A Hitchhiker's Guide to Evangelism
If you are weird like me, you will recognize the title of this sermon as a reference to the science-fiction novel—and later movie— “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The hitchhiker here is Philip, who catches a ride on a chariot with an Ethiopian eunuch.
Wherever you are on your process of knowing God there have been some significant people who helped you along the way. God was doing a work within you and used others to impart and interpret. Today God calls us to become that essential influence in the lives of others.
As we saw last week persecution began to break out against the church and the followers of Christ were scattered to the neighboring regions. Philip went north about 35 miles to the region of Samaria and promptly began to share his faith with the people in a city there.
Phillip had no formal Bible college or seminary. He had learned the Scriptures just as many of you have; through the means provided by his local community. Phillip doesn’t have special designation or ability but rather he was open to being used by God.
He has already been responding to God. We seem to feel that if God were to call us to do something—someday—then we would do it. But, he truth is that responsiveness is something we develop. As we focus in on Philip we see a man that finds nothing more exciting than participating in what God is doing in redeeming the world.
Now Philip leads a spiritually thirsty man to life-giving water. And we can learn a lot from this process.
He is engaged in some way by an angelic messenger. And the word is “Go . . .” (8:26). “Go” is a word that God seems to use a lot. It is a word we hear God speak to those who will follow him:
“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
“Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).
What we must recognize here is that . . .
God Is Leading If We Will Listen (vs. 26-28)
God is always at work.
Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).
The Father is always at work around us
Our challenge lies in what we are focusing on. What are we listening for? What is my heart tuned into?
A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening.
Suddenly, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.”
His friend said, “What? You must be crazy. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!”
“No, I’m sure of it,” the Native American said. “I heard a cricket.”
“That’s crazy,” said the friend.
The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed. “That’s incredible,” said his friend. “You must have super-human ears!”
“No,” said the Native American. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for.”
“But that can’t be!” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.”
“Yes, it’s true,” came the reply. “It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.
“See what I mean?” asked the Native American. “It all depends on what’s important to you.”
In the same way, we should consider what we are listening for. Perhaps the reason we don’t sense God’s leading as often as we’d like is because we are so tuned into what matters most to us, and hoping that God is tuned into what we feel is needed, that we just don’t have ears to hear what He is doing.
God may lead with a clear word spoken to your inner spirit or, more often by a divine compulsion. Jesus often spoke of a divine compulsion that directed where and when he went places. In fact, when he had traveled through Samaria he said they HAD to go that route (John 4:4). And there he met the Samaritan women in what is clearly a divine appointment—something God was bringing together.
And one thing we can expect is that God’s leading will often direct us beyond our natural sense or sensibility.
How do we know when the Spirit is speaking to us? It will often be something you might think is strange, or he is telling us something that we would not have naturally considered. It’s notable that he calls Philip at an unlikely time. He already had gone out and it was going well. Philip is engaged in a city-wide campaign in Samaria. People are being saved. Demons are being cast out. Diseases are being healed. (Acts 8:4-8)
He calls Philip to an unlikely place. He is to go on the road to Gaza. This road between Gaza and Jerusalem is over 50 miles away. This is a desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. There is nothing there but hot, barren land which was not traveled during the heat of the day. Phillip was called to leave a successful evangelistic outreach in Samaria and travel over 50 miles south to a desert place without any reason being given by God.
Phillip might have wondered, “Lord, I have already gone to people who were far away and things are going well. Why would you call me to the desert? There isn’t anybody there.”
We don’t know for certain what he thought. What we do know is that Phillip went. Verse 27 says that “started out on his way”. That verse should make us aware of Philip’s obedience to the Spirit. He could’ve argued the point that it was desert land but he didn’t, he just went. We can learn something from Philip.
We too, may need to go into desert places where there are thirsty lives.
And there he met and Ethiopian man who was a eunuch.
So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians (vs. 27).
“He met an Ethiopian eunuch” -- that’s not a phrase you may hear often.
Who was this individual?
He was from Ethiopia. Most agree that this is not the same modern area of Ethiopia…but is a name that in ancient times was given to a large area of Africa south of Egypt…originally the whole region of the upper Nile, approximately from Aswan to Khartoum.
He was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”).” The Kandake was the title given to the queen mother who held the real power. He was essentially the Secretary of Treasury or minister of finance.
He is referred to as a ‘eunuch’. You don’t hear the term eunuch often today. The meaning is a bit hard to think about. The primary definition is that of “a man or boy whose testicles have been removed or do not function.” But the literal meaning of the word is not derived from the physical nature but the functional role that such men served, which was that of guardian or official of royal women. The word come from the Greek meaning “keeping watch over the bed.” Eunuchs were often employed to guard the harem or as court officials.
Some note that the term was sometimes used for officials in this capacity regardless of any actual physical castration; but most likely due to his role of serving the queen (and possibly other royal women) in private and intimate times he either was chosen because he had been born a eunuch or had been castrated to ensure that there would be no question of impropriety when he was in private with the queen. That’s what you call commitment to the job!
So here God is directing his work of redemption to a man from a faraway land; a man with great influence and trust; who may have felt socially isolated. What does that tell us about God’s heart for us and so many others? (Ethiopia also Cush in the OT, was known in ancient writings to be the ends of the earth. So, God was fulfilling in Philip the command to go to the ends of the earth with the Gospel.)
What is most notable is how all this relates to his spiritual life for he also was a religious man—a man seeking to know the true and living God.
This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet (vss. 27-28).
He was probably what was known as a God-fearer, a Gentile who was attracted to the Jewish faith, but who had not taken the step of becoming a full convert. It is this area from which the Queen of Sheba came in the days of King Solomon. So, there had already been a link between that area of the world and Judaism. The Queen of Sheba had been greatly impressed by King Solomon, and Solomon had certainly shared the Scriptures of the Jews with her. So, he may have been following a long-held attraction to the God of the Scriptures.
But he could never find full acceptance in the religious culture of his day, because he was a Gentile, and he was a eunuch. Under law eunuchs could never participate in the nation of Israel. They were completely excluded from participation in the religious rituals of Israel. (Deuteronomy 23:1) No matter how much this Ethiopian, wealthy man sought after God and loved God and wanted a relationship with God, to the Jewish people in his day he could never be a full participant in the life of Judaism. Even when he went to the Temple, he could never go into the inner court by the Temple to stand with other Jews worshiping God. He always had to stay in the outer court, the court of the Gentiles, kept at arm's length from God.
He feels stuck behind a spiritual wall. But God is breaking through.
He was a man of great influence and power; a man of wealth, status and prestige; but he must have felt within the lack of what such outward success could offer. That describes many of the people we will meet daily – they have many blessings in life and they’ve searched for fulfillment in the things money can buy, in personal companionship, in possessions, or trying to divert themselves with entertainment. But something inside still longs for more.
He had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, covering 1200 miles, up the Nile, along the desert sands of Sinai, and finally into the hill country of Judea, but what he found in Jerusalem was a form of religion that had lost its true connection and had not seen the fulfillment of its promises.
Now he is returning to home, still trying to make sense of faith, because he has come up empty. He is still hungry for the Bread of Life and thirsty for the Water of Life. The Spirit of God had been working on him to create a God-shaped vacuum in his heart that only God could fill.
This teaches us another vital truth…
God Is Already at Work in the Lives Around Us (vs. 29)
One of the biggest barriers we have in sharing the gospel with others is that we tend to feel as if we are salesmen trying to sell something to people who don’t seem to want it. We think God is like the sales manager who told us about the product and what he expects of our sales record and then left us on our own.
That is radically contrary to what Jesus was doing – and we must grasp the difference. Remember what Jesus said: “My Father is always working.” God is already working. It’s not about going into some sort of strange evangelism mode, it’s about naturally meeting the moment that is hand which God is supernaturally a part of.
Phillip wasn’t just trying to create a God thing. He was participating in what was already a God-thing. We don’t take God anywhere. God is already active in our world and in our lives—inviting us to join him. He’s desiring to use us in people’s lives.
God is already present, has already picked the time and place for this remarkable meeting. This meeting was always in his plans. We need to realize that we can discover God’s work and what is going on in heart of the other person only when we get close enough to know what is going on in them.
Of course, that is what we see God lead Phillip towards. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it. Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet " (vss. 29-30).
Now this was probably not the two-wheeled speedy chariot we usually think of. The word can refer to what we would think of as a covered carriage… and was likely accompanied by a large entourage.
As Phillip looked at this group, he could have reasoned within himself and said, “Now, wait a minute. He’s Ethiopian, and I’m Jewish. We’ve got a race problem here.” Or, he could have said, “Look, he’s rich, and I’m poor. There’s a socioeconomic problem here.” Or, he could have said, “He’s reading, and he may not want to be bothered,” and there could have been . . . oh, I don’t know . . . a manners problem? But he didn’t let race, riches, reading, or anything else dissuade him.
He ran to the chariot and heard the man reading. He got close enough to discover what the man was pondering.
What this teaches us, is that…
Close Encounters Open Doors (vs. 30-31)
God didn’t just tell him to go and speak but to first go ‘stay near.’
We need to come alongside. We tend to either relate to others as superior or inferior and we need to transcend such tendencies and learn what it means to come alongside.
Jesus came among us—alongside humanity. The way Jesus related to people led to him being accused of being ‘a friend of sinners.’
There are chariots around us that God desires us to come along side of and to get close enough to see how he may be working. Why? Because close encounters open doors.
Then Phillip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (vs. 30).
Have you ever wanted to share the gospel message of Christ and never had the conversation turn to where you could share? If you learn how to ask the right questions, it opens the door to an invitation for further explanation. Phillip asked the man if he understood what he was reading, and he responds . . .
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So, he invited Phillip to come up and sit with him (vs. 31).
He earned the right to be heard.
Phillip sets a great example for us. Begin with the point of reference in the present conversation, he used Isaiah as the springboard to share Jesus.
Phillip doesn’t have to keep chasing this chariot—he has been given an invitation to come and sit next to this man and further explain the passage he had just read. The door which had been open to share the Gospel came from the life experience the Ethiopian, not a conversation which Philip tried to force in the direction he wanted it to go. If we want to be effective witnesses, we need to make sure the word we share develops through a person’s life journey or we will never find that open door, just a wall.
The Right Questions Create Connections (vs. 32-35)
The eunuch asked Phillip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Phillip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus (vss. 34-35).
Phillip helps interpret the good news, literally, ”the good Jesus news”.
This offers the final point God teaches us.
We Can Serve as Interpreters of God’s Call (vss. 35-39)
Now few people today may be reading the Scriptures and come to us with a question but everyone is trying to understand life. In various ways, like Phillip, we can serve as interpreters.
It is not a matter of presuming we are smarter or better, but simply sharing what we have found is true. We are not called to be judges but witnesses. A witness is one who shares what he has seen or experienced.
The truth is that which is rooted in God’s eternal Word and that is what we must connect our experience to.
Romans 10:17 tells us, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This eunuch heard the scriptures that day.
The Scriptures tell us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Preparation comes through our understanding of God’s eternal and living Word, which is why we study of the Scriptures individually and together.
But even when we have learned only a little bit, we can share what we know. And even if we are asked questions that we are unprepared for, we can always tell them that we will explore more and get back with them.
Phillip knew that the Suffering Servant who came to redeem us had come and this man from Ethiopia was ready to accept Jesus as his Savior. The eunuch found the true religion when he found the one that calls: "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely. Whoever comes unto me, I will in no wise cast out."
There is an interesting play on words here in the original Greek language. The Greek word for treasure is "gaza." The eunuch was a treasurer in charge of gaza. He was traveling down the road from Jerusalem to a city called Gaza. And along the way, he found true gaza. This Ethiopian oversaw treasure and went to the town called treasure and found a treasure worth more than all others.
Have you found the treasure worth more than all others?
Are you sharing a treasure with others?
As inquisitive as we are, we wonder what happened to the Ethiopian after Phillip departed. One of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, writes that the eunuch became a missionary to the Ethiopians. And guess who the eunuch’s first convert was—the Queen herself. Years later, when the first missionaries arrived in Ethiopia, they found a thriving Christian church already there.
As we began, I noted that each of us have had people who served our journey in knowing God. As we close today, I’d like each of us to think about the people around us that we can influence for Christ. So that in a few years, they can look back at you and remember you as that person who came alongside their chariot and shared that which helped make sense of their longings and what God was doing.
There are still people travelling through the desert today.