I didn’t take it. I had an opportunity, as clear as day, to share the gospel in a random encounter this week and I didn’t take it. I kept remembering the rest of the day and even a week later, I’m still raging at myself.
Particularly as it came just over a week after I made a point about evangelism in a sermon to my church. We’ve been doing a series in Acts and I had chapter eight, but not the fun bit when Philip shared the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch who wanted to get baptised immediately, after which Phillip teleported. That story’s some craic.
I was dealing with the first half of the chapter. A quick point of context as a refresher… Acts 1:8 is a thesis for the rest of the book: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The first seven chapters are all about the disciples witnessing in Jerusalem, fulfilling that part of Jesus’ promise. From chapter eight, we see the next part of Jesus promise being fulfilled; the disciples begin to share the good news of the kingdom of God in Samaria.
But here’s the kicker. Why did they leave Jerusalem to go to the rest of Judea and Samaria? Because a “great persecution broke out.” Saul led a campaign of destruction going from “house to house”, a horrible echo of the description of the exact places that the disciples gathered after Jesus ascension (Acts 2:46 and 5:42). This campaign erupted after Stephen – one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem – spoke out against the Pharisees and was murdered.
Jesus’ promises were being fulfilled through the persecution of his people. Isn’t that incredible? The death of many in one community led to the life of many, many more in another. It reminded me of Genesis 50:20, what man intends for evil, God uses for good.
Then, there’s this little nugget in verse 4, right before we meet Philip, the protagonist of most of the rest of the chapter: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
Those who had left their homes for fear of their lives (i.e. refugees), were the ones who were spreading the gospel (missionaries). From refugees to missionaries.
It’s not the apostles doing the work here – they remained in Jerusalem. It’s the normals. The everyday folk.
“The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession … but men and women who carried on their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those they met in this natural fashion.”
This is a momentous moment in the life of the Church. For the first time, the message of Christ is leaving Jerusalem at large. And that’s happening through normal followers of Jesus, in middle of fear and persecution. Their faith is being shared in the middle of their flight.
It’s untrained, it’s unforced, but it’s beautiful. The disciples didn’t consider themselves refugees but as missionaries. They had been so transformed through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the falling of the Spirit that their persecution paled in significance to the need to share the good news of Christ’s kingdom to those around them.
This episode is instructive for the Church today. Particularly those of us who have a tendency to leave evangelism to the professionals.
I fell into the trap of worrying that I didn’t have a perfectly crafted gospel message for my encounter last week and that led to me not saying anything. I needn’t have worried.
Let this be an encouragement. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t know how to share the gospel. It’s not meant to be this big presentation, complete with PowerPoint slides and the latest statistical data from Barna. Part of the beauty of it is that it’s on the hoof, as you go, in your normal everyday life.