Holy Spirit and Evangelism. Acts 8. May 2nd.
Acts 8:26-end, 1 John 4 (whole chapter), John 15:1-8
John writes: We know that we live in God and He in us, because He has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4).
But the Spirit is not a passive third member of the Trinity living within us.
We explore, the Holy Spirit and evangelism in this sermon.
Philip is on his way to the desert road, on the way there he sees a chariot, inside which is an Ethiopian Eunuch. ‘’The Spirit told Phillip: ‘’Go to that chariot and stay near it.’’ Nothing more. Then we read: ‘Phillip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the Prophet.’’ We know the rest of the story…
This is not the first time the Spirit has been involved in evangelism. Jesus had said, before his ascension, ‘’you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses.’’ You see this literally happen on Pentecost – the Spirit falls on the group and they witness both in tongues and through preaching and 3000 believe and are baptized. When we continue to read Acts, we see the Spirit being proactive in evangelism.
We spend a few minutes working through the first half of the book…
In Acts 4. When we read last week. Peter and John are arrested. They appear before the Jewish council. We read, ‘Then Peter filled with the Spirit’. He then confidentally, boldly,c learly communicates and proclaims Jesus. A moment of Spirit inspiration and equipping. Later, when the church gather to hear about these first persecutions, they pray. They include in their prayer ‘enable your servants to speak your word with boldness.’ They are filled afresh – suggesting that being filled with the Spirit is not a one time occurrence – and ‘they spoke the word of God boldly.’
Acts 6. Stephan gets into debate and it says ‘they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.’
Acts 11. Barnabas is sent to the new church community at Antioch. Barnabas is described like Stephan. ‘’He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.’’ This link – full of the Spirit – and we hear of people coming to believe.
Acts 8 – Philip is directed. Yet at the end of the story ‘The Spirit of the Lord took Phillip away … Phillip appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns.’’ Directing where Phillip would next share the message about Jesus.
Acts 10. Peter has his vision of the large sheet with the various animals. After it, soldiers sent by Cornelius arrive at his door. Like Philip – he hears the voice of the Spirit : ‘’Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up, go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’’ Like Phillip he is sent by the Spirit into a situation that will lead to people believing and trusting in Christ. Like Phillip he is sent into an unlikely situation to Roman – part of the occupying army – and to a Gentile.
Acts 11. Barnabas is sent to the new church community at Antioch. Barnabas is described like Stephan. ‘’He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.’’ This link again – full of the Spirit – and we hear of people coming to believe.
Acts 13. Again at Antioch. The church and its leadership are fasting and worshipping. ‘’the Holy Spirit said: ’’set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. ‘’’ The two men are commissioned. Then we read ‘’The two of them sent on their way by the Holy Spirit went down to Seleucia and sailed from there.’’ And so begins the first missionary journey.
Later, the second journey is described in Act 16. Strikingly we read ‘Paul and his companions travelled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word.’’ Later it says, they tried to enter Bithnyia – another area – ‘’but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.’’
So. If someone was asked. What is the Holy Spirit about. They may say – ‘Gifts!’ or ‘Fruits of the Spirit.’ True. But in Acts, you get another clear emphasis – he is about evangelism.
Equipping – such as Peter, Stephan and the early church to speak, but also directing – Phillip and Peter to go, sending apostles on missionary journeys, and even saying where not to go. David Bosch missiologist says: ‘’the gift of the Spirit is the gift of becoming involved in mission, for mission is the direct consequence of the outpouring of the Spirit.’’ The Spirit initiates mission. He guides it. He is shown to be a ‘’catalyst, guide and inspirer toward mission.’’
A step of faith.
Phillip does not get a promise of success – ‘go to that chariot and the man will listen to you and become a Christian’. Only ‘Go to the chariot and stay near it.’ We do not know how He spoke. It was clearly not a vision or image. He spoke in his mind. Or Perhaps an audible voice. He knew the voice of the Spirit. And he obeyed.
We have mentioned a few times that Michael Harvey has worked with a few members of our church using a model called ACORN. The Spirit seeks to draw people into a relationship with God. He desires to use us in this process. It is simply to make ourselves available to His purposes. So, in the group, he encouraged each of us to pray daily, ‘Lord with whom do you want me to connect, who is outside the church’. And if not daily, a name would come to mind, or perhaps we would bump into them – digitally or in person. For the people we had contact with, unless it was obvious why, we were invited to ask ‘How are you really doing?’ and see where the conversation went. A bit like ‘Go near that chariot and see what happens.’ ACORN stands for – Ask. Call – Spirit speaks. O – bey. R – report back to other Christians, testify. N – notice what God was doing in that person and in you (as we often grow or God is working in us too, as we seek to connect with non believers and seek to obey his promptings).
We can invite the Spirit to speak in our week. ‘To invite him to be a catalyst guide and inspirer of our mission.’ Lee Strobel puts it this way: We can pray / tell God. ‘’Please surprise me with opportunities to tell others about you.’’ He shares of one such divine concidence.
When he was a newspaper editor, Lee says, he was getting ready to leave the office, when he felt the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit. I continue with his words… ‘’I sensed God was wanting me to go into the business office and invite my friend, who was an atheist, to come to Easter services at my church. Since the impression seemed so strong, I figured something dramatic was going to happen. And it did – but not in the way I anticipated.
I walked into the business office. The place appeared empty except for my friend, who was sitting at his desk. Perfect! I reminded him that Easter was coming and asked if he would want to come to church with my wife and me. He turned me down cold. I ask if he was interested at all in spiritual matters and he emphatically said no. I ask if he had any questions about God, and again he said no. I talked to him about why the resurrection was important but he clearly wasn’t interested.
With all my evangelistic efforts being instantly shut down, I was beginning to get a bit embarrassed. Why was he sooo disinterested in talking about spiritual matters if God was indeed propping me to talk with him? Finally I stammered. ‘’Well, uh, if you’ve ever got any questions, um, I guess you know where my desk is,’’ and I walked out.
What was all that about? I couldn’t understand why he was so strongly resistant. In the end, I concluded, maybe I was going to be one link in a very long chain of people and experiences that would lead him to Christ. Still, as far as I know, he remains a skeptic to this day.
Lee says, the story jumps forward several years. By then he is a teaching pastor in Chicago. After he had preached one morning, a man came up to him and said. ‘’I just want to thank you for the spiritual influence you’ve had on my life.’’
‘’That is very nice’’, I said. ‘’But who are you?’’
‘’Let me tell you my story.’’ He replied. ‘’A few years ago I lost my job. I did not have any money. And I was afraid I was going to lose my house. I called a friend of mine who runs a newspaper and said. ‘’Do you have any work for me?’’ He asked. ‘’Can you tile floors?’’ I said ‘’sure.’’ We need some tiling done at the newspaper. If you can do that, we can pay you.’’
So one day, not long before Easter, I was on my hands and knees behind a desk in the business office of the newspaper, fixing some tiles, when you walked into the room. I don’t think you even saw me. You started talking about God and Jesus and Easter and the church to some guy. He wasn’t interested at all.
But I was crouching there, listening and my heart was beating fast. And I started thinking : ‘’I need God! I need to go to church.’’
‘’As soon as you left, I called my wife and said ‘’we are going to church this Easter.’’ She said ‘’You are kidding?’’ I said ‘’No, we are.’’ We ended up coming to this church that Easter and my wife my teenage son and I all came to faith in Christ. I just wanted to thank you.’’
Lee finishes: ‘’I was dumbstruck! Who could have foreseen that, except, the amazing God of grace.’’
Phillip enters into the direction of the Spirit and in his case, a man he would never have met ‘normally’ hears the gospel.
Work of the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit doesn’t only direct Phillip, he continues to be at work in the eunuch. John 3. Jesus says –‘’ I tell you the truth no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. The flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’’
Phillips discusses scripture, he uses intellectual discussion. Yet none of that, will bring someone into a living relationship with God as a child of the King. It is only through the working of the Spirit. Yes, the encounter and commitment to God may come through intellectual enquiry, or perhaps moral change or an act of worship but as Anglican Bishop Graham Tomlin says ‘’The Spirit alone make Christians. It is the Spirit who brings about Christian life, worship and transformation. It is through the Spirit that we are made sons and daughters of God.’’ As the Spirit brooded over the waters of creation, it is He who works to bring new creation with the lives of people.
But is that all the Spirit is seeking to do with this eunuch? No, it is a new identity also.
Romans 8 says You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’’ The Spirit draws us into the experience of being a child the Father. We are adopted as sons and daughters.
That means we can enter into the love of the Father. At the Baptism of Jesus, the voice from heaven. ‘’This is my Son whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.’’ John 17 as Jesus prays: ’’I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order, that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may in them.’’ How does Jesus dwell in us? By his Spirit, as John says in 1 John. And one thing Jesus seeks to do – to make himself known to us that the love the Father for Jesus may be in each of us.
A visual picture of the love of the Father for a son, is the Parable of the Lost Son. A story told by Jesus – describing God the Father. We see the love for the son revealed. Paul shares – Romans 5 – one work of the Spirit: ‘’And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he have given us.’’ The cross, he goes on to say, declares the love of God. Yet the Holy Spirit also works to pour out God’s love within us. The Greek word ‘pour out;’ Paul uses – same one as is used on Pentecost ‘I will pour our my Spirit in those days.’’ The Spirit seeks to pour out the love of God into our hearts, into our cores, as He was poured out on Pentecost.
The Baptism of Jesus was the Father’s verdict on the Son. Jesus was not just the son – he was the beloved Son. We know sons who are not or who were not loved by their parents. Sonship in this world, sadly does not mean loved. Yet the relationship between the Father and Son is loving, the bond between them is not disapproval, ambivalence or disappointment, but love.
We – and Phillip and the Eunuch – have been drawn into the same relationship with the Father that the Son, Jesus has, We can call God ‘Abba’ like Jesus did. As Bishop Tomlin says: ‘’we become children, heirs, standing in the same place in relation to the Father as Jesus does.’’
So the eunuch. He is not only saved. He has become a beloved son of God in Christ. It means he – like us – has a sure and confident identity as he continues to Ethiopia. An identity that can root us and rebuild us. ‘’Whatever other identities we have – whether natural, ethnic, family or professional – at a deeper level still, this is who we are: beloved Children of the Father in Christ, by the Spirit.’’ (Tomlin, p36).
The eunuch went on his way rejoicing?
Is there more that the Spirit sought to do. Jesus taught about ‘it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ We often think – fruit means, love for other believers and inner transformation like Jesus. But John writes his gospel he says in John 20, that others may believe and trust in Jesus and receive eternal life. So can the fruit Jesus has in mind, not only be love for others, and inner change, but the good news shared with others and for more people like the eunuch rejoicing in the kingdom?
Jesus commissioned his church. The aim of God – his work to bring all things – individuals and the whole created order – together under Christ, as Ephesians says. So, not surprisingly the Spirit is at work within evangelism – catalyst, inspiring, guiding. Someone said ‘’The goal of evangelism is not just to see the individual converted, so that they are happier and more fulfilled, but to see the recalibration of individual hearts and lives that they become agents of change and compassion – enlisted in the agenda of the kingdom, the renewal of creation, drawn back into the loving heart of God.’’
We do not know what happened with the Ethiopian Eunuch. The Ethiopian Church traces its roots only back to 3-4th centuries and the visits of other missionaries. Yet what the Spirit sought to do, to involve this new believer in Christ in the aims of God for his world beginning in Ethiopia, beginning in the court of the Queen where he served and worked. As he had been working already in Acts, he would have sought to work similarly in and through the eunuch.
A new creation, a new identity,
A new vocation, equipping him, directing him, in the sharing of the faith.
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
Inspire us, guide us, and use us,
to draw many to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.