For myself, and most pastors I know, it is really easy to be consumed with running my ministry and living my own life and, as a result, become disconnected from those who are far from God. And so, each week I try to find places and spaces where I can connect with someone who is far from God …
The story of the Ethiopian official (Queen Candace’s federal treasurer) in Acts 8 always strikes me about how tenaciously God is at getting the gospel to this one man. In those early days the church was spreading like a bushfire. And after Stephen is martyred in Acts 7, the first verse of Acts 8 says that “on that day a great persecution broke out against the church…”. But, in the midst of all that danger and turmoil going on, God goes to tremendous lengths to get the gospel to one man from a foreign country. This always strikes me.
It reminds me of Jesus’ parable in Luke 15 about the man who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in his flock and relentlessly searches for that one wayward and lost sheep. If we are going to have the heart of God, we must go hard after those who are far from God. We simply must!
In Acts 8, Philip has a divine interruption. A bit earlier in Acts 8 we find Philip in Samaria carrying out his ministry and then an angel of the Lord tells him to go to the desert road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza. What a strange instruction we might think. Philip may well have wondered, “What on earth is way out there?” Well, God knows … You and I are probably not likely to have an actual angel tap us on the shoulder and give us specific instructions like that – or, so we think. But we certainly can expect the Holy Spirit to prompt us in all sorts of situations. This is all about awareness and sensitivity to those opportunities that God brings across our path.
What if this next week you tuned in your spiritual antenna and started being sensitive to opportunities to have “God conversations” with those in your community? When was the last time you prayed and asked God for opportunities to share the gospel? Just as in Philip’s case we can have great confidence that God is already at work in the lives of those around us. This is evidenced by the fact that this official from Ethiopia just happened to be reading Isaiah 53, one of the most powerful prophecies about the coming Messiah.
When this Ethiopian man looked up and saw Philip, he asked Philip who the prophet being spoken of was. Verse 35 says, “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” Don’t you just delight in the fact that Philip starts with Isaiah 53, right where the Ethopian was questioning? And then takes the conversation to Jesus? Philip didn’t focus on this man’s moral condition, or talk about how sinful he was or invite him to a local church. No! He started where this man was at and took the conversation straight to Jesus. This is a terrific reminder for us, that ultimately it is an encounter with Jesus that transforms people’s lives. This man needed to be born again. And that day, he was!
As Christians living in the 21st century, we live in a culture that is so unfriendly to the claims of the gospel. We are living in what historians and sociologists call “the post-Christian era”, as if they’re so relieved it is all over. So, to declare that Jesus is the only way to heaven is not politically correct these days – and haven’t we seen the media react to Christian assertions this last week or so. When you declare that Jesus is the only way to heaven, you can expect to be ridiculed as intolerant, arrogant, and narrow-minded – and perhaps be found in breach of some code or job requirement! The days are dangerous, friends, but the stakes are high.
This is one of the non-negotiables of our faith and a cornerstone of our churches. We cannot let cultural pressure cause us to be unclear about the gospel. When we boldly declare that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, we are not being arrogant or intolerant. We’re telling the truth as Jesus, Himself said. We are simply declaring what Jesus, Himself, declared of Himself: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In 1 Corinthians 1:18, the apostle Paul said, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The cross is the great dividing line in history. Paul says that the cross divides all of humanity into two groups of people. On one side, there is the group who would look at what we believe and what we stand for and say it is “foolishness.” The word that Paul uses here is actually the Greek word from which we get our English word “moron.” Some would look at us and say we are morons for believing that a death on a cross could give us eternal life.
But Paul says that there is another group for whom, the cross is not foolishness, it is the power of God. The root word for power is the same word that we get our word “dynamite.” The gospel has explosive power to change a life. So, in this ever-changing culture, may you unashamedly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t back down from declaring Jesus as the only way, because that’s the truth that will save lives from a Christless eternity.
Historians believe that this Ethiopian official was responsible for taking the gospel to Africa. You just never know how God might use somebody with whom you share the gospel.
Hoping you are the same.