Text: Acts 8:26-37
We've been in a series about missions and evangelism the previous 5 weeks. We've looked at everything from the glory of God, the sinfulness and problem of man, the future worship of Christ from all nations, the call to die to ourselves and embrace persecution for the sake of Christ, and the greatness of the harvest, but the lack of laborers. We are called to pray and have our hearts moved by the need in our world and our neighbors.
Up until this point we haven't went into any how-to's on witnessing. But today we are going to give you some tools and tactics for being a witness. Our desire isn't that you would simply invite people to church (though there's nothing wrong with that). Our desire is that you can share the gospel with others, even if they never come to church. This is a huge pivot in the series. We’re turning from simply a theology of evangelism and missions, to practice. We turning from orthodoxy (right beliefs and doctrine), to orthopraxy (right practices and conduct). The gap in most people’s discipleship is not between what they KNOW vs what they DON’T KNOW. It’s between what they KNOW vs what they DO.
D.L. Moody was an evangelist in Chicago during the 1800's (during the Civil War and the great Chicago Fire). He had critics about his methods and approaches to evangelism and calling sinners to faith in Christ. He answer one particular critic this way: “It is clear you don’t like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
So the issue today isn't to provide you an end-all-be-all approach for witnessing, but to study a passage of Scripture, and to take away some ideas for our own obedience to the call to "Go."
Acts 8:26-38 Exegesis:
This passage is after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He has ascended to Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers. They are now going and sharing the gospel of the kingdom. They are making salvation in Christ known.
vs 26 --
Philip here is one not the apostle Philip who was one of the 12, this is the Philip that is one of the 7 chosen in Acts 6 (some say perhaps the first deacons).
An angel of the Lord tells Philip to go to a specific road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This angel of the Lord is delivering messages from God, not from its own ideas. So God is sending Philip to a specific place. And notice that Luke highlights that this is a desert place. It is a wilderness. It is a hard place, which should help us recognize that going to hard places and doing hard things is not something we are exempt from or the Lord protects us from.
The reason he is being sent there is because of who he is going to meet on that road, even though he doesn't yet know that. This a reminder that God has His plans, and we are to simply obey Him and trust He is at work.
vs 27 --
Philip's response to the call to go is obedience. He rose and went. As we've looked at in this series, we are each given the Great Commission to "Go" and to be His witnesses. Our response should be that of Philip's, to go.
Who does Philip run into on the road where the Lord sent him? An Ethiopian eunuch. A eunuch is someone who has been castrated in some form or another. This usually happened to men who worked with royal officials so that they were not a threat to sleep with the King's haram or with the Queen. This neutralized them as a threat in this way.
This eunuch worked as a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. And information about her is known in historical literature outside the Bible as well, like in writings of Roman historian, Pliny the Elder. The Ethiopian eunuch worked for the queen, and was in charge of all her treasure. So he has a prominent role. He's likely a Gentile, but we see in this verse he is what was known as a God-fearer. He worshipped the God of the Jews, YHWH. Because his purpose in Jerusalem was to visit the Temple to worship.
vs 28 --
As he is returning to Ethiopia, he is seated in his chariot reading from the prophet Isaiah. This is amazing to see. Philip has not idea what he is going to experience when the angel of the Lord sent him to this road, but he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah.
vs 29 --
The Spirit says to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." Let's take a moment to consider this. Luke records that the "Spirit said to Philip." Does Luke mean that the Holy Spirit spoke in an audible voice? No. That's not the impression we are left with here. The Holy Spirit of God doesn't speak with an audible voice, and the Father and Son only speak with an audible voice on rare occasion. So what does Luke mean when he records the "Spirit said"? He means the Holy Spirit of God prompted and communicated the will of God to the soul and heart of Philip. The Holy Spirit made clear to Philip, through this prompting and conviction, that he was to go to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.
Two things we need to be careful about as 21st century believers today. Two ditches we need to watch out for. One ditch is we believe every thoughts and idea we have is "God speaking to us." There have been a lot of people say "God told me" to justify a lot of things He never said at all. And if you're not careful you get the Wild Wild West of "God told me" happening. The second ditch to avoid is thinking the Holy Spirit doesn't speak and prompt us to action today in the way we see here in Acts 8 (and Scripture as a whole).
The Holy Spirit of God speaks to us. The Spirit prompts and guides, convicts and leads, in such a way that we can know the Lord is directing and speaking.
STORY -- A little over eight years ago, Katrina and I were one day from closing on a piece of property that we were going to build a house on. We lived in Mt Juliet, and the property was in Lebanon, about 5 miles from the church. The day before our closing, I was at a conference in Nashville, listening to a guy preach. As he was preaching, the Holy Spirit spoke to me so clearly (not audibly, but with an inner-conviction and leading) that we were not supposed to buy that land and build, but rather, move very close to the church, specifically within a mile. A shot of fear ran through my body because 1. this was a massive decision (we already had a bank involved, house plans drawn up) and 2. I knew Katrina was not going to be happy. And it was her birthday. She was out to lunch with a friend, and I texted her that we needed to talk. I told her the Lord had spoke to me and we were not supposed to go forward. To say she was devastated is understatement. She cried and cried. She didn't talk to me for like 3 weeks. LOL But I knew that I knew. I feared disobeying God more than I fear disappointing her, even thought there was nothing about disappointing her that I wanted anything to do with. We began looking at houses near the church. We went and looked at several on the market. Then we came to the house we are in now. It had sat empty for a year. They were selling it for crazy cheap. We ended up buying it. And a result of living where we live, we were able to be close enough to both church and Cumberland, that we were able to host students at our house (like Anthony Knight, Lamar Quezaire, Trell Ross, Larry Davis). It was through time spent with these young men that not only their faith grew, but callings to ministry. This never happens if we're 5 miles from church because none of them had cars. And the distance from our house to the old church? 1 mile. The distance from our house to our new church? 1 mile.
I knew the Holy Spirit said. My point in telling this story is to say the Holy Spirit does speak through these inner-leadings, promptings, and convictions. A few things when trying to discern this: 1. does it conflict with Scripture? If it conflicts with Scripture, then it isn't of God. 2. is this something I want God to speak to me (in other words: is this something self-serving I can mask with spiritual language?)?
The great Reformed preacher Martyn-Lloyd Jones once said, “If you read the history of the saints, God's people throughout the centuries and especially the history of revivals, you will find that this is something which is perfectly clear and definite—men have been told by the Holy Spirit to do something; they knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking to them, and it transpired that it obviously was his leading. It seems clear to me that if we deny such a possibility we are again guilty of quenching the Spirit.”
As we consider being faithful witnesses and sharing our faith, one of the best ways is to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit as He leads. Important note on this: if we ignore the Spirit's promptings, we can become dull of hearing in the future. We can quench the Holy Spirit as we ignore and disobey.
So Holy Spirit tells Philip to go over to the chariot.
vs 30 --
Philip obeys the Holy Spirit's leading and goes. As he approaches the chariot he heard the eunuch inside reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah. When he hears this, he leads with a question, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
This is a fantastic question. One of the best evangelistic and witnessing tactics is to ask good questions. Good questions get people talking. And as people talk, you get a sense of where they are spiritually and what they believe. Notice that the question Philip asks is perfectly natural to the context and situation. Philip doesn't ask the eunuch if he believes God created the world in 6 days. He asks about his understanding of Isaiah, because that's what he's reading.
-- Look for questions you ask that connect to the context and situation you are in. If someone is reading a biography about Teddy Roosevelt, and you could ask them: Where you think Teddy Roosevelt went when he died? There answer will be revealing, and lead to further conversation. Go where their answer directs it. If they tell you about a friend who is sick with cancer, or a loved one dealing with some issue, you could ask them: where do you find hope when you experience suffering or pain? Again, their answer will be revealing. And it fits the context of the situation.
-- Look for opportunities to guide a conversation toward spiritual things. You don't always get the perfect window. So it's okay to ask questions that prompt spiritual conversations. A few examples: a.) Is there anything I can pray for you about? b.) Are you prepared to stand before God? If they say "no," ask why. If they say "yes," ask why? See where their answers take you. c.) When you hear people share beliefs they hold, a question to ask them is, "Why do you believe that?" And see how they answer, and go from there. There are many many more questions like this that can naturally take you into good gospel conversation opportunities. And that is a good way to think about this: gospel conversations. You are trying to get people to think about their beliefs, about God, about the gospel, about eternity.
vs 31 --
The eunuch doesn't understand what he is reading. This is why we need to be witnesses. People don't understand the Christian faith. People don't understand the gospel. People don't understand God's Word. We need to bear witness. We need to able to help people work through the truths of God.
When he invited Philip to sit down with him, Philip joined him. But an important point to understand is this: Even if the man told Philip to scram, Philip had been obedient to the Spirit's leading. He had been faithful.
vs 32-33 --
So Philip hears the man is reading Isaiah 53, particularly verses 7-8. This is the passage about the Suffering Servant. This is the description of Christ's coming and suffering. It is so clear that it's about Jesus, that many people who claim to be atheist, when someone reads them Isaiah 53 and asks them who it is about, they say Jesus. Not realizing that it was written 700 years before the birth of Jesus. That's how clear of a description it is of the Messiah, and that's how clear it is that Jesus is that Messiah.
vs 34 --
The eunuch asks Philip who Isaiah 53 is talking about. He asks if this was about Isaiah or someone else. The eunuch doesn't magically know it is about Jesus, and in places where they are not familiar with Jesus, they won't know either. This is why Paul says in Romans 10:14, "How will they know unless someone tells them?" Faith comes by hearing.
One of the tactics we need to be ready for in our conversations with people is to tell people about who Jesus is and what He has done.
vs 35 --
Philip is ready. He answers the question by giving the eunuch an answer from Scripture. He told him the good news about Jesus. That good news is the gospel. And the gospel is good news in light of very bad news. It is good news, because it tells us how our sin debt can be forgiven and how we can be reconciled to God. This comes through the death of Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the grave. Undoubtedly Philip told the eunuch as Peter told the crowds at Pentecost to "repent and believe." And it is also clear from the next verse that Philip explained to him the importance of publicly identifying with Jesus in baptism, and following in obedience to Jesus' command to be baptized.
vs 36 --
When they came to water, the eunuch said, "Let's do it here!"
vs 37 --
A few additional points of application as we think about tactics:
1. Quit giving yourself outs.
2. Learn to bring God's Word into daily vernacular/conversation.
3. Get the message right.
"I don't know enough" (Then learn! Find out what you don't know.)
"I don't want to mess people up/do harm" (You can't leave them in worse shape than what they already are -- damned.)
"I don't want to offend people and lose the chance to lead them to Christ" (this approach often keeps us acting like a chameleon in whatever environment we're in, rather than sharing our views.)
fear of being rejected (die to yourself)
The Bible speaks to all kinds of situations, so learn to bring God's Word into these things (1 pager on KJM table) avoid dovetailing from spiritual to political conversation
4. Don't focus on results; be faithful.
Every believer is called to be a witness. And every person can do it. We need to get fear of failing or rejection out of our heads and hearts. We need to see people as made by God, and made for God, and desire deeply for them to know Him.
STORY -- Over the course of the last year of Kaleb's life, we were introduced to a new doctor. This doctor is a super kind man. And as we grew to know him some through our interactions, conversations developed into other things. He noticed that I always had books I was reading. And when he finally asked, I shared about them. I used that to carefully share my beliefs, while also being able to ask him about his beliefs, and if he had ever read on the subject. These conversations led to me purposefully reading books that would allow for more intentional conversations with him on scientific matters, and beliefs about the origins of the universe, the complexity of the human body, etc.
A relationship had been built, not one that compromised his professional relationship to us, but one that allowed for conversation to go beyond the patient care. After Kaleb's passing, I sent him the service and my message from the funeral (he was unable to attend because he was out of state). We have continued our relationship, including discussing books we're reading, and discussing ultimate reality and truth. He has recently come to a place of recognizing naturalism and belief in evolution as an untenable scientific view and overall worldview. He believes there must be Intelligent Design. My ongoing work and relationship with him is to continue pointing him to Christ and the Christian worldview. He knows that what I believe. That's not hidden, but I'm trying to walk with him.
I share this story to show you that your commitment to be a witness and evangelist is not something you DO, but someone you ARE. It doesn't have to be all or nothing one time thing. You simply commit yourself to talking about your faith and living it out, and as the Spirit prompts and leads, you speak about Christ. I want this doctor to profess Christ as his Savior. I want this doctor to recognize Jesus as Lord. But I don't control it. I can pray for it. I can labor for it (and I'm called to do both). But the results are left with God.
May God raise up a church filled with people whose hearts long to see people know and love Jesus, and give themselves to seeing it become reality.