Personal Evangelism
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Personal Evangelism

Acts 8:26–40  (ID: 2445)

God’s ways are not our ways. Alistair Begg reminds us of this truth while considering Philip the evangelist’s sudden move to intercept a chariot in the desert in Acts 8. This decision began a fantastic encounter arranged by God, the ultimate director of all evangelism. The Lord had prepared a eunuch from Ethiopia to read Isaiah’s prophecy and seek answers, just in time for Philip to arrive. Two thousand years later, God can still use even short, “chance” encounters to change someone’s life forever.

Series Containing This Sermon

When the Church Was Young

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 26401

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we thank you that Jesus is a risen Savior. We thank you that the Bible is a living book. And we pray now that as we take our Bibles and look into them, that the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent, will so enable us and so illuminate the printed page that we might meet the risen Christ in the pages of this living book. For it’s in his name we pray. Amen.

Please be seated, and I invite you to return with me to the portion of Scripture that was read before from Acts. Now, what we’re doing is we’re picking up our study from where we left it last time—at least those of us who were present in the evening—and we are returning now to the work of Philip in this city of Samaria that was before us in all of the drama that was involved in this explosion of evangelism and then as he receives his marching orders to relocate.

God’s Ordering of Events

Howard Marshall says of this transition from where he was in the city to where he went in the desert, “The story is set in motion by an angelic command … which took [Philip] away from the scene of successful evangelism and led him to a place which must have seemed wholly inappropriate for further Christian work.”[1] Anybody looking at what was happening and then considering what was apparently going to happen might have been forgiven for saying, “Well, it doesn’t seem sensible that somebody who is so effectively used in this particular community should be uprooted in a moment of time and sent off somewhere entirely differently.” Well, of course, it is a reminder that God’s ways are not our ways and that God is sovereign in all of our comings and goings, and the details of our encounters and our journeys do not take him by surprise. It’s good to remind ourselves of that, isn’t it, especially as week follows week and as journey follows journey: that the psalmist is helping us to understand God’s dealings when he says that he watches over our coming and going “from this time forth, and even forevermore.”[2]

Now, perhaps only an angel would be sufficient to convince an evangelist to leave the crowds that he had been speaking to for a sixty-mile journey into somewhere that represented nowhere at all. In fact, the road—it was a sixty-mile journey from Jerusalem down to Gaza. It was a well-used road, and it was a road that went beyond Gaza all the way into Egypt and therefore into the continent of Africa. God’s plan for Philip, as it seems from the text, was that he would now do privately and personally what he had been doing publicly and extensively. God had in mind for Philip an encounter with an individual that he had already planned. As dramatic as it seems, it is as true as it is said that from all of eternity, God Almighty had ordered the events of everything in each of these individuals’ lives so as to put them in this exact spot at this precise moment for this express purpose.

God is sovereign in all of our comings and goings, and the details of our encounters and our journeys do not take him by surprise.

Now, you think about it sometimes when you meet somebody out of the blue and there is a coalescing of things that are quite dramatic. We all have these stories. I remember on the Great Wall of China, when I visited there with Mickey many years ago now, I was standing on the Great Wall and asked a lady in a fairly overt manner—I saw that she was eating sweets, or candy, from the UK, and it was so long since I’d had one of these particular things that I just boldly said, “Do you think I could have one of them?” And she was taken a little aback. And that led to a conversation which was… I won’t bore you with it now. It’s not of particular importance or even interest. But we found ourselves, thousands and thousands of miles away, in a moment of an encounter that actually had lineage to it and lines to it that you could never have contrived—that we had mutual friends, despite the fact that we were in China, I lived in America, she lived in France, and the mutuality was based in the Midlands of England.

Now, when those things happen, you say to yourself, “It’s really amazing, isn’t it?” And we all have those encounters. But when you think in terms of God at work in our lives and the lives of those who know him, putting us purposefully in positions, having already commissioned us with the good news of Jesus and having promised to us the power of his Spirit if we will make much of Christ, it actually revolutionizes all of our comings and goings and all of the opportunity for meeting with people.

Yes, this was to be a life-changing encounter. And who knows if today is a life-changing encounter for somebody here at Parkside Church?

The man he meets we’re introduced to in verse 27. He was an Ethiopian eunuch. He was an important official. He was essentially the chancellor of the exchequer in this government of Candace the queen. He had an important government position. He came from the Upper Nile region—a region that stretches from Aswan to Khartoum—and his geographical context had been impacted by his religious interests. We’re told that he had gone to Jerusalem to worship.

It’s quite strange, isn’t it? Somebody who is living in that location going to Jerusalem to worship: What brought this about? Well, presumably, this man had become a God-fearer. In the Jewish synagogues of the time, there were people who converted to Judaism, and in their conversion to Judaism, they went through all the rites of Judaism. They were marked by the seal and sign of the covenant, they entered into the sacrifices, and so on. They participated in the totality of what Judaism would mean. But not all did. And some who embraced Judaism in terms of a desire to know God made themselves part of the periphery of things without ever actually committing to the heart of the matter.

It’s a bit like Parkside Church in some ways. There are those who have committed themselves to Jesus, who have declared the same in baptism, who have identified with God’s people here. And then there are others on a series of concentric circles who may actually be a lot like this man, the Ethiopian. ’Cause he was clearly a fine man. He probably was a disciple to the Jewish faith without accepting the Jewish rules. That would explain why he would go up to Jerusalem for a conference. And that would explain why he was even interested enough to pick up one of the scrolls from the equivalent of our bookstore through here. Somebody had said, “We’re glad that you’re up at the conference, and if any of you would like to take some reading material with you when you go, why don’t you slip through to the temple bookstore and pick up a scroll, and perhaps you can read it on your journey home.” And the Ethiopian had said, “I like that idea. I think I will pick up a scroll.”

In other words, here was an individual who feared God. He was interested, he was intrigued, he was concerned, and he was motivated. All of those verbs apply to many who sit here Sunday by Sunday: motivated enough to get up and come, intrigued enough to consider the questions, involved enough to at least expose yourself to the question “What are we really dealing with here? Are we touching reality, or is this just a bunch of nonsense?”

And so we find him, as Luke records it for us, “sitting in his chariot”—verse 28—and he is “reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.” That would be a scroll. And as I said, I think, last time, I just picture him like Denzel Washington sitting up there in his chariot. And he is a Black man, presumably. Maybe it’s Morgan Freeman. That might be a better picture. But it’s one of these wonderful fellows, and he’s sitting up there, and he’s reading from the book of Isaiah.

Meanwhile, the evangelist—this Philip fellow, like Billy Crystal or Dustin Hoffman—he is being moved into location. So the chariot is going; it doesn’t move particularly fast. And the evangelist is being moved into position. The evangelist is presumably saying to himself, “I was tremendously useful up here in the city. Now I’m out here on this road. I can’t imagine why I’m on the road.” And then the Spirit of God prompts him to go and join up with the chariot. And so he comes along. You can imagine somebody going, in Washington, DC, towards the Capitol Building in a large limousine—perhaps Condoleezza Rice. And as she moves towards the Capitol Building, somebody pulls up on a bicycle and raps on the window. That’s the kind of encounter.

Four Questions in the Chariot

And what then follows essentially turns on four questions. They’re all there. In verse 30, the first question is posed by Philip: “Do you understand what you[’re] reading?” The response is in the form of a question in verse 31: “How can I … unless someone explains it to me?” Then the question “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” And then, finally, the question “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” One question asked by Philip to get it going, and then three questions asked by the Ethiopian in response.

The man’s humility and his honesty is quite striking. And as we will see in a moment, too, it is an indication of the fact that God is at work. Because routinely, men and women are not asking questions. They’re not reading these passages, and even if they’re reading the passages, they have no interest in them to say, “I wonder what this passage is about.” They can come to an event like this, someone reads the Bible, they pay attention at one level of their brain, they know that the Bible is being read, but they’re not engaged with the Bible at all.

If you ask them afterwards, “Was the Bible read?”—“Yes, I think it was.”

“And what passage was it?”

“Frankly, I don’t know.”

“Do you know what was said in the passage?”

“No, I don’t know what was said in the passage.”

So it is a significant day when somebody who has routinely been living that way walks out of an encounter like this, and the passage is registered in their minds. The questions have begun in their hearts. Because by nature and by routine, such questions do not arise; such interest is not present. It is perfectly natural for men and women simply to go through the experience and to proceed on their journey. No, this is an indication of God at work.

Calvin actually observes—he says the reason why “the reading of Scripture bears fruit with [so] few people today” is “because scarcely one in a hundred is to be found who gladly submits [themselves] to [its] teaching.”[3] Now, that’s the truth. The reason that it bears so little fruit is because we do not come to the Scriptures saying, “Now, what this Bible says is what it means, and what it means has impact, and whatever its impact is, it’s going to have an impact on me.” It’s at that point that we know we have moved simply beyond a cursory reading of the Bible and to a commitment to what the Bible has to say.

Now, it is in that context that the evangelist is given the opening of all openings. He goes to him, and he says, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And the man could have said, “No, but I’m frankly not interested, really. I’m just killing time.” That would have been the end of the conversation. Philip would have had reason to say, “I knew I shouldn’t have come down here. Sixty miles for nothing!” But by now he must be intrigued. After all, to be relocated, to be on this road, to be beside the chariot… He broaches the conversation: “I see you’re reading there from Isaiah. Do you understand that stuff?” The fellow says, “Well, actually, frankly, no, I don’t understand it. How are you supposed to understand this stuff unless someone explains it to you?” What a great opportunity!

And so Philip takes it. And look at what he does. He’s reading now, you see—as God has ordered the events—he’s reading from Isaiah chapter 53. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Could have been reading from somewhere in Leviticus—made Philip’s job a little harder! Could have been reading from some dreadful passage out of Judges about some great vanquishing of the armies, and Philip would have really had to be on his toes to get from there to where he needed to go. But no, he’s reading from Isaiah 53—perhaps the classic passage in the whole of the Old Testament concerning who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for sinners. And so, once he has engaged him, he is ready to respond to him.

“Tell me, please,” comes the third question—verse 34—“who[’s] the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” It’s a very good question, isn’t it? We read our Bibles all the time, say, “What is this passage about? How am I supposed to understand this?” People seem to do all kinds of things with the Bible. They can make it say this; they can make it say that. Perhaps someone says, “I was reading The Da Vinci Code, and I’m not sure I should believe the Bible at all. Apparently, it’s all just stuck together with Sellotape and glue.” But again, I say to you, most people, they couldn’t care less. They’re not remotely interested in who wrote what or who said what or why they said it or even if it’s any impact in them. But to the person who’s beginning to ask the questions, it is an indication that God is at work within you.

And in answer to the question, you will notice that what Philip does is to begin with that passage of Scripture and then tell him the good news about Jesus. Tell him the good news about Jesus. Now, this is very, very important on both fronts. It’s important for the person who’s saying, “How do I ever come to know Jesus?” and it is important for the person who’s asking, “How do I effectively tell someone about Jesus?” There is a wonderful lesson for us here, isn’t there, in that when he is presented with the opportunity that is there in the Scriptures, he doesn’t then say to the man, “Do you want to get rid of problems in your life? Do you want to get rid of bad habits? I was just wondering if you lack purpose in your life or if you would like to get more out of life?” All of those questions can be addressed. They’re not irrelevant questions, but they’re not the starting point, and they’re not ultimately the issue in the gospel. All of those issues can be addressed in other ways and at other times. They may be benefits that the gospel provides, but they are not themselves the gospel. No, he begins with the very passage of Scripture, and he tells him the good news about Jesus.

The true Christian message asks people to consider facts.

In other words, he would have followed the apostolic pattern. He would have said, “Jesus was a man anointed by God to conduct good works and healings and to proclaim the kingdom.” That’s what the apostles said. They said, “We need you to know that the life of Jesus is a verifiable life. Then we need you to know that in the death of Jesus, he was actually fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53, and he was dying for the sins of men and women. The good news, however, is that Jesus’ death was not the end, but he was raised from the dead, and he is returning for all who are ready to meet him. History is not cyclical; it is linear. It began in a moment, and it will end at God’s appointing. And Jesus has been established by God the Father as the one into whose hands has been entrusted the responsibility of judgment.”

Now, think about this: the true Christian message asks people to consider facts. Facts. He told them the good news about Jesus. He didn’t tell him his experiences. He didn’t give him his ideas. He didn’t launch into some strange diatribe. He stuck with the information. Learn this in passing, won’t we? Didn’t seek to entice him with the benefits. Didn’t seek, initially, it would appear, to worry him with the perils of rejecting the story. He just laid the facts out before him.

Now, this is very important in our era. Because you understand what has happened in our culture philosophically, don’t you? Men and women are prepared to talk about facts if you’re talking about, for example, the boiling point of water, or freezing point, or the conversion tables between Fahrenheit and centigrade, or the batting averages of your favorite baseball player. That is the realm of facts. But when you move into the realm of beliefs/values, then our culture says we are no longer dealing with facts. Now we are simply dealing with beliefs, with faith ideas, with personal faith journeys, with values that we have determined that we will embrace and perhaps proclaim. And so, in a very skillful way, the Gordian knot has been snapped, as it were; the umbilical cord has been wrenched between the reality of objective historical information and the experience of a life-changing encounter on the basis of that objective historical material. And the temptation for those of us who believe is to go to where the culture seeks to lead us, to give up on stating the facts about Jesus—because these are the things that people find so hard to handle—and go immediately to tell people just our feelings about Jesus or our experience of Jesus. But our experience of Jesus or our feelings about Jesus are flat-out irrelevant unless they are based on objective reality. And the apostles are clear on this.

“I want to talk to you about the fact that Jesus lived. If you take a coin from your pocket, you will notice the date. The reason for the date is because Jesus has essentially bisected history—despite the attempts to clean up AD and BC. I want you to consider the fact of the death of Jesus—that it is the pivotal point of human history,” and so on. “I want you to consider the fact that in the cross, God was pardoning the sins of men and women even though they deserved condemnation. I want you to consider the good news that although your life is in the wrong, that Christ died to put it in the right. I want you to consider the fact that God’s justice is established in the cross. Because sin had to be punished, or else he couldn’t be a holy God, and sin had to be punished in someone who could bear the sins of another. And Jesus is the Savior because he’s the only one qualified to save. He is not like any of the other religious leaders!”

You see, the challenge of pluralism in our country is so prevailing. And what pluralism says is “Listen, all of these views are equally valid, because everybody is really on about the same thing.” But when they’re honest about Jesus, they know that Jesus isn’t like Buddha, and he isn’t like Krishna, and he isn’t like the religious leaders that have walked across the stage of time. He is radically different! So in order to maintain the perspective of philosophical pluralism, the pluralist must then devalue Jesus.

That is why in Time and in Newsweek and in all of these magazines, there is a constant onslaught on the deity of Christ, on the significance of the death of Christ, and on the notion of the return of Christ. Why? Because these things stick out like a sore thumb. His very claims are so unbelievable. And the dramatic transformation in these disciples is undeniable, and the existence of an ever-expanding church is inescapable. So if they’re going to convince us that we’re all the same, then they’re either going to have to bring the other characters up to the level of Jesus or do what they do, and that is seek to bring Jesus down to the level of the other characters. That is why, my friends, you and I, in speaking to our neighbors and our colleagues and our loved ones, are not called to tell our story first and foremost. We’re actually called to say, “I’d love for you to consider this: that Jesus is Lord”—the cry that echoes through creation.

Now, all of that and more must have been involved in this conversation. And Philip obviously did a masterful job of explaining all that was going on. And as a result of that, as they continue along the journey, he asks the question (verse 36), “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”—a question that a number of people in Parkside have been asking lately. Four of them will be baptized this evening. We look forward to that. “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” Perhaps we’ll address that question in detail this evening.

And so, “he gave orders to stop the chariot,” and “then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” What a dramatic moment! I mean, who would have ever thought at the start of the day, when he got in his chariot and got his scroll, said, “Well, next stop: home,” someone had said to him, “Nope, I don’t think so. There’s a little Jewish man. He’s going to be coming along here sometime later in the day. And as a result of your encounter with him, your life will never be the same again, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

Oh, that’s the story of men and women’s lives, isn’t it? That’s why some of you are here today. If you were to give your story, it would essentially be the same story. Oh, not a chariot, and not a little Jewish man, perhaps. But it may have been. I don’t know. But you would essentially say, “Something happened to me. Someone shared with me. I observed a change in someone’s life. I was intrigued by whatever was going on. I became interested in it. I found that I was actually listening to what was being said. I had no explanation for it at all, and then one day, it just seemed to dawn on me in its entirety, and I realized that I was rebellious, and I was unbelieving, and I was distrusting, and that my view of the world held no answers for the big questions of life. And I, too, came to trust in Jesus.”

Well, that’s how the story ends, isn’t it? “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord … took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but [he] went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.”

A Historical Note and Two Words of Application

Now, I have a couple of things to say by way of application, but I just want you to note a sort of historical point. If your Bible is open and you want to, turn just to Acts 21:8. Acts 21:8. Luke is continuing to describe the progress of Paul on his journeys. They’re on their way to Jerusalem. And in Acts 21:7, he writes, “We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. [And] leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house”—notice—“of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”

Now, remember that Luke writes for us his Gospel as a result of careful investigation and an analysis of the historical material, and he writes his second book on the same basis. There is every likelihood that what we’re now reading here in Acts chapter 8 Luke learned when he stayed at Philip’s house with Paul in Acts chapter 21. And when they sat down and had their meals and Luke said to Philip, “Tell me some of the stuff that’s been happening to you. Tell me about your life as an evangelist. Do you have any good stories? I’m thinking of writing all this down in a book”—and Philip perhaps said, “Well, I’ve got an amazing story concerning an Ethiopian. I’d love to share it with you.” And he took it down, and wrote it down, and left it to us. Well, it’s possible. It’s not vital. It’s not a main thing, but it is highly likely.

And so, having had this little encounter, he’s up and gone—gone, away. You say to yourself, “Well, he didn’t get him in a Bible study. He’s not in a small group. I mean, what are you going to do? You can’t just do this with people. You can’t just baptize people and leave them. What’s God doing?” And Philip was wheeched away, and “the eunuch did[n’t] see him again,” but he “went on his way rejoicing.” Last he knew of him! Philip’s gone, leaving him into the custody of God. You see, when God converts people, God converts people, and God will look after the people he converts. He doesn’t bring them to birth and into his family just to leave them at a doorstep somewhere. He will take care of his own. He does. We may have every confidence in that.

Some of us are so tied up in our rigmarole of how you do things that we say to ourselves, “Well, there’s no point in me talking to somebody on a plane, because we’ve only got about fifteen or twenty minutes left, and what could possibly be accomplished in fifteen minutes?” A life-changing, eternal encounter could be accomplished in fifteen minutes. Who knows but that God ordered the very events of your life to put you in that seat for that moment? And if God chooses to do that, he will take care of the individual who sits next to us.

God converts people, and God will look after the people he converts. He doesn’t bring them to birth and into his family just to leave them at a doorstep somewhere. He will take care of his own. He does.

Now, let me say two things in conclusion. First of all, a word to those who would fit more with the Ethiopian. I don’t mean a word uniquely to those who are from an African American context but in terms of his characteristics: that he was a worshipper of God, that he was interested enough to go up to the festivals in Jerusalem, that he was interested enough to buy a Christian book. So, to those of you who are in that category—you find yourself coming to events like this, you find yourself at least tangentially interested in reading material, and you’re prepared every so often to accept an invitation to attend the odd conference—let me say a word to you: it’s God’s Spirit that prompts you to seek God. When you shift from talking and arguing to listening and learning, you have made another step down the road. When your reading of the Bible actually involves the engaging of your mind, you are another step down the road. When you find yourself not willing to admit it to anyone else but in your private moments yourself thinking these issues out, perhaps taking a look at a book, opening a page or two, just wondering about it, God is at work within your life.

Because I say to you again: routinely men and women do not ask these questions, do not consider these issues. But the person who comes to this point will find themselves saying, “How long have I been alive? Twenty years? Thirty years? And in all the time I’ve been alive, how much have I actually thought about Jesus? And why is it that I’ve been so unconcerned about Jesus? Why is it that I’ve never seen my need of Jesus? And why is it that now, at this point in my life, I’m asking these questions, I’m looking for answers?” Well, I can tell you the answer to that: because the author of the Bible is the creator of your life, and he is the director of evangelism. He wrote this book, he made you, and he has appointed the context in which you yourself are living at this very moment. And it is an expression of his grace and his goodness and his kindness that somebody who has lived their life with such little interest in Jesus, such little understanding of his truth, such a lack of concern about what it would mean, that he still would be seeking for the likes of you and me.

That’s the word, then, to the God-fearer. What about the word, then, to those of us who would be in the role of the little evangelist or the little witness? Well, just an observation or two and we’re through.

First of all, you will notice when you read this for your homework that Philip was prepared to speak to an individual. Now, that may seem so obvious that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but no, it’s actually very much worth mentioning. I’m reading a book at the moment called Watching the English, which is an anthropological study of the way English people relate to one another in pubs and in airports and railway stations and so on. It’s a fascinating book, and not least of all as it explains the way in which English people engage in conversation with one another and how they use the weather not because they’re interested in the weather or because it’s particularly bad, but they use the weather as a point of contact so that they can start talking to one another, because by nature, they don’t like to talk to one another, and they’re not going to tell anybody very much at all. So the idea of actually speaking to an individual, having a conversation with an individual, and expressly having a conversation about Jesus is something that we need to be prepared to do. I wonder: Are you prepared to do that, Christian? I wonder: Do you get up in the morning and tell Jesus that you’re prepared today to have a conversation with someone about Jesus? I have a sneaking suspicion that if you will begin your morning like that, you will find that your days are increasingly filled with such opportunities.

He was prepared. He was, in the same sense, available. He was ready to do whatever God wanted him to do. Remember, in Acts chapter 6, he’d been set apart to serve tables. Didn’t seem like much of a deal. The other fellows got all the big deals. The apostles, they were going to give themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word. And he was filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith, and he was given a job to make sure that all the tables were under control.[4] Every fellow in business knows this: when you see a young guy come into your operation, whether he’s in the factory or whether he’s in the mail room, or wherever he is, his willingness—that girl’s willingness—to serve the tables, to lick the stamps, to get the stuff, to move the boxes will be some indication of their potential for the future. And in the service of God, the same is true. There is no menial task in serving Christ. There is no irrelevant opportunity. There is no scale of effective ministry that puts some of us at the top and the rest of us at the bottom. So he serves the tables. He’s prepared to preach to the crowds. And even though he loves preaching to the crowds, he’s prepared to speak to the individual.

How about you, believer? How about me?

Only to be what he wants me to be
Every moment of every day,
Yielded completely to Jesus alone
Every step of [the] pilgrim way.

Just to be clay in the Potter’s hands,
Ready to do what his will [commands];
Only to be what he wants me to be
Every moment of every day.[5]

That’s the only posture for the Christian believer. That’s the only posture if we’re prepared to sing and mean, “Jesus is Lord.” It affects my belief, it affects my behavior, and it affects where I belong. It affects everything. He is either Lord of all, or he isn’t Lord at all. He does not settle for categories.

Also, you will notice that he was thoughtful and he was careful in engaging conversation. This is where many of us get off the track, because we’re not thoughtful, and we’re not careful, and we don’t begin in a way that makes it possible for somebody to talk to us. We’re, frankly, downright obnoxious, many of us. No, no. He just starts, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” It may simply be “Is that a good book? Are you enjoying that book? Are you interested in angels? I see that book is about x.” But once he’d engaged them in conversation, he got quickly to the heart of the matter: Jesus Christ crucified for us. And once he got to the heart of the matter, he presented the whole gospel; otherwise, there could not have been the fully informed response on the part of the Ethiopian, who says, “Here’s water. Why shouldn’t I get baptized?” How did he get to that? ’Cause Philip did a comprehensive job. He told him, “This is what happened on Pentecost: Peter preached, the people repented, they believed, they were baptized, and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine and to the breaking of bread and prayers.[6] And Mr. Ethiopian, Mr. Chancellor, I can see that you’re a worshipper. I can see you fear God. I see you’re even interested in the Bible. But what you need to do, what you need to do personally, is to repent and believe the gospel and be baptized.” That’s the message! And then, presumably, he couldn’t even believe his ears when they passed the pond and the fellow says, “Well, we’re passing water right now. Why don’t I just get baptized?”

Let me finish with a story. Derek Prime tells it of F. W. Boreham from New Zealand. He was a minister in New Zealand. He was making a journey on a night train—on an overnight train. It was a particularly uncomfortable train. The light in the train was so poor that you couldn’t read, and by his own testimony, Boreham was in a bad mood. Overnight journey, bad light, couldn’t read, uncomfortable train, bad mood—an immediate point of identification for most of us, right? In the contemporary equivalent, you got back in a 727, back by no window, and engine, and, you know, 31F, stuck: bad mood. He found himself, as he sat in the darkness of the compartment, thinking about the other young man that was actually in the compartment, sitting diagonally to him. He looked across at this young man without engaging him in conversation, and he thought, “What a poor chap he is. He’s uncomfortable like me. Maybe he’d like to talk, and we could pass the time away together through the night.” And as he thought that, he then thought about his spiritual duty—because, after all, he’s a minister of the gospel. He’s telling his congregation, “You should tell others about Jesus,” and here he’s not even considering telling this person about Jesus. And as he thinks in that way, his responsibility grew.

As a result of a stop for the elaborate shunting of the train to get it on the prescribed track for ongoing travel, Boreham got out, stretched his legs, got back in the compartment, and sat opposite the young man and began to engage him in conversation. And he said, “Hey, look at us, stuck on this train, uncomfortable, no light. Here we are. But we’re on the journey together, aren’t we?” said Boreham.

“Oh, yes,” said the young man.

Then said Boreham to the young man, “And I hope that we are fellow travelers on life’s great journey.”

To which the young man said, “It’s strange you should say that, because I’ve been thinking a lot about life’s great journey lately.” And as a result of that, the conversation ensued.

The journey was coming fast to an end. Boreham was under pressure. He said to the young man, “In light of all that I’ve shared with you, you can walk off this train and, even as you walk home, simply trust in Christ as your Savior.” And they parted. Boreham writes how he regretted the fact that he never asked him his name and never asked for his address. They were just separated from one another.

Five years later, while traveling on a train to Dunedin, a young fellow handed him a Christian tract. And to their mutual surprise, it was the same young man who had received the Lord Jesus Christ five years previously as he walked home from the train.[7]

As you walk out from here this morning, you, too, may receive Jesus.

Father, thank you for your Word. And I pray that you will help those of us who are considering the claims of Christ not to be put off by the stumblings and bumblings of some who are well-meaning but inept. I pray that you will help us to realize that we’re not dealing in the realm of relative values or beliefs, but either this Christian thing is true, or it’s false. There’s no halfway house. Either Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, or he’s not. Help us to think in these terms, and bring us, we pray, to faith in Jesus. And for those of us who go out to the journeys of all of our tomorrows, we pray that you will make us dutiful and responsible, imaginative, creative, and kind, and that eternity will reveal the impact of these strange encounters, these conversations that you, the director of evangelism, have created.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 161.

[2] Psalm 121:8 (KJV).

[3] John Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles 1–13, trans. John W. Fraser and W. J. G. McDonald, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 247.

[4] See Acts 6:2–5.

[5] Norman J. Clayton, “Every Moment of Every Day” (1938).

[6] See Acts 2:14–42.

[7] F. W. Boreham, Rubble and Roseleaves, and Things of That Kind (New York: Abingdon, 1923), 128–31.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.