The Evangelist Tells the Good News about Jesus
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“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
My fellow evangelists! That’s right. I called each of you an evangelist. Now, I know, when they hear the word evangelist, most people today will think of a traveling missionary, someone like Billy Graham, who goes from town to town holding revivals and preaching in huge stadiums. Or perhaps, they’ll picture someone who goes door-to-door, seeking to win lost souls for Jesus one at a time. But that understanding is far too narrow. The word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word, which literally translates as “Gospeler” someone who preaches or speaks the Gospel.
The Lutheran Cyclopedia defines evangelism as “the activity of Christians which tries to bring unregenerate mankind under the influence of the Gospel and to win and keep souls for Christ.” That makes it sound more complicated than it really is. Evangelism is simply telling the Good News of Jesus Christ and what He has done for our salvation. We speak the Gospel, trusting that through that Word, the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
While pastors are called to the public ministry of preaching, each Christian has a calling to share the Gospel. Jesus said, “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is not so much a command, as it is a description of what Christians will naturally be found doing. Set free from the burden of sin and guilt by the blood of Jesus Christ, Christians will naturally share the Good News with others. That’s what you do when you have Good News, isn’t it? You share it!
We see this in Acts 8, where the church at Jerusalem was scattered in the persecution following the death of Stephen, and “those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” In the next sentence we are told that one of them, Philip, “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.” This Philip was one of the seven deacons chosen to “wait on tables,” so that the apostles could devote their full attention to “the ministry of the Word.” To distinguish him from the apostle named Philip, he is often called Philip the evangelist.
Though Philip met with some difficulties, his efforts were blessed by the Lord. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. Many accepted the Word of God that Philip proclaimed. The Gospel spread throughout Samaria. And so the Holy Spirit called Philip to the next step in God’s plan to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” With these simple instructions, Philip headed down the road, leaving behind his very successful ministry in the well-populated region of Samaria, not knowing what lay ahead of him as he went to the desert area of Gaza.
I daresay I might have asked a few more questions. “When do you want me to go?” “Where exactly do you want me to go?” “Whom do you want me to see?” “What do you want me to do when I get there?” But the word had come from an angel of the Lord, and Philip immediately obeyed. He just “rose and went.” A distance of about 50 miles, a couple of days’ journey on foot.
By God’s arrangement, Philip came upon a man from Ethiopia, an independent state in Africa, located between modern Egypt and the Sudan. An official in the court of the Ethiopian queen, he was an educated, influential man. He was also a deeply spiritual man. He believed in the true God, and worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem. He was obviously committed to his faith with a strong desire to learn more of God’s Word to have made such a long journey.
The fact that he owned a scroll of Isaiah speaks volumes about his wealth and his commitment to hear and understand God’s Word. Books in the ancient world were hand-copied and thus very expensive. At the same time, his status as a eunuch made him ineligible for full membership in the Jewish community.
Directed by the Holy Spirit, Philip ran up to the chariot. As he did, he could hear the words the man was reading, and recognized the passage from which they were taken. So he asked: “Do you understand what you are reading?”
The man’s answer was brief and to the point: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” This does not imply that the Bible cannot be understood without interpretation from a pastor or the traditions of the church; but simply shows that a beginner in the study of the Word will do well to have some help in comparing parallel passages and in pointing out the connection.
The Ethiopian invited Philip to join him in the chariot. The passage which was troubling him was the beautiful section from Isaiah 53:7-8. There it is said of the Suffering Servant that He was like a sheep led to slaughter, that, as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so He did not open His mouth. He was falsely accused and wrongly convicted. He was sentenced to die in a travesty of justice.
The eunuch asked Philip: “About whom… does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Philip, could hardly have found a more suitable text for proclaiming the Gospel. Though all of Scripture points to Christ, Isaiah does so more often and more clearly than any of the other prophets. No wonder Isaiah is often called the “evangelist of the Old Testament.”
As he expounded the Scriptures, Philip had the opportunity to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. Christ and His work of salvation are the key to properly understanding all Scripture. No doubt as he spoke of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Philip also spoke of receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized in Jesus’ name for life in His kingdom.
As they were going along the road, the chariot came to some water. And the Ethiopian, half in eagerness and half in fear, pointed to the water and said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” This tentative question stemmed from the Ethiopian’s position in Judaism. As a eunuch, he could never enter the inner courts of the temple. He would never be fully accepted as one of God’s “chosen people.” And now that he had heard this Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, he feared the same exclusion.
In baptizing the Ethiopian, Philip showed him that Jesus has removed all former distinctions between people. There is no “chosen people” anymore—except as people chosen by God’s grace in Christ! Any repentant sinner qualifies for that blessing! And through the water and the Word, the Holy Spirit used Philip the evangelist to add one more precious soul into the kingdom of heaven.
Our text describes an act of loving obedience that produced God’s desired fruit—a new Christian. Like Stephen, Philip had gone from “waiting tables” to become an effective evangelist. When called upon by the Holy Spirit to interrupt his work in Samaria, Philip left and traveled some 50 miles on foot to have contact with one person. That’s the value of one individual in God’s gracious outlook!
Which brings us to another evangelist…you! As I’ve already stated, we are all evangelists. The Lord has given us the privilege to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. Perhaps it is someone you have worked with for years and yet have never spoken to them about the Lord. Maybe it is a neighbor, someone with whom you have discussed flowers, crops, sporting events, children, or grandchildren, but never the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or perhaps your someone is in your own household—a spouse, a child, a grandchild, a parent, a brother or sister. It could be someone who has never heard the Gospel before or it could be someone who has heard the Gospel of hundreds of times. People who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ are all around.
The greatest good work that you can do, at least in terms of its benefits, is to tell someone of Jesus and His love. Every single Christian can thank someone, usually many people for speaking Christ to them. Our faith does not get poured into our hearts from some mystical, extraterrestrial source, but “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Someone talked to you about Christ—that’s how you were brought to faith.
In the Bible, speaking of Christ is not so much a required duty as it is an activity that Christians naturally do. Part of our new nature in Christ is to be an evangelist. If Christians do what their faith instinctively and powerfully motivates them to do, then more and more people will hear the Good News, come to faith, and inherit eternal life.
Unfortunately, many people have a lot of excuses for not sharing their faith. “I don’t know what to do.” “I don’t know what to say.” “I don’t know where to go.” “I don’t know whom to talk to.” Philip could have used those same excuses. But he simply rose and went where the Holy Spirit instructed him. And so can we! We just need to get into the Word of God! It is through the Word of God that the Holy Spirit makes Christians, not our dynamic personality or winsome ways. So it stands to reason that the better we know the teaching of Scripture ourselves, the more we practice confessing our faith with one another in worship and Bible study, the more comfortable and effective we will be in our evangelizing.
Have you ever wondered how the early church grew so quickly? Those Christians knew Scripture and were not afraid to share it with others. They would typically listen to the Scriptures read for about an hour, and then they would listen to a sermon that lasted an hour. They memorized large sections of Scripture. Now, I can see a few of you starting to squirm. No, I’m not saying we need to have a longer sermon or worship service, but I would suggest that if we studied the Word of God more and learned its basic teaching we would communicate it better.
As Lutherans, we also have a wonderful tool available to help us. It’s called the Small Catechism! The catechism covers the six chief parts of Christian doctrine. Most of you have studied the catechism in depth. The problem is that we don’t retain all the lessons we learned. Imagine what would happen if you spent ten minutes a day reading the Small Catechism aloud to yourself or to your family. It wouldn’t take very long and you would relearn the basics of the Christian faith. You would feel more confident in your confession of faith, and you would be better prepared to tell someone else the Good News about Jesus. At the same time, you’ll be evangelizing your family and yourself.
But evangelists don’t just talk about sharing the Good News… they share the Good News! And so I would like to finish by sharing this Good News with you: God loved you and a world of sinners so much that He sent His only-begotten Son. Jesus lived a perfect, obedient life in your place. Christ gave up His life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for your sins. Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day, proving that His Word is true, and that all who believe in Him might have eternal life. Ascended into heaven, He is now seated at God’s right hand, where He intercedes for you, bringing your prayers to the heavenly Father, who promises to answer them for Jesus’ sake. Christ promises to return to raise the bodies of all the dead, and to give you and all believers in Him eternal life.
In the meantime, Jesus has not left you alone, but promises to be with you always, coming to you in His Word and Sacraments. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit creates faith and points you to Christ. In Holy Baptism, Christ washes away your sins and unites you with Him in His death and resurrection. In Holy Communion, Jesus feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through each of His means of grace, our Lord continues to evangelize you: You are forgiven of all of your sins