can they hear if they are never told, and how can somebody tell them unless they are sent. And the scripture ends with, “How beautiful the feet of the messengers who bring Good News.” Essentially, unless we get over our fear of evangelism, others will never be able to call on the name of the Lord and be saved.
Then we covered the story in Matthew 9 where Jesus sees all the multitudes of people around him and has compassion on them and he says, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Jesus is saying, the problem isn’t that people don’t want to hear about the Kingdom of God, the problem is there aren’t enough workers to tell them.
Next we looked at Romans 9 where Paul says he is willing to give up everything, including his own salvation if it were possible so that others would come to know Jesus. We asked you the question, what are you willing to give up for others to know Jesus?
And we concluded the series in 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul says that he preaches Jesus and Jesus only – he has no need for clever messages. And that same belief holds true today. Our only message we want people to hear at Ashworth Road is Jesus – because he changes everything!
I believe most Christians understand how important it is for others to experience the love of God themselves, and so with those messages we tried to stir up in you a new desire to see your friends and family come to know Jesus.
But if all we did was motivate you share the message of Jesus with others and never showed you how to do that, we would be failing you. That’s why, for the next 3 weeks we are going to answer the “How” question of Evangelism. We are going to look at specific stories where Jesus and the Kingdom of God are proclaimed and we will unpack what makes these stories of evangelism successful and how we can apply these principles to our own lives.
My hope is that our previous messages have given you a heart thats ready for this next challenge. We have to get past our fear of evangelism and see the much larger, eternal aspect of it. We need to be excited for the opportunity to join what God is already doing in transforming lives in the people all around us.
I think the reason some of us still fear the thought of evangelism is because we think that the entire process rests on our ability to move a person from disinterested in Jesus to committed to him. We put this tremendous pressure on our shoulders to initiate the interaction, to speak eloquent, persuasive words, and then we even carry the pressure of whether the person will respond or not.
Today I want to tell you, you are not responsible for all of that. You are only responsible for your own part. As we look at a story from Acts 8 we will uncover exactly what we are responsible for in a person’s journey to faith.
God Initiates Faith
As you open your Bibles to Acts 8, we will be picking up the story of the spread of the early church. This chapter begins with Phillip, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, who had gone to Samaria and was preaching the Gospel there. Among the hated Samaritans, half-Jews if you will, he was healing the sick, casting out demons, and seeing many people turn to Jesus and be baptized. It was truly an exciting time for the Gospel of Jesus to begin spreading to those outside Jerusalem, just like Jesus told his disciples –they would be his witnesses to Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
I want to pick up the story at Acts 8:26.
26 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.
Notice how the angel tells Phillip to leave the exciting ministry going on in Samaria. And not only does the angel have him leave the successful ministry where lots of transformation is taking place, he tells him to head south of Jerusalem toward Gaza, on a DESERT road! And to make it an even more dramatic change of scenery, the text likely tells him to travel down the desert road at noon – the least likely time anybody else would be on the road.
Let’s continue: From Acts 8:27-29
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. 29And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”
The first item I must explain is this word “Eunuch.” This word can mean 2 things – first, a man who has been castrated and second, a high ranking official (though the reason for it meaning a high ranking official was because most high ranking officials were castrated at a young age). We can be fairly certain that this man was castrated based on the fact that Luke already tells us about his status as a high ranking official and because he works closely with the queen, whom almost always has all servants castrated.
While some of you guys might not like me getting into this detail, it actually means a lot to the story.
You see, the eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship God. But unfortunately, the faith he was pursuing was one which held him at arm’s length. Because of his physical situation, according the Law in Deut 23:1 he was not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord. So he could worship, but not with the others, never a part of the assembly in the temple. He was basically kept at arm’s length from the God he wanted to worship.
And as Phillip sees this high ranking official riding on a chariot, likely followed by a bunch of servants on foot, the Holy Spirit tells him to go walk beside the chariot.
Do you see a common theme in the beginning of the story? While it appears that Phillip and the Eunuch are the main characters in this story, I see another much more prominent character – God.
- God sends an angel to tell Phillip to go down the road
- God the Holy Spirit tells Phillip to go up to the chariot
- And God has clearly been at work in this man’s life if he is so committed to traveling a great distance to worship a God foreign to his own people, under a structure that doesn’t even let him be a full participant.
What I want you to see is that Phillip didn’t initiate this encounter between him and the Eunuch. He didn’t set it up, he didn’t do the leg work to make the man curious about scripture. God did all of that. God set up this encounter. God was at work in this man’s life before Phillip came on the scene and now simply wanted to use Phillip as he continued to show himself and his love to the Eunuch.
And it’s important for you to know that this is still the case for us today. God is at work in the lives of those all around you. He is drawing his own to himself. The pressure I talked about to initiate an interaction with non-believers should not be on your shoulders. Let that go – don’t be afraid you can’t stir up initial interest in spiritual things – you can’t. And that’s why it’s not your job. It’s God’s job. He is the author of our faith. He has been working in a person’s life showing them glimpses of who He is long before you ever show up on the scene.
But we do have some responsibility in evangelism. Lets continue reading Acts 8:30-35.
30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Do you see how Phillip obeys God. Both when he is told to leave the successful ministry he is doing in Samaria and when he is told to approach the cart of a very prominent foreigner. We can’t belittle these 2 acts of obedience. Being told to go down a desolate desert road at noon rather than speaking to masses of people seems illogical. And approaching somebody so far away from you in status and ethnicity is something most of us recognize would be really uncomfortable. Some of you don’t even like approaching a neighbor if you see them at the grocery store, much less a stranger from a totally different way of life.
And not only is Phillip obedient, but he’s prepared. The Holy Spirit nudges him to go over to the chariot, but the entire conversation flows out of Phillips knowledge of scripture, knowledge of Jesus, and ability to share with the Eunuch the hope of Jesus for him.
This is where our responsibility in evangelism lies. Just like Phillip, We are responsible to be obedient to the Spirit’s leading in our lives and to be prepared to point people to Jesus.
If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, quietly nudging you, whispering to you, trying to lead you into these spiritual encounters with others. The problem is, many of us don’t recognize the Spirit’s leading in our lives and so often we don’t obey the prodding because we dismiss it as our own silly idea.
This just happened to me this past week while getting new home and auto insurance. During the lengthy conversation waiting for the insurance salesman’s computer to run through estimates, he told me about his life, his numerous jobs, and his desire for more and more money. I mentioned that he must not have a wife or kids for how often he works and he told me, “No, I’ve been divorced twice. It wasn’t for me.” And at that moment I felt like the spirit was nudging me to speak into that opportunity – to talk about how his lifestyle clearly isn’t providing the happiness he was seeking. But I was afraid. I was able to self-justify how weird it would be for me to have that conversation with a man I might never talk to. And so trust me, I can relate to you when you fail to follow the leading of the Spirit in your life.
Alternatively, some of you do feel the Spirit’s prodding in your life, but you don’t know what to do with it. In our story here in Acts, the Holy Spirit didn’t tell Phillip what to say – he was prepared to boldly start the conversation with a question. Maybe you feel like you simply don’t know how to do that. What question do you ask or what do you say to begin the conversation about Jesus?
If that’s you today, I STRONGLY want to encourage you to attend the Learn to Share Training we are doing on Saturday, March 28. The whole focus of the morning will be to learn how to start a spiritual conversation and point the other person toward Jesus. Take this opportunity to become more prepared to share you faith when the occasion arises.
Now the best part of this entire story is how it ends – lets finish reading Acts 8:36-38.
36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
First I want to point out, isn’t it a coincidence that as they are riding along on a DESERT road that they pass some water right as the Eunuch is coming to understand the message of Jesus. This just continues to show God’s involvement in the entire encounter.
Now think about what the Eunuch just heard. He was told that the God he was worshipping in Jerusalem, the one who he was not allowed into full participation in worship, the one who held him at arm’s length, had made a way for him to come directly to God. Through Jesus, a servant who was humiliated, who had no descendants to carry on his name, sound familiar, he could have peace and direct relationship with God.
And hearing this amazing news, the Eunuch wanted to participate fully in the life of Christ. He didn’t want to be pushed to the sidelines any longer. So he asked, “is there any reason why I can’t be baptized?” And right then, they got down from the chariot and Phillip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch in the water.
Some of you today need to ask yourself that question. “Is there any reason why I can’t be baptized?” Today we have Christians who follow Jesus but for some reason or other don’t want to be a full participant in the faith and choose to NOT be baptized. If the Ethiopian Eunuch were here today, he would simply not be able to understand why you would CHOOSE to keep yourself at arm’s length from God, to hold yourself back from full participation in Christ. In the time of the early church, there was simply no concept of an unbaptized believer – being baptized and being a follower of Jesus simply went hand in hand. And so if you have committed your life to Jesus and have not been baptized, I encourage you to talk with me or Brent or Amy after the service about being baptized on March 29.
Going back to the pressure we put on ourselves when we share the message of Jesus with others: we have to recognize that after we obey the spirit’s leading, it’s not up to us whether the person responds like the Eunuch or like the Pharisees who time and time again rejected Jesus. We can’t hold ourselves accountable for the choices of other people. So we can’t allow ourselves to feel like failures if the other person doesn’t respond. Nor can we feel like we are more successful if somebody responds like the Eunuch and wants to be immediately baptized.
In this story, we see that the process of the Eunuch coming to faith began long before Phillip ever showed up. It was God who was writing the story in this man’s life. Phillip was responsible for obeying the leading of the Spirit and being prepared to share the Good news of Jesus. And then he had to leave the decision to respond with the Eunuch. Phillip couldn’t make that decision for him.
In the same way, we have to understand our role in evangelism to our friends and family. We can’t allow ourselves to cave and not share the best news the world has ever heard because we feel overwhelmed under the pressure to do it all.
The best way for us to once and for all put away our fear of evangelism is to have the right understanding of who is responsible for what in this process of salvation.
- Jesus already gave his life to cover our sin and wash us clean
- The Holy Spirit is at work in the life and circumstances of those around us, drawing them toward God.
- Each person will stand before God alone one day, held accountable for how they responded to God in this life.
- You and I are only responsible to be obedient to the Spirit’s leading and for being prepared to share the Good News of Jesus.
Will you join me in stepping up to that challenge? In committing ourselves to listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and to act on it? To be better prepared to step into spiritual conversations with others? To do our part as we partner with God who is actively working to transform this world one person at a time?