How to partner God in evangelism
Ronald JJ Wong // July 25, 2018, 5:08 pm
“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.” (Acts 8:26)
What if one day, you feel a strong sense that you must go to a faraway deserted place? Would you go? I think most of us would ask, what for? There’s nothing there.
Filled with the Spirit, Philip obeyed the Lord. I don’t know how he heard it from the angel of God. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe a vision. Maybe a strong prompting in his heart. Maybe a stranger walked up to him and just told him to.
But he rose and went. It’s interesting that the word “rise” is used twice here, in the call and in the response. It’s like Philip was lying down somewhere resting. Maybe he was resting after his mission work in Samaria. Rise! Get up! There’s work to be done!
God calls. We work, we rest, we rise.
Philip obediently made his way to the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
Maybe as he walked down the road, he saw nothing. Maybe he saw other travellers. Maybe he stopped to rest from time to time. But there were no further instructions from God – until the Spirit spoke to him.
Go over and join this chariot.
Sometimes, God reveals His instructions only step by step. We may not see the whole at the start, but God desires we obey wholly the part He has shown. In time, He may show the whole.
Now in the chariot was a high-ranking royal official of the Ethiopian kingdom, a eunuch, equivalent to a Minister of Finance. I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried to approach a vehicle with a Minister of Finance of another country in it, and ask to join him. I have not. But that’s what Philip did!
We may not see the whole at the start, but God desires we obey wholly the part He has shown.
When the Spirit speaks to us, it may be through an audible voice, a stirring in the heart, a thought that comes to our mind, or some other form.
It’s easy to doubt, especially when the instruction is daunting. Yet, Philip was boldly obedient. What’s the worst that could happen?
Luke, the writer of Acts, gives us background to this Ethiopian eunuch. He was a Gentile who believed in YHWH, but not yet a proselyte (he hadn’t converted to Judaism). He was clearly devout because he took a long journey to go to Jerusalem to worship God. And as Philip approached the chariot the eunuch was in, it turned out that the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53 out loud.
What better Old Testament scripture to point to Jesus than Isaiah 53! Surely, this too was orchestrated by God. Philip started the conversation by simply asking, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Sometimes, all we need really is just to position ourselves at the right spot, and when the right moment arises, to ask simple questions like, “What are you reading?”, or “How are you doing?”, or “What’s going on in your life?”
The eunuch responded, “How can I unless someone guides me?”
He then invited Philip up the chariot. This eunuch was hungry to know God’s Word! Again, this surely must have been God going before to prepare this eunuch’s heart.
The eunuch reads Isaiah 53:7-8 and asks Philip who were the verses referring to? Isaiah or someone else? The question was spot-on!
Verse 35 describes Philip as having “opened his mouth” to tell the eunuch the good news of Jesus. This little detail is telling. Obviously for Philip to speak to the eunuch, Philip had to open his mouth.
The truth in my experience, is that when I’ve had some divine opportunities – I did not open my mouth. I was afraid. Such a simple act, yet we know how weighty our words are. We know that the act of opening our mouth has consequences.
Philip must have gone through all the Old Testament scriptures pointing to Jesus, because the eunuch believed in Jesus by the end of that conversation.
As they continued on their journey on the desert road, they came across an oasis with a water pool. How timely! Just as the eunuch believed in Jesus, God orchestrated that they pass a water pool in the desert. So they got off and Philip baptised the eunuch.
The instant that they came up from the water, the Holy Spirit swept Philip away. Gone like the wind. The eunuch might have been startled at first. Did he just encounter an angel? Or a spirit? Or a ghost? No, the eunuch was sure of his faith in Jesus, and that what he just experienced was from God. For the eunuch went away rejoicing.
God is the one who orchestrates everything for His mission.
On this note, I should highlight that the prophecy of Isaiah is especially significant for a eunuch.
Generally, the Bible refers to eunuchs as people who are unable to have sex (through birth defect or castration) or who choose not to have sexual relations (Matthew 19:12).
“… And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.” (Isaiah 56:3b-5)
I believe this passage applies to people who are or choose to be celibate, and are thus unable to have children. God says to them: You are not a dry tree, you are especially favoured, you will receive an inheritance better than sons and daughters.
In Jesus, the consummation of this promise began. In the return of Jesus, the consummation of this promise will be complete.
Coming back to the story, Philip went on to preach the good news everywhere he went as he continued north towards Caesarea Maritima.
I visited this place not long ago: It was the Roman administrative capital of Judea, with significant Greek influences. Eventually the amphitheater or hippodrome was used as an entertainment venue where people would watch Christians be devoured by lions. It’s likely that Philip would eventually suffer such a fate, if not martyred through some other means.
In this story, we see that God is the one who calls, instructs, prepares hearts, prepares the setting, prepares the Scriptures, prepares the water for baptism, and carries away for His mission. God is the one who orchestrates everything for His mission.
Our responsibility is to listen, respond, obey, rise, go, position ourselves where God wants us to be, open our mouth, preach the gospel, and baptise.
And the nations will come to know God, and will go rejoicing.
This article was first published on Ronald’s blog, and is republished with permission.