Sermon: Sharing Jesus Unexpectedly

For those of you who don’t know, a couple years ago I was working as a missionary associate in Kazakhstan to help start a Chi Alpha at a college there. One of the first weeks that I was there, I was walking around campus trying to listen to the Holy Spirit to direct me to some people to share Jesus with. As I was walking in front of the International Relations building, I stopped. Because right in front of me, there was this group of people that were standing around in a circle. Heads down. Eyes closed. And I thought, “Oh my gosh! They’re praying!” Now Kazakhstan is a majority Muslim country, and so I immediately recognized that this wasn’t the Muslim-style of prayer. I thought, “These are Christians boldly praying for their campus! This is going to be our leadership team!” And then as I got closer I saw that they all had something in their hands: a playing card. …they were playing Mafia. Which is apparently more of an international game than I’d realized.

Most likely you’ve either experienced something like that or you’ve imagined something like that—this sort of crash and burn-style of evangelism—and that serves as a counter-example every time you think about sharing your faith with someone new. I get that. Too much. It’s scary. But I think as people of faith, sharing that faith in Jesus with others is one of most important things we can do. So tonight we’re going to talk about sharing our faith, and I’ve entitled the message “Sharing Jesus Unexpectedly.” To do so, I want us to look at a powerful example in the book of Acts chapter 8. If you have a Bible, you can turn there. We’ll begin at verse 26.

The book of Acts is one of my favorite books because it covers the stories of the early Christians right after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. This story specifically looks at a guy named Philip. This Philip is different than the Philip we read about in the Gospel stories (they seemed to have a limited number of names back then). This Philip is commonly called Philip the Evangelist, and we can see why in this story where he has an unexpected encounter with an unexpected person.

Acts 8:26-40:

As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.” Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth” (Isaiah 53:7-8). The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.

I love this passage for a lot of reasons, first of all because of the sweet God-teleportion at the end. But I also love how unexpected it must have been for Philip. God sent him out on the 50-mile road from Jerusalem to Gaza. I don’t know about you, but if I were Philip, I would’ve assumed my mission was in Gaza. But instead, he has an unexpected encounter with this eunuch and then gets zapped away as soon as he’s done.

This story is a really good example for us because a lot of the opportunities we have to share our faith are unexpected—maybe we meet someone new unexpectedly who we can share our faith with, or maybe an unexpected opportunity arises with someone we already know. There are four things that Philip does in his unexpected situation that can help us in ours. We see that 1) Philip listened to the Holy Spirit, 2) Philip got close enough to know what was important to the eunuch, 3) Philip knew the Scriptures well enough to share them, and 4) Philip was not afraid that the Eunuch was different.

 1. Listen to the Holy Spirit (vv.26,29)

To really grasp the significance of the Holy Spirit speaking to Philip here, we need to know what happened right before this. Philip, along with Peter and John, were in the middle of spreading the Gospel throughout Samaria, an area that was kind of between Israel and the rest of the world. And things were going fantastic for them. People were being healed, demons were being cast out, and people were getting saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. It was amazing. It was in the midst of this success that God tells Philip to go into the boonies of Judea. This would be kind of like the pastor of a megachurch in Chicago moving to pastor a country church in Mississippi, or like the CEO of Apple quitting to work for Ted’s Computer Repair. In other words, this very much had to be a God thing because by human standards it seemed crazy. If I were Philip, I would have thought, “God, are you nuts??”

But what Philip does is something that we need to do, too: we need to allow God to speak to us to show us where the fertile fields are. We should always be sharing our faith. God’s already spoken to us about that through the Bible. What I’m talking about is listening to God’s direction to speak to specific individuals at specific moments. God can do this anytime He wants, but an example of when we especially need to be listening is the beginning of the school year. It’s not like we can read the Facebook profiles of all the hundreds of people we’ll meet to say, “Oh, this person looks like they’ll be open to the Gospel,” “This one isn’t interested.” No, we have no idea who to expect, so we really need God’s direction to know who we should spend our time with. It can be easy to be drawn to someone just because you share similar interests.

I remember this church kid named Adam that I really connected with at the beginning of one school because we were into the same bands. He was cool and I thought, “This kids will definitely get connected.” I spent a lot of time calling him, going to his dorm, trying to drag him to things. But he just disappeared. We’re still friends on Facebook and he’s an atheist now. That makes me sad, but the fact is, Adam wasn’t a fertile field. He had no interest in growing deeper in his relationship with God and by me spending so much time pursuing him, I was stealing time away from people that actually wanted to know Jesus.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pursue difficult people, but on a campus of 30,000, you should really hear from God if you’re going to take time that could be spent with others and devote it to the president of the “Religion is Evil” Society.

Ultimately, though, the goal is listening to the Spirit more.

The biggest danger many people worry about is that what you hear really isn’t from the Spirit, but is just your  own thoughts. Let me tell you, that’s not the biggest danger. The true biggest danger is telling yourself that what you hear isn’t God when it really is. The solution is: If you feel like the Spirit’s telling you to do something good for God, whether that’s sharing your faith or speaking out a word from the Lord, do it. I promise you, God will be pleased with you even if it is just a random thought in your head. Step out and God will reward your faithfulness.

One of the best ways you can do that is by getting involved with the Evangelism Team. While you don’t need to be at an E-Team event to listen to the Spirit, it’s a great place to build your confidence so that when you’re alone on campus and hear from the Holy Spirit you’ll have the boldness to act.

                 2. Get close (v.30)

The second thing that Philip does is that he gets close. In verse 30, he runs over to the chariot and hears the man reading from Isaiah. This is a verse that we can easily skip over if we’re not paying attention, but I think that it’s really key. Because Philip gets close and walks beside the carriage he’s able to learn what’s important to the Ethiopian. He could have barged in and told the Eunuch, “You know what you need?!” But instead, he listens and then he responds to what he hears with questions.

Sometimes we go into evangelism with an agenda—we’ve got four steps on how to become a Christian laid out in our minds, or we’ve got some other speech, and we’re just waiting for a break in the conversation to give our spiel.

I remember back when I was in college, I was hanging out with a couple people from XA, and they had a friend along with them that I’d never met before. We talked for a couple hours and during the course of the conversation I mentioned how I was involved with XA and that I was on the leadership team and so on. Then when the guy was about to leave, he asked me, “Hey, have I shown you my mug shot?” And he proceeded to give me a card with a picture of a coffee mug on it, and when I turned it over I found a little guide telling me how I could become a Christian.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the kind of evangelism where you hand out pamphlets, but it can work occasionally. But I had just spent a couple hours with this guy sharing about how I wasn’t just a Christian, I was a leader in campus ministry, and he still gave me the card. Maybe he’d “come close to me,” but he definitely wasn’t listening or trying to find out what was important to me, because if he had he would’ve realized that Jesus is important to me.

But we don’t have to be like that guy. I promise, I’ve tried to share my faith in a lot of different ways, but the best way to do it is to get close enough to the person where you can find out what matters to them.

Regardless of whether you have an encounter with someone new or an unexpected encounter with someone we already know, we get close by asking questions. A lot of times, people want to share what’s important in their lives, but they don’t feel like they have permission. When we ask questions with a real, genuine heart to learn what’s going on in they’re lives, they’ll feel freed up to share. Think right now about the non-Christians in your life who you’re closest to. Do you know their last name? Do you know if they have any brothers and sisters or if their parents are still together? More importantly, do you what they care about? What keeps them up at night because they’re excited about the future? Or what keeps them up at night because they’re scared? When we get close enough to people to know these sorts of real things about them, and they see that we care, then, like the eunuch does to Philip in verse 34, they’ll invite us to speak into what’s important to them, into their lives, and we can share how Jesus has worked in our lives and in the lives of those He encountered while on earth. But to do that we need to:

                 3. Know the Scriptures (v.35)

So, Philip listened to the Holy Spirit, he got close, and third, he knew the Scriptures. When the eunuch asks Philip who the prophet is talking about, Philip, starting from the book of Isaiah, tells the man about the Good News of Jesus.

The idea that we need to know the Scriptures is especially important if our encounters are unexpected because we’ll need to speak into a situation we may not know about. That can be pretty intimidating, especially because we may feel like we need to be card-carrying members of the Bible debate club, like we need to have thousands of verses memorized and be able to tell you “chapter and verse” at the drop of a hat, like some sort of Bible jujitsu.

Let me reassure you, that is not what I mean. While I think that word-for-word scripture memorization is a helpful spiritual discipline, the fact is that non-Christians don’t really care if you can tell them whether “God is love” comes from 1 John 4:8 or 2 Assumptions 7:7. The importance is that we’re able to share with them the truths contained in those verses.

For example, I can’t tell you how many times my tattoos have opened the door for me to share my faith. Especially in Kazakhstan, people would ask me what my “love you enemies” tattoo meant. First, though, I’d have them guess who they think said it. I got a lot of “the Beatles” or “Gandhi” or “Barack Obama,” and once, even “Michael Jackson.” But I rarely got “Jesus,” and so this gave me a great opportunity to share about Him. I was able to share about how Jesus tells us to love our enemies because that’s exactly what Jesus did to us. My favorite verse in the whole Bible is Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I’ve had that verse memorized since I became a Christian in junior high. But a couple verses later, in a verse I don’t have memorized, it explicitly calls us “enemies of God” and says that through Jesus’ death for us we were able to be reconciled to God. So even though I don’t have that verse memorized, I was able to share that truth with them because I’ve read it a bunch of times and I know it. I’m able to share what it means to people.

That’s what we should be striving for. So, I want to give you a couple tips:

1. Focus on the life and teachings of Jesus. We definitely encourage you to read the whole Bible, but if you try to read it cover to cover, it’s going to be a long time before you get back to reading about the life of Jesus. A good rule of thumb is: every two or three books of the Bible that you read, come back to the Gospels. We should be so inundated with the life of Jesus that it can’t help but come out. I would recommend especially focusing on the parables of Jesus. If you can’t share the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son in your own words without looking, I’d recommend starting there.

2. Look for connections between what you’re reading and life. As you’re reading, ask yourself, “What’s a connection between this story of Jesus with something that’s happened in my life or that’s going on in the life of someone I know?” When we practice looking for these connections when we read, we’re more likely to see them as we’re living our day-to-day lives and it’ll then feel more natural to bring them up in conversation.

3. Practice doing this with your Chi Alpha friends. If you can get comfortable with relating life to the Bible while talking with Christians, you’ll have much more confidence in doing it with an unbelieving relative or with someone you meet on your way to class.

                 4. Don’t be afraid of the different

Philip listened to the Holy Spirit, he got close, he knew the Scriptures, and, finally, he wasn’t afraid of the different.

Particularly as we step out and have unexpected encounters with new people, there’s going to be a good chance that they’ll be pretty different from us.

For example, the Eunuch in this story would’ve had a very clear understanding that he was different, that he was an outsider from the people of God. Not only was he a non-Jew and a foreigner, he was also a eunuch.

In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 23 tells us why that’s a problem. It basically lays out who’s not allowed in the assembly of God: certain foreign groups, anyone born of a forbidden marriage (like from incest)… and eunuchs, which is what verse one is talking about.

In all likelihood, this eunuch had become one voluntarily. You’re probably thinking What? That sounds crazy. Why would anyone do that? Well, at that time, if you were a man and you wanted to serve under a queen, you were required to become a eunuch because then you wouldn’t be able to “cause trouble.”

So what we have here is a person who is a foreigner, a non-Jew, and who has done something to himself that the Bible says will exclude him from the people of God.

But then what does God do? He sends Philip to share the good news with this man who, by all accounts, can’t be included. God says, he can be included. In fact, the scroll that the eunuch was carrying was from the prophet Isaiah. If the eunuch had read just a couple chapters beyond where he was reading when Philip met him, he would have come to Isaiah 56:3-5:

“Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say,

    ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’

And don’t let the eunuchs say,

    ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’

For this is what the Lord says:

I will bless those eunuchs

    who keep my Sabbath days holy

and who choose to do what pleases me

    and commit their lives to me.

I will give them—within the walls of my house—

    a memorial and a name

    far greater than sons and daughters could give.

For the name I give them is an everlasting one.

    It will never disappear!

Through the prophet Isaiah, God pushes the boundaries of who’s included, adding others and adding more. That’s ultimately what we see when Jesus comes and it’s what He calls us to do.

Not that it’s easy. In fact, I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, there are certain individuals or even certain groups who we don’t think could ever become Christians.  Not just that we think that they couldn’t, but we make the decision for them and say that they wouldn’t want to become Christians. Think about it. Maybe for you it’s a cousin who drinks too much at family gatherings. Maybe it’s a buddy from high school who goes clubbing and sleeps with people he’s just met. Maybe when you think of people who can’t be included you think of the Greek community, or Muslims, or guys who paint their fingernails black.

I don’t know who it is you think of, but I know that God wants those people, too. And I know that IT IS POSSIBLE! Look again at the Eunuch. He was just waiting for someone 1) to listen to the Holy Spirit, 2) to get close, 3) to know the Scriptures, and then 4) to not be afraid that he was different.

In verse 36, the Eunuch asks Philip, “Why can’t I be baptized?” and I can almost hear the desperation in his voice, like he’s saying, “This is Good News, but I’ve been kept from God’s people for so long, is there something else that’s going to prevent me now?” And the answer is no. Nothing. Nothing except us and our willingness or unwillingness to listen to the Holy Spirit, to get close, to know the Scriptures, and to not be afraid of those who are different.

The truth is, we don’t know what will happen when we share our faith at unexpected times or with unexpected people. Maybe they won’t be interested and will reject the Gospel. Or maybe, if we step out in faith, they’ll respond like the Ethiopian eunuch.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing is what happens after Philip leaves the Eunuch. Even if you’ve heard this story before, you may not know that church tradition traces the origins of the Ethiopian Church to this man. This eunuch, who felt like a “dried-up tree with no children and no future,” is now a tree with much fruit, a father to over 45 million Ethiopian Christians today. We don’t know what the results of sharing our faith will be, but if God can change the course of a nation through one man’s faithfulness in an unexpected situation, what can God do with an army of Chi Alpha students doing the same?

 

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