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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Early Evangelism

Evangelism (not the same as Evangelicalism) is the word we use to refer to sharing the gospel -- the good news about Christ -- with others. Let me take you to one of the very first evangelists to give you some insights on evangelism.

The story comes from the first chapter of John's Gospel. Jesus was going to Galilee where He "found Philip and said to him, 'Follow Me'" (John 1:43). Philip's first recorded act was to go find Nathanael and tell him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1:45). Nathanael wasn't impressed, replying with his famous, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Philip's zealous, well-considered apologetic was simply, "Come and see" (John 1:46). Well the rest of the story was that Nathanael did go with him to see Jesus, who convinced him that He was the Son of God (John 1:47-51).
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and *said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael *said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." (John 1:47-49)
The last part is about Nathanael's conversion, not about evangelism. What can we learn here about evangelism?

The first thing we see is that when Philip was called by Christ, his behavior changed. He wasn't able to keep it to himself. He wasn't "cool with that." He knew a guy who would want to know this Jesus of Nazareth. He had a friend who needed to hear about the Messiah. So, he went and told him what he knew. Nothing more. Nothing less. Philip didn't pull out the Scriptures and give the biblical reasons he determined that this was in fact the Messiah. He didn't offer evidence, reasoning, logic. He simply said, "We've found Him." Philip told Nathanael what he needed to hear without slick presentation or careful apologetics. Not that these are bad; he just didn't do it.

Second, Philip encountered resistance. "You are confused, Philip. Nothing good can come out of Nazareth." Philip didn't let it bother him. Nor did he try to explain it away. Philip simply said, "Come and see."

Third, notice that strategy -- "Come and see." It wasn't, "You should go check it out." Philip practiced what I think of as "walk alongside evangelism." "Here," he said, "let's go together and look at this for ourselves." Philip wasn't a mere messenger delivering a message; he was a passenger on the same ride. He was talking to a friend offering something the friend would need and willing to go along with him to get it.

Last, but certainly most importantly, all of this started with Christ. Christ called Philip and Philip responded with heart and with action. Christ saw Nathanael before Nathanael responded to Philip's summons. Christ told Nathanael things about himself that only the Son of God could know. From beginning to end it was Christ. We often think it's us; it isn't. People without Christ are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1-7), hostile to God (Rom 8:7), blind (2 Cor 4:4), and intent only on evil (Gen 8:21; Rom 3:10-12). It takes the effective call of Christ to change that. He will use us in that process as He used Philip, but in the end it is Christ, start to finish.

Sometimes we make evangelism too big of a problem. Philip had no training, no finely honed arguments, no cherry-picked Scriptures. He responded to Christ's call, acted immediately to tell his friend what his friend needed to hear, offered to walk alongside in this journey, and took him to Christ. From beginning to end the course and outcome was determined by Jesus. That's our job. Cooperate and join Him in His work. Care enough for people to tell them what they need to hear and walk with them in the journey. Expect Christ to do any conversion. A nice lesson from an early evangelist.

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