By Paul Koch –
I have a confession to make, I’ve never really liked the phrase “sharing Jesus.” I’m not sure why, but it has just always sounded weird to me. But I hear it all the time. I was watching the call service for the new pastors from the Seminary in St. Louis and the preacher must have emphasized over a dozen times the need to “share Jesus”. You must share him with the people, share him in this or that particular way, go out of your way to share your Lord. It makes it sound like you’re sitting down next to your neighbors with a big bowl of Jesus and you’re inviting them to dig in and get a bite. Like he is some sort of quantifiable substance that is passed back and forth. And it all sounds so easy, right? Just share him! Well, it’s not such a simple and straightforward task. It’s complicated. We have difficulty sharing Jesus with our own family and friends, let alone people we don’t know all that well. So just to say that you need to or ought to share Jesus doesn’t actually do much.
We may see this famous story from Acts 8 as a perfect example of how we are supposed to share Jesus and what it actually looks like in action. Most of us are familiar with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip is directed by the Lord to head down from Jerusalem towards Gaza, and there he sees an Ethiopian eunuch who was an official of the court of Candace the queen of the Ethiopians. This was a trusted and valuable servant and he had been in Jerusalem to worship. Apparently, he was a convert to Judaism and was heading home after making a pilgrimage to the city for one of the annual festivals. The Spirit directs Philip to go to this man and as he approaches his chariot he hears him reading from the prophet Isaiah. Not only is he reading Isaiah, he happens to be reading Isaiah 53, the great prophecy about Jesus’s suffering and death for the sins of the world. Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, and the man says, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And so, he invites Philip to come up and sit with him as they discuss the Word of God.
Now, so far so good. But it’s about to get even better. For this man really wants to know about the one who was like a sheep led to the slaughter. So, Philip gets to proclaim to him the Good News of our Lord’s sacrificial death and resurrection for the sins of the world. He is the one who tell him about life and salvation in Christ alone. And when he gets done, the eunuch wastes no time in holding firm to this good news. He says, “Look here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” and so they get out of the chariot and Philip baptizes this man in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is sharing Jesus par excellence. This is how it’s done, right? Wrong. This is never going to happen. Okay, perhaps not ever, but it’s very unlikely.
Philip was directed by the Spirit to a man who is already a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who was searching the Scriptures, who was open to a discussion about the faith. In fact, he was the one who invited the discussion. He happened to be reading the very text that spoke about the faithful and suffering servant of God. He was willing and eager to hear the Good News and immediately rejoiced in the proclamation of Christ’s gifts, and so wasted no time in being baptized. This would be like God telling you in a dream to go down to the DMV where you find a man content to just sit there and read a Bible. He happens to be reading John 3:16, and he openly asks you if you can explain what it means that God sent his only begotten Son for our eternal life. When you tell him what you believe, he turns to the drinking fountain in the corner and says, “Hey can I be baptized right now, because I want the assurance of God’s love for me.” How likely is any of this to actually occurring in your life? If this is how you share Jesus, then I don’t think your going to have a whole lot of success in that endeavor.
The text is just too perfect, too easy. But perhaps it isn’t about finding someone that will invite you to sit next to them and share Jesus with them. Perhaps the purpose of this Pollyanna image is not to focus too much on Philip, or even the Ethiopian eunuch, but to focus on the role of the Spirit in all of this. To focus on how the gifts and promises of Christ move from one person to another. After all, the Lord is in control of this entire scene. It is an angel of the Lord that directs Philip to that desert place to begin with. It is the Spirit that tells him to approach the chariot. There, in the chariot it is not the inquisitiveness of the Ethiopian that wins the day but the driving force the Word of God which he is reading. And that Word is clarified and applied to his own life by the actions of Philip. In other words, it is the means by which God’s gifts travel in this world that is the real star of this story.
Surely, God could have just opened the eyes of the eunuch to the truth of the Word that he was reading. Certainly, he could have been struck by the Word and prayed for enlightenment and understanding. He might have even had some sort of spiritual moment where he felt a burning in his bosom or saw a vision or some such thing. He might have invited the suffering servant of Isaiah to be his personal Lord and Savior and then just gone on his merry way. But this is not how our God chooses to work. No, for reasons that seem beyond our wisdom and understanding he continues to choose to work through means, through people like Philip and physical things like water for baptism. This is how he impacts lives. This is how he gets a hold of sinners and rouses them from their slumber. This is how he brings comfort and assurance the broken-hearted.
To share Jesus isn’t to put two straws in a milkshake and enjoy the blessings of God. No, to share Jesus is to physically be there in opposition to another’s sin, to speak wisdom into their confusion, to love without cause, to forgive and gather close around the means God uses to give himself to us. Perhaps sharing Jesus is a little less sitting around and singing Kumbaya and a little more like going to war. Being willing to risk for someone else, to get dirty and be humbled in the process. There is a great scene in the movie “300” where King Leonidas has a meeting with the great Persian King Xerxes. Leonidas and the 300 Spartan warriors had been destroying Xerxes’ men throughout the day and he clearly wants to find an end to the battle. In their meeting he says to Leonidas, “There is much for our cultures to share.” And Leonidas responds with a smile, “Haven’t you noticed, we been sharing our culture with you all morning.”
Perhaps that is more what we ought to think of when we speak of sharing Jesus. It is an issue of death and life. To share Jesus is to speak Jesus into the ears of a brother or sister, it is to condemn what God condemned and above all else to forgive what God forgives. To share may mean you sit with the lost and confused, you struggle along side them and become the mouth that God uses to speak his truth in love. To share Jesus may mean you hold the hands to the ungodly and walk along side of them to the place where his Word continues to be spoken. To share Jesus is to gather with brothers and sisters and carve out a space in this world where baptisms are treasured and forgiveness echoes from the rafters.
The real hero of this text is the work of the Spirit to bring Philip and the eunuch together: the Spirit that uses his mouth and to speak the gifts of God. The Spirit that promises life and righteousness through a ritual act of washing where all the gifts of Christ freely clothe the repentant. And that Spirit is still at work today. He is still working through means, through Word and Sacraments. He still gives life and hope and assurance to the children of God. You share in Jesus when you who know your sin and failure then hear your Lord says once again, “I forgive you.” Over and over again, “I forgive you. Yes you.”
Then, like Philip, you are sent out. Out into the lives of other people, out to the lost and doubtful and the overwhelmed. To share Jesus with them. To have compassion, to love, and to forgive.