Robert Jeffress - Portrait of an Effective Evangelist
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Some Christians assume evangelism is a job reserved for pastors, so you might be surprised to learn that the first and only person to be called an evangelist in the Bible was not a paid professional or a pastor but a layperson. Today we'll discover how God used this ordinary Christian in an extraordinary way. My message is titled, "Portrait of an Effective Evangelist" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Thomas Huxley was an agnostic. He was also known as Charles Darwin's Bulldog. In fact, many people say had it not been for Huxley's defense and support of Charles Darwin, Darwin's Theory of Evolution would've been nothing but a minor theory in the scientific community. One day, this agnostic, Thomas Huxley, was talking with a man who professed to be a Christian, and he said to him, "Tell me, how did you come to be a Christian, and what does Christianity really mean to you"? The man answered, "I'm not about to get into an argument with you, you would tear me to shreds with your intellectual ability". Huxley said, "No, I'm not trying to argue, I really wanna know how you became a Christian and how it changed your life".
And so the man related his simple testimony of how he came to faith in Jesus Christ. And when he finished, Thomas Huxley's eyes were filled with tears and he said, "I would give my right hand if I could only believe that message". The fact is, there are millions of people around the world who would love to hear and embrace the hope of Jesus Christ. But as Paul said in Romans 10:14, "How shall they believe in him of whom they've not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher"? That word preacher doesn't mean a paid professional like me. In the Bible, a preacher is a proclaimer or anybody who shares the hope of Jesus Christ with others.
Do you know what the untold secret of Christianity is? Had the spread of Christianity depended upon paid professionals like me, pastors, apostles, evangelists, the Christian movement would've never gotten off the ground. But the explosive growth of Christianity, one writer said, "Was because of amateur missionaries," he called them. That is, ordinary men and women, laypeople, ordinary people who were willing to share the extraordinary message of Jesus Christ. And we're going to see the first person who did that in our study today. Last time in Acts 7, we looked at the first martyr of Christendom, a man named Stephen. He wasn't a pastor, he was a layman, a deacon, the first to die for his faith in Christ. Today we're going to look at the very first, in fact, the only person in the entire Bible called an evangelist.
And again, he wasn't a pastor or an apostle, he was a layman, a deacon, his name was Philip, and we find his remarkable story in Acts chapter 8. And today, since we're all called to be evangelists, we're going to look at three characteristics of an effective evangelist by looking at the life and ministry of Philip. There're really three acts to Philip's story. First of all, we see Philip in Jerusalem where he demonstrates the invaluable quality of invincibility, refusing to back down. Now remember, in the Bible text, in the original text, there were no chapter divisions, those were added later on. Now, in what we call chapter 8 verse 1, we find these words. "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death".
Now notice the cause effect relationship here. "And on that day, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles". Do you see the relationship? It was after the death of the first Christian, Stephen, that suddenly a torrent of persecution was unleashed on the entire church. Why is that? Just like the smell of blood puts a shark in attack mode, so it was that the death of one Christian turned the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ into a feeding frenzy. And notice what happened. Verse 3 says, "And Saul began," after he got the taste of blood of Stephen, "He began ravaging the church".
That word ravaging, somebody has pointed out, is a word used to refer to a wild boar tearing up a vineyard, tearing it apart. "He entered house after house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison". When we get to chapters 9:22 and 26, we'll see some of the horrific things Saul did to Christians. You remember in the 1930s and '40s, Adolf Eichmann, he was the architect of the Nazi's Final Solution to exterminate the Jews from the face of the earth. Well, Saul was the Adolf Eichmann of his era. His goal was to exterminate Christians, and he tried to do it. And then verse 4 the effect was, "Therefore, those who had been scattered," there's the word again, "Went out about preaching the word".
Now that word scattered is an interesting word. In Greek, there's several words that are translated scattered. One word refers to the spreading out of something till it virtually disappears. Like you take ashes and scatter them on the ocean, you can't find them anymore. That's not the word used here. The Greek word diasporesen, we get diaspora from it, this word refers to planting of a seed. You throw, you scatter seed and it plants in a multitude of places. And that's what the early church did. Yes, they were persecuted, they fled, but not in order to hide, but to preach the gospel. And this is a fulfillment of the prophecy Jesus had given in Acts chapter 1 verse 8. Remember before he ascended into heaven on the Mount of Olives? He said, "But you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth".
Now, what most people miss about that verse is, they don't understand this, that verse was not a command. Most of us think that is a command, "Be witnesses here and in Judea and Samaria, to the uttermost". It was not a command, it was a prediction. Most people think when Jesus spoke those words, he was standing before a map with a pointer telling his disciples the sales strategy for Christianity. The guys were gonna start small here in Jerusalem, and we're gonna grow organically until we spread to Judea and Samaria. And once we've saturated Judea and Samaria, we're gonna go global to the uttermost parts of the earth. No, this wasn't a strategy, it was a prediction.
The fact is, the disciples would've stayed in Jerusalem forever if it hadn't been for persecution that pushed them out. And we're gonna see in a moment how persecution pushed them out to Judea and Samaria, and then it pushed them even further to the uttermost parts of the world. Philip, yes, he was persecuted in Jerusalem. He fled to Samaria not to protect himself, not to hide, but to keep on preaching the gospel as we'll see in just a moment. He wasn't about to be intimidated by these Jewish leaders. He had seen the courage of Peter and John who said, when they were intimidated, they said, "You've gotta be kidding, we're not about to stop speaking about those things that we have seen and heard," Acts 4:20.
Well, Philip was that same invincible evangelist. He said, "I may have to change locations, but I'm gonna keep on sharing the gospel". He is a perfect picture example of invincibility. Notice the second characteristic, and that is humility. Humility. What do we mean by humility? And why is it important for sharing the gospel? Humility is simply putting the interest of other people above your own interest, putting their needs ahead of your needs. In Philippians 2:5 through 8, Paul said, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, he did not regard his equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied Himself". In verse 8, "And being found in the appearance of a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death".
Jesus didn't come to earth to meet his needs, but to meet our needs. He laid aside his rights as God. And I want you to notice two things Philip laid aside to make him an effective sharer of the gospel. First of all, he laid aside his personal prejudices. Look at chapter 8 verse 6, "The crowds," now he's talking about Samaritans, "With one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, and they heard and saw signs which he was performing". You know we read this, well Philip went to witness to the Samaritans isn't that nice? And forget what an unusual thing that was.
You see, the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans returned the favor by hating the Jews. But Philip, Philip preached to the Samaritans. He was willing to lay aside his personal prejudices that were a part of his upbringing, and look what the result of that was in verse 25, "So, when they had solemnly testified the spoken Word of the Lord," they means Peter and John who had traveled down to see this, "They started back to Jerusalem and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans".
Peter and John who had hated the Samaritans too saw what was happening, and therefore they started preaching to the Samaritans as well. What does it take to be an effective proclaimer of God's Word? First of all, it takes invincibility, it takes humility, and thirdly, it takes clarity, a clarity of the message. And we see that in Philip's experience in the desert. Look at verse 26, "An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, 'Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.'" And Luke adds, "(This is a desert road.)" Now think about this, Philip had had a successful revival in Samaria. Scores of people were coming to faith in Christ. These were new converts that needed to be encouraged and yet in the midst of that, God says, "Your ministry's over there. I want you to go". "Go where, Lord"? "Go to a road in Gaza". "In the desert? Are there any churches there"? "Nope, but you go and do what I've told you to do".
Philip had heard the voice of God too often to ignore it. And so verse 27 says, "He got up and he went". There he is standing on a road out in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly he sees a chariot approaching him. And in that chariot was an Ethiopian eunuch. Verse 27, "A court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all of her treasure, and he had come to Jerusalem to worship". Now he is what we call a Proselyte. He wasn't a Jew by birth, but he had converted to Judaism. So he was a follower of Judaism, not at birth, but he had converted to Jerusalem. He was a very devout person. Now let me stop here and make an important point I'm gonna make again when we come to Acts chapter 10.
If you ask most people today, do you think a man who worships God, reads his Bible, and goes to church is going to heaven one day? Ninety-nine point nine percent of people will say, "Yes". Most Christians will say, "Yes". And yet I want you to notice here, and when we get to Acts 10 with Cornelius, none of that was enough to save this person. This court official was devout, he loved God, he worshiped the true God, he went to worship God, and he read the Bible, and yet that wasn't enough. Listen to me this morning, no one can be saved apart from a saving faith in Jesus Christ. There is not in history one person after the cross of Christ who was saved without exercising a personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Acts 4:12, Peter said, "There is salvation in no one else; there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved". You cannot be saved apart from a personal knowledge of Jesus. But what I want you to see is, notice to what lengths God will go to get the knowledge of Jesus to somebody who really wants to know God. He takes Philip out of this prosperous, growing revival situation and plants him right in the path of this Ethiopian court official to share with him Jesus. So what was he doing? Look at verse 30, "Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the official reading Isaiah the prophet, and Philip said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' The court official said, 'Well, gee," captain obvious, "How could I, unless somebody guides me?' And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him".
Now, the passage of the scripture which the official was reading was this, it came from Isaiah 53. "'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent. So he does not open his mouth. In humiliation his judgment was taken away; who will relate his generation? For his life is removed from the earth.' The eunuch answered Philip and said, 'Please tell me, of whom does this prophet say this? Is he speaking of himself or is he speaking of someone else?'" He was reading from Isaiah 53, verses, what we call verses 7 to 8.
Now stay with me on this. If he was reading out loud from verses 7 and 8, it stands to reason he had already finished reading verses 5 and 6. Do you remember what Isaiah 53:5 and 6 say? Talking about Messiah, "But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening of his well-being fell upon us, by his healing we are scourged. All we like sheep have gone astray, We have turned every one of us unto our own way; but the Lord has laid upon him," Messiah, "The iniquity of us all". The clear prediction of the suffering of Messiah for the sins of the world. So after reading all of these things, the eunuch wanted to know, "Who is the prophet Isaiah talking about? Is he talking about himself or somebody else"?
And what did Phillip say? "Oh, everybody just interprets the Bible for himself. All that matters is what it means to you". No, he didn't say that, he gave him a clear answer. Look at verse 35, "Philip opened his mouth, and he, beginning from this Scripture, he preached Jesus to him". Isn't that amazing? All he had was the Old Testament, but that's all he needed. He preached Jesus to him with the Old Testament. It reminds me of Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples who didn't recognize him after his resurrection. And the Bible says, "Jesus began showing him how the Old Testament prophesied of him". He preached Jesus to him.
Folks, here's an important word for us when we're sharing the gospel with somebody, the gospelness is not about your brokenness, it's not about your failed relationships, it's not about your addictions, it's not about you or me, it's all about Jesus. The gospel message is about Jesus's ability to forgive sins if we trust in him. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ that the Ethiopian eunuch heard. And what was his response? Look at verse 36, "And they went along the road. As they went along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?'" They're out in the desert and yet they see a pool of water. And the first thing the eunuch wants to do after believing was to be baptized. "[And Philip said, 'If you believe with all of your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.]' And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down," underline this, "Into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. And then they came out of the water, and the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing".
This is the most extensive passage in scripture about baptism. It's a symbol, there's nothing in that water up there that's gonna take your sins away. That water represents the grave. And when you're baptized, you're saying, "I have died to my old way of living, I've been raised to a new way of living". Isn't that what Paul said in Romans chapter 6 verses 1 to 3? You know, Paul wrote this chapter to answer a question many Romans had and many Christians today have and that is, "Can I keep on sinning after I've been saved? Can I remain on practicing homosexuality or adultery after I'm saved? Can I keep my addiction after I'm saved"? Paul said, "That's the wrong question".
The question should not be, can a Christian keep on sinning after he is saved? The question is, why would a Christian want to keep on sinning after he is saved? Doesn't mean you won't stumble, but your desires change. Look at what Paul says in Roman 6 verses 1 to 4, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase"? "You know, I've got my get outta hell free card. Can I just go sin all I want to? Am I to keep on sinning"? No. "May it never be! How shall we who have died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we've been buried with Him through baptism in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so too we might walk in a newness of life".
Just imagine after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, just imagine Lazarus comes out of that sepulcher, he's unwrapped, he blinks his eyes three times, can't believe the sunlight, can't believe what he's just experienced. He said, "Thank you, Jesus, for raising me from the dead. Thank you for giving me new life, but if it's all the same to you, I'd like to wrap myself up back in those stinky grave clothes and climb back into this tomb. It's comfortable in there". Can you imagine Lazarus or anybody who's been raised from the dead wanting to go back to the tomb? That makes no more sense than somebody today saying, "I've trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of my sins, I have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I've been given a whole new quality of life, but if it's all the same to you, I wanna go back to my old way of living".
That's why Paul says, "Can those who have died to sin, do they really wanna still live in it"? May it never be. And that's what baptism is a picture of. I've died to my old way of living, I've been buried and I have been raised to a newness of life. This passage teaches us a lot about baptism, but that is not the major focus of this passage. This passage is a reminder of how to be effective at the one purpose we all share together. Have you ever thought about this? Why didn't God just rapture you and take you to heaven the moment he saved you? Things would've been a lot easier for you and me. God could've enjoyed perfect untainted fellowship with us apart from any sin in us whatsoever, but God left us here for one reason.
He left us here to share the gospel of Christ with as many people as possible, as quickly as possible before he comes back again. And we all share that same purpose. The source of your paycheck is not the definition of your purpose. Don't get your paycheck and your purpose confused. It doesn't matter whether your paycheck comes from a church seminary mission board or a hardware store, that's not your purpose. Your purpose is the same purpose as my purpose and our purpose, and that is to share Christ, and to be the effective witness that Christ has called us to be means we have to be invincible, not be backed up or intimidated by anyone. We have to be humble, not caring what other people think but putting their needs above our own. And we have to be clear in the message we share. With laser light precision we have to be able to articulate what it means to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.