Rector's Reflections - 2 May

Rector’s Reflections  

Thursday 2nd May 2024

Philip the Deacon Gives a Masterclass in Evangelism

In yesterday’s reflections, we saw how we need to make sure that our evangelistic plans fit in with the over-arching plan which has already been established by God. In chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus instructs the Apostles that they are to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. So the starting point for evangelism is the desire to be witnesses to the life and teaching of Jesus. We are to point others to Jesus.

The next step is to look around us for fertile soil in which to sow the seeds of the gospel. Yes, the fruit of our sowing is in God’s hands. We can never be certain what the result will be- sometimes it seems as if our evangelistic efforts are getting absolutely nowhere at all, although this may simply mean that we need to be more patient. We may have to wait years before the harvest is apparent.  But at the same time, it is not unreasonable to look for fertile soil in which to sow the seeds of the gospel. Seeds are more likely to bear fruit when they are sown in fertile ground.

Philip the Deacon would bear this out from his own experience. Philip went out to sow the seeds of the gospel in fertile ground. He went first to the Samaritans, a people who were similar in many ways to the Jews, and who also valued the first five books of the Old Testament.  According to John’s gospel, the relations between Jews and Samaritans were not good -  hence surprise is expressed when Jesus is prepared to speak to a Samaritan woman. Be that as it may, Samaritans and Jews had much in common, and so it made sense for Philip to share the gospel with them.  The Samaritans seemed likely to provide fertile soil for Philip’s missionary endeavours – and so it proved to be. We are told that the crowds in the city of Samaria “with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip”.

Sometimes a people as  whole, or a substantial proportion of the people,  express interest in the gospel message – this seems to have been the case with the Samaritans. But sometimes our evangelistic focus is on individuals. Having spent time with the Samaritans, Philip was called by good to spend time with a single individual – the Ethiopian Eunuch.  This Eunuch was clearly an important person: he was treasurer to the queen of the Ethiopians, and had enough money to undertake the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He also had the money to undertake the journey by chariot, which would almost certainly have been driven for him by a servant or slave.  This Ethiopian Eunuch was probably not a Jew himself, but he was clearly someone with a deep interest in the Bible. What was his choice of reading for the long journey back home?  It was the Book of Isaiah.  Did he have lighter reading available as well? We don’t know.  The key thing was that here was a man who was interested in the Bible, and who wanted to find out more.   When Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”, the Eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”    Here was fertile ground for the sowing of the gospel seed. Philip made the most of this opportunity, and starting with the passage of scripture which the Eunuch was reading, “proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus”.

In both these cases, Philip sowed the gospel seed in fertile soil. The Samaritans had enough in common with the Jews to be open to hearing the gospel message. And the Ethiopian Eunuch had a sufficient interest in the bible to be open to learning more.  

I wonder: if we look at our own communities, our friends and our family, where might there be fertile soil for the gospel?  Can we think of individuals or groups of people who might well be interested or at least open to hearing the good news of Jesus Christ?


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