Jesus took his disciples on top of a Galilean hill. They looked out on a world dead in sin and destined for hell. Yet what Jesus accomplished changed everything. He died to remove our sins and was raised to give us life. So, he points to the horizon and says, “Go make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19).
What good news! What eternal joy! But what a daunting task! “Make disciples of all nations,” it sounds a little like trying to end world hunger. It’s a good idea, just impossible to accomplish. So we are tempted to shrug our shoulders, leave it to the professions, and move on.
However, when you visit the historical account of how this command was fulfilled you discover it is not beyond your abilities. In fact, God used ordinary people like us to take the gospel to the nations.
When I find myself low on evangelistic fever, or overwhelmed by evangelistic need, I return to three stories of salvation recorded in Acts 8,9,10.* They describe how one person reached one person for Christ. Three people, intertwined in purpose, brought about what D. Stuart Briscoe called “the redemptive triangle” (Expository Nuggets for Today’s Christians. (p.114). Baker).
A Seeking Soul
Each story contains a seeking soul. Yes, they are there! God made us so we “should seek the Lord, in hope that [we] might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). Thirsty souls all around us are wasting away in search for the meaning and security that can only be found in the Lord.
Sometimes these seekers look like an Ethiopian official who seemed to have it all (Acts 8:26-ff). Yet his life missed something vital.
Other seekers are a bit more arrogant. Life must hit them like a two-by-four, to bring them to their knees. This happened to a religious fanatic named Saul (Acts 9:1-ff). For years he ignored the facts and maintained his religious traditions, until the truth could no longer be denied.
Finally, there was a seeker plucked out of the pagan world. A Roman soldier who feared God and did good works. Yet in spite of all the changes he made and the good life he lived, he needed to know Jesus (Acts 10:1-ff).
Luke helps us see that “seeking souls” come from different backgrounds (an African, a Jew, a Roman) and you find them in different places (on a trip, at work, in their home). But they are there! Even in a sinful city like Corinth God said, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not be silent, … for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
A Gracious God
The most thrilling aspect of each story in Acts 8-10 is the presence of God. The God who is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9) is actively involved in providing opportunities for seekers to find Him. He can counsel courage, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent,” because he promises, “I am with you” (Acts 18:10; Matt. 28:20). We must not diminish our responsibility in evangelism, but we must never discount God’s activity in it.
The Ethiopian heard the saving gospel because God knew where he was. God prepared his heart through worship and the words of Isaiah. God sent an angel to recruit Philip, and the Spirit told Phillip to overtake the chariot. I wonder, did God make a pool of water available just when the Ethiopian was thinking, “Should I be baptized?”!
The Lord’s activity in the salvation of Saul is as obvious as it is jarring. The resurrected Lord speaks to Saul and strikes him blind. Then God gives Saul a vision, speaks to Ananias, heals Saul’s blindness, forgives his sins, and fills him with the Holy Spirit. God’s gracious acts are in every verse of the account!
The Roman soldier was saved because God heard his prayers and saw his generosity. God then sent an angel to the soldier and a vision to Peter, and the Holy Spirit fell on the whole family.
We are not promised miraculous encounters with angels or visions today, but we can’t miss the principle. God wants people to be saved, and He is actively involved in giving people those opportunities (1 Cor. 3:7).
This is why prayer is such an important part of sharing the gospel. Paul wrote, “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ,…[and] that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Col. 4:3-4). God opens doors for the gospel and gives courage to the speaker.
A Willing Worker
We often call these accounts, “conversion stories,” and focus on what a person must do to be saved. However, I wonder if they are not equally, “evangelistic models” which focus on what we must do to share the gospel. In each account God could have told the lost person what he needed to do to be saved. After all, Jesus spoke directly to Saul and through an angel to Cornelius. Yet, here is a profound truth: God chooses to use disciples to share the gospel with the lost.
God used people like Philip who was willing to be interrupted from a busy schedule to share the gospel with one person at a Gaza rest stop. He used workers like Ananias who was willing to take a risk to share the gospel in a scary situation. He used hardheads like Peter who were willing to conquer their prejudice to share the gospel with those who are different.
Are there any “good and honest hearts” left who seek the Lord? I think so! Does God want them to be saved? Certainly! What is missing? We need willing workers.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
*Luke’s purpose in Acts 8-10 is to show how the gospel included the Gentiles. An African took the gospel home to Ethiopia (Acts 8); the “apostle to the Gentiles” was commissioned (Acts 9); and a Roman solider became the test-case of Gentile inclusion (Acts 10,11,15). Biblically, the message of this section is, “the gospel is for all,” which is a needed lesson for any effective evangelist.
Bob Owens & Acts 8-10
My faith was first set on fire by Acts 8-10 after listening to a sermon by Bob Owen on the text (West Allen Church of Christ, around 1997, I believe). I pray the message will once again fire up someone’s faith.
A Favorite Story
(It sound like a “preacher story,” and the original source is lost beneath a heap of forgotten homilies.)
Make A Difference
A little boy was walking down the beach and tossing starfish into the sea. An old man watched him for a while, walked up behind him, and said, “Young man, what are you doing?”
The little boy explained, “When the sun comes up, these starfish dry up and die unless they get back to the water. So I’m throwing them into the sea to save them.”
The old man said, “Son, this beach goes on for miles. There are millions of starfish. Do you think you’re going to make a difference?”
The little boy looked at the starfish in his hand, flung it into the ocean, and said, “I just made a difference to that one.”