Read This Page in My Language
The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “If I were utterly selfish and had no care for anything else other than my own happiness, I would choose if I might under God to be a soul winner. For never did I know perfect, overflowing, unutterable happiness of the purest and most ennobling order till I first heard of one who had sought and found the Savior through my means. No young mother ever so rejoiced over her first-born child. No warrior was ever so exultant over a hard-won victory.”
That is what we are going to talk about today. Philip the “soul winner”. You and I as “soul winners”. Links in a chain that lead someone to Christ.
You might think that the main character in this narrative is Philip the Apostle. I remember thinking that as well, but it is not. This is Philip one of the Seven Deacons chosen in Acts chapter 6. Each of these men is described as being “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3). Stephen the Martyr is the first person we think of. Philip is usually the second.
Philip was considered an “evangelist” within the early church. His main duty was to preach Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The Holy Spirit performed many miracles through him. His ministry produced many converts in both Samaria and Caesarea.
In the episode before us today, however, the focus is not on many converts, but rather one: an Ethiopian eunuch who was in charge of his nation’s treasury. I debated whether I should explain to you what a eunuch is. I’m going to refer you to Google where you can do your own research.
But this is what should surprise us about this Ethiopian man: not that he was a eunuch, but that he believed in the one, true God and he wasn’t even Jewish. And apparently, he was a devout believer for he traveled all the way to Jerusalem to attend one of the Jewish festivals. Most people won’t cross the street to come to church. This man crossed the desert to go and worship God.
He was even reading his Bible! (I like this guy.) But although he was reading the prophet Isaiah, he didn’t understand what Isaiah was saying. Does that ever happen to you? You open your Bible and read through a chapter, and you say to yourself, “Who is this that the prophet is talking about?” And “What is that about that he says is going to happen?”
It’s a good reminder that although the central message of the Bible is easy enough for the simple among us to understand (think children), the Bible is not a child’s book. It is not written on the level of a child, and it requires continued studied to understand it fully. Some Christians have studied it thoroughly. They are called Pastors and Teachers. And like Philip, they are given the task of explaining the Scriptures to others. But they are not alone in that task.
You see, we might be tempted to think that Philip was a one man show in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. But to think that would be leaving out all the background of this text, not to mention the Ethiopian’s own personal history. He was already a believer in the one, true God. He just didn’t know about Jesus yet. The news about Jesus’ death and resurrection hadn’t reached Ethiopia yet. It was about to. We can see why God had Philip leave his prosperous ministry in Samaria and go out to the middle of nowhere for just one man. God was going to use this man to bring the Gospel to Africa. In the same way that God used Philip—just one man and only for a brief time—to give understanding to this one Ethiopian.
I wonder how many other people God used in his life to prepare him for receiving the news about Jesus by Philip. Were his parents also believers in God and that is how he came to be such a devout worshiper? Did his grandparents also teach him and set the example? Did he attend a Jewish school while growing up and did he memorize Scripture the same way our children continue to memorize Scripture in catechism class today? Remember, the Jews were in Egypt for 400+ years. King Solomon shared the Old Testament Scriptures with the Queen of Sheeba. The Wise Men came from the East. They knew the Messianic prophecies. So, many people outside of Israel had the Jewish Scriptures and believed them.
And that is one of my points today. Do you understand how God works in the life of a person to bring them to the point of faith in Jesus? He uses many people. Each one of these people is a link in the chain that God uses to lead a person to Christ. So, don’t ever think, “Who am I?” “What purpose do I have?” You are a link connected to all the other links that God uses in a person’s life to get them where he wants them to be. And you must be a very important link, for you realize, that if just one link breaks, the whole chain falls apart.
What if this Ethiopian’s parents did not do their part? What if some Rabbi down in Africa didn’t do his part? What if the grandparents didn’t do their part? Would the man have even been a believer in God so that he ended up going to Jerusalem to worship? Would he have been reading his Bible at the time Philip met him? Would the soil have already been tilled in this man’s heart so that he was ready for the seed of the Gospel? Well, we can get tangled up in so many “What if’s”, but the point is that God uses many people in the life of a believer to get them where they need to be for the Gospel seed to be planted.
Just think of how many people God has used in your life. How long is your chain? How many links did God connect to get you where you are today?
You see, this is where our confidence to speak up about Jesus comes from. It doesn’t depend all on you! The truth is that it doesn’t depend at all on you. Jesus once said he could raise up children of Abraham out of stones if he wanted to. But the fact of the matter is, and the great privilege of being a Christian, is that God does use you! Can you think of any greater privilege than for God to use you so that another person goes to heaven—especially when that person is someone you love?
And yet, people tell me all the time, “I’ll let my child grow up and decide for himself.” And all of a sudden, the chain is severed. The adult didn’t realize the great privilege and responsibility that God had given to him so that this young child would be saved. Well, thank goodness that there are other Christians who can link up to this broken chain and keep it going.
Can we be of that mindset here at Immanuel? Every single one of us is essential to the continuing of this ministry. Every one of us is necessary if there are going to be future believers in this church. Because they are out there. Trust me. They’re all over the place. I know because I run into them. They come to church as first-time visitors. Why? Because a friend invited them. Or the friend calls me on the phone and tells me about their situation, and then asks if I would go over and visit with them. Links in a chain. Not a prison chain. Links in the God ordained chain that leads a person to Christ.
Because here is the thing. God has many people in this town that we don’t even know about yet. Philip didn’t know about this Ethiopian while he was in Samaria, but he was obedient to his calling. Verse 26: “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is the desert road.” So, he got up and went.” He didn’t know what was going to come of it. He probably wondered, “Why do I have to go to the desert?” “What’s in the desert?” Well, apparently a man who needs to hear about Jesus so the dots of his faith can be connected.
People say to me, “Do you like serving in Waukegan? Why did you take the call to Waukegan?” Well, for one, God called me, and I obeyed. And two, apparently there are many people in Waukegan and its surrounding areas that need to hear about Jesus so the dots of their faith-life can be connected.” Because through somebody else, God has already put down a whole line of previous dots. I mean, it’s possible to evangelize someone with a blank slate, but most people have some knowledge of God. Most people have struggled with a guilty conscience. And some people even believe in the God of the Bible. They just don’t understand how Jesus fits all into it.
“Well how can I” the Ethiopian man said, “unless someone explains it to me?” (v. 31). Right? So, what does Philip do? He takes the passage from Isaiah, and “proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture” (v. 35).
Do you recall me saying from this pulpit how all of Scripture pushes us to Jesus? That is why God gave it to us. So that as we read the Scriptures and connect more and more dots, the line finds it’s end in Jesus. He is the Savior. Listen to what Isaiah wrote: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will describe his generation? For his life is taken from the earth” (Is 53:7-8). Philip heard the Ethiopian reading those words and immediately he connected the prophecy to Jesus. That’s the beauty of living in the New Testament! The Scriptures have already connected the dots for us!
Some of us are saying to ourselves, “Yeah, but I don’t know if I could do that.” Don’t worry about it. You’re not the entire chain. You’re just a link in the chain. I have to remind myself that all the time. So, you share the good news, and it seems to go nowhere. Okay. But you don’t know whether God is using you as the link at the beginning, middle, or end of the chain. So, rather than paralyze ourselves with what ifs and self-doubt, we just need to obey the promptings of the Spirit. You never go wrong talking about Jesus with another. Never. Whether the person happens to be 5 years old or 85 years old. You just don’t know.
But God does. And that is why he sends you. That is why he sends us corporately as a congregation. To explain the Word, to baptize using the Word, so that the nations are brought to the forgiveness that is found only in Jesus Christ. Amen.