Personal evangelism

Sermon: Sunday, 3rd March, 2024
Speaker: Geoff Murray
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40

Philip and the Ethiopian

1. God’s leading

In the case of Philip the evangelist, God speaks to him through an angel of the Lord (verse 26) and the Spirit of God (Verse 29). ‘Go south to the road-the desert road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (Acts 8:26)

What we see here is that there aren’t clear instructions of why. There’s even the thing that God instructs him to go to a road, note, not to a destination. To a road. Where on the road? At what part of the road? Who knows? Yet he goes.

Parallel to God’s leading Philip to this road is also God leading someone else; a man called the Ethiopian Eunuch.This man is described as an ‘important official, in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.’ An important man in an important position who has just been to worship at the temple in Jerusalem and is on his way back to Ethiopia.

Their paths crossed for a purpose. The Spirit then tells Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ (Acts 8:29) Philip could have stayed away thinking perhaps, ‘That would be weird. I’m not just going to walk up to a stranger.’ But he was obedient to the command, he goes, and as we’ll see in a moment, leads the eunuch to faith.

Is it a coincidence that a diligent seeker and a gifted evangelist cross paths? The Christian faith would see this is far more than coincidence, far more than chance or luck but rather that there’s a God who rules over all things and brings all things to pass as he sees fit.

So, here we have two paths crossing, both ordained by God. God leads Philip to go to this road at the time that this seeker is on the same road. God has been leading Philip here and the eunuch at the same time to enable this conversation. He is not sitting back in the heavens disinterested and unengaged with the world, he is sovereignly ordaining every moment for his glory.

As we consider what’s about to go down in the conversation this has massive implications in our life and evangelism. Think for a moment about your friends, your neighbours, your family members, your colleagues, those you bump into going about the town or at the gym. God has ordained that they be in your life and you be in theirs. They are all there for a reason. This is no accident, this is no coincidence. That annoying work colleague, a family member who is demanding and harsh. These relationships we find difficult is not for nothing.

Philip had no idea why he was to set down this road, just that he was. Sometimes we don’t know why God has us in a place where we are, but yet we are here. Even if we don’t know the reason why God has placed us where he has, we can trust him that because he is God he knows exactly what he’s doing. It might mean there are aspects which are hard, it might mean there are people that are difficult, but God has a reason for them crossing your path.

More than that though, when we consider evangelism, there’s also the evangelistic imperative to go and tell, to proclaim the beauty and glory of Jesus in the gospel. The fact is for your family member, neighbour, colleague, friend, you might be the only Christian in their life. How might God use you as a witness in their life to point them to Jesus by how you live your life?

God has called us to himself and one of the aspects to our new identity in Christ is that we become witnesses. So, we have a new identity and a role to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and his glory. That, combined with the fact there are many in your social circles who don’t know the Lord, surely means that one of the purposes of God putting the people in your life that he has is that you witness to them.

2. God’s word

So Philip engages the Ethiopian Eunuch. He was reading from the book of Isaiah and the 53rd chapter. And he asks the brilliant question, ‘Do you understand what you’re reading?’ This opens up a discussion where the eunuch replies, ‘How can I unless someone explains it to me? Is the prophet speaking of himself or someone else?’

He opens up from Isaiah 53:7-8:
‘He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.’

Led like a lamb to be slaughtered… it’s an ugly scene of darkness, murder, and brutality. This isn’t a matter of cute sheep walking around on green grass on a lovely sunny day. This is a time of death, of execution.

We know from verse 35 that this passage is talking about Jesus Christ. In a similar way that this isn’t a picture of a nice warm fuzzy sheep, this isn’t a nice picture of Jesus. This is brutal murder, this is public execution, this is blood poured out.The scene is not just of brutal murder and execution, it is an unjust murder and execution.

‘… in his humiliation, he was deprived of justice.’ (Acts 8:33)

It was unjust because his execution was unfounded and based on untruths. The allegations were false. The religious elite conspired against Jesus to bring him down, they created lies to turn people against him.

He was deprived of justice in that even though he was innocent and falsely accused, though there were individuals who could find no fault in him, there was no one who would take up his cause, fight his side, appeal on his behalf. Pilate could find no fault, he wanted to release Jesus but the crowds were insistent that Barabbas goes free so Pilate caves in. Simon Peter denied three times even knowing this Jesus. His advocates either fled or stayed put but stayed silent.

Jesus was denied justice with no one to speak up for him with him being taken all the way to the cross to suffer execution at the hands of unjust men.

It was unjust not just because of the allegations which led to his execution being false, but it was unjust also because of the fact that Jesus never once did any wrong. Jesus knew no sin, he was perfect, without fault. He loved God and loved neighbour perfectly.

Now, a murderer being executed? A rapist? I think many people would say a wholehearted ‘Yes!’ that makes sense. But a good man? No way. That is the greatest miscarriage of justice. Here we have Jesus, not just innocent against the charges levelled at him, but wholly innocent. Dying a criminal’s death.

We read in verse 35; ‘Philip began with that passage telling him the good news about Jesus.’ How can such a sizeable injustice be considered good? How can something which is bad news ultimately be considered good news?

We all like sheep have gone astray and have turned to our own way, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In light of this we are subject to God’s judgement. We, like the eunuch in the time of the old testament, are excluded from God’s people, we are unable to be a part. There is that great barrier between you and God and that is our sin. That sin leaves us liable to God’s judgement. Yet, the good news is that God sent his son to be pierced for our transgressions, to be crushed for our iniquities, to experience the punishment that will ultimately bring us peace.

How deep is the love of God for you? Have you not sinned against God by turning away from what he has asked from you? Have you not sinned against God in doing what he has said not to? Have you not sinned against God in your indifference and apathy? Yet, he gave his son to take the punishment for your wrong that you may have your wrong forgiven, that you may know him, that you may follow him.

‘Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:7-8)

The Eunuch asked, ‘Was the prophet speaking of himself or someone else?’ He was definitely speaking about someone else and that someone else is Jesus.

And notice here all that is happening here is Philip, with an open Bible, is sharing about the Lord. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t a pre-prepared evangelistic speech, it is simply an open Bible bringing out Jesus from it.

May I warmly and heartily commend two resources for you which I’ve used a few times before. ‘Word One to One’ and ‘Uncovering the Life of Jesus’. These are designed to be read with non-Christians on a 1-2-1 basis or in a small group. They come with a small chunk of scripture, discussion points based on the passage and some questions. It’s very simple and straight forward.

Who is there in your life who doesn’t know the Lord? Who could you ask to read John’s gospel with?

3. God’s work

And here we see the work of God.Philip opens up the scriptures, tells the good news about Jesus and we see the effect that it has. Now we have no record of him expressing faith in Jesus but we see here his desire to be baptised, which would have with it the recognition from Philip that he was genuinely converted.

He was genuinely a part of the people of God, converted by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. In the same way that nobody can come to Jesus unless he is first drawn by the Father, so can no one be born again except by the Spirit of God.

It’s clearly laid out in Ephesians 2, we are dead in sins, but God being rich in mercy with the love with which he loved us made us alive together with Christ. The Eunuch believes and is baptised, he goes on his way rejoicing with his new found joy in the Lord.

What is so unexpected about this of course is the fact he is a eunuch. (See Deuteronomy 23:1)

What are we to make of that? Has God changed his mind all of a sudden? I don’t think so for two reasons.

  • The Eunuch was on his way back from Jerusalem where he went to worship which shows he was one who had converted to Judaism; he was already a part.
  • No Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord. But what about Ruth the Moabite? And her descendants? Her great grandson King David? And ultimately even then the Messiah, Jesus Christ?

I think rather these exclusions aren’t blanket exclusions, I think these exclusions are those from such backgrounds who are not naturally a part of the Israelite people. The Moabite Ruth who said to her mother in law Naomi, ‘Your God shall be my God’ is let in as is her great grandson King David, the eunuch who bows the knee to Yahweh is let in. (See Isaiah 56:3-4)

But that’s exactly what the power of God does in the gospel. It takes people who you would think would have no business being Christians and gives them new life in Jesus. It takes those gripped by addiction, those embittered by resentment, those rocked by suffering, those blinded by religion and those hostile to God and it changes their life completely. The gospel takes those who are meant to be cut off from God and puts someone else in their place.

In the same passage that Philip explains to the eunuch in Isaiah 53, it speaks of the very same person being cut off and being punished for the transgressions of the people.

If you are not yet a Christian and you think, ‘It’s not for me’; think again. Jesus Christ is for every type of person. He is for young and old, for religious and irreligious, he is for every nationality, here we have the gospel coming to the first African convert!

We have one who took your place, who was cut off so that you could be welcomed in. Place your faith in this Jesus as the eunuch did here.

Not only is the work of God found in the conversion of the eunuch, but also that after all that Philip just keeps going. Now he goes from this road and ends up in Azotus and just keeps preaching the gospel in every town until Caesarea.

Philip could have said, ‘Well, that’s all been very successful. Think I’ll enjoy this for a while and then think about something else.’ But, no, the Spirit leads him on to continue his evangelistic endeavours elsewhere.

It might seem that things are going okay here in KFC, we’ve got a reasonable sized congregation on a Sunday, new faces coming in. However, the Spirit would not have us be content with this and to remain in the four walls of the church. The Spirit would continually keep our eyes fixed on the lost and reaching new folks with the gospel.

That’s why we’re planting a church in Leven, but it’s more than that. To bring it full circle from where we started, it’s one of the reasons God has placed you where you are to be salt and light, to be God’s ambassadors to the world where he is making his appeal through you and me.

Remember word-evangelism (word 1-2-1 and Uncovering the Life of Jesus), remember regular witnessing in your life. Remember those in your life who are not yet converted. They, like the eunuch pre-conversion – do not understand about who Jesus is or what he’s done for them.

Let’s put our trust in this Jesus and let us go out and share the good news to many that he may get the glory as he brings many to himself.