“Ain’t That Good News?” April 29, 2018
“Ain’t That Good News?”
Acts 8:26-40/ 1 John 4:7-21
He was 92 years old. And he was invited to preach an anniversary service. People in the pews were restless, wondering what the hoary old clergyman might do. Would he drop dead in the middle of the sermon? Would he go on and on and on?
Slowly he made his way forward. He had no notes in his hand. He steadied himself on the pulpit and said, “When I was asked to come here today and talk to you, your pastor asked me to tell you about the greatest lesson ever learned in my 50 odd years of preaching. I thought about it for a few days and boiled it down to just one thing that made the most difference in my life and sustained me through all my trials – the one thing that I could always rely on when tears and heartbreak and pain and fear and sorrow paralyzed me. That one thing is: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, we are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me…the Bible tells me so.”
This little story is usually credited to the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth which I find slightly hilarious; hilarious because this is the same Karl Barth whose volumes and volumes of writings on the book of Romans alone have caused many of his students to pull their hair out wishing he would simply get to the point. But that’s the thing about scripture: it can be both simple and drive-you-crazy complicated all at the same time. Today, I think we’ll stick with the simple.
In our text from the book of Acts, Luke tells us of an encounter – an encounter between Phillip and an Ethiopian who had been to Jerusalem to visit the temple. Now, right off the bat you have to wonder what this guy was doing so far from home. He was obviously a man of means – he had a driver and carriage – but what gives here? He was also a black man and a gentile, and so was surely denied entrance into the temple itself. Yet, he came. He had heard of the God of Israel, had heard of the healings and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and he came. We can only imagine the suffering this man had known, and even though he was now in charge of the queen’s treasure and lived a comfortable life, the words he read from the scroll of Isaiah had to have touched a nerve. (Is 53:32) Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. These were powerful words; powerful words for a man surely struggling to understand why he had been forced as a child to undergo the gruesome surgery that guaranteed he could never have children of his own. Jesus had called him, as Jesus so often does, and he had answered the call the best way he knew. Now on the road to Gaza he found himself alone with his thoughts and struggling with the ancient writings of the prophet Isaiah.
What follows is perhaps the purest example of evangelism that can be found in scripture or anywhere else, for that matter. But before we dive into that, let’s get our facts straight. The word evangel comes from the Greek word euangelikos, which means simply, “one who brings good news.” That’s it and that’s all. If you’re not focused on, if you’re not spreading, the good news of Jesus Christ then you are no longer an evangel. You’re something else. And Phillip shows us what it is to be the bearer of the gospel like none other. This passage gives us a formula for evangelism. Jim Taylor explains this formula in four steps:
“First, you have to be there. You can sanction nations at a distance. You can bomb them into submission at a distance. But you have to be there in person if you want to convert them.
Second, they have to be interested. Simply waving a “John 3:16” sign ain’t gonna cut it – unless they want to know more. And what’s more, they won’t be interested unless you are interesting.
Third, you have to be willing to teach. God will not provide instant understanding; the evangelist has a responsibility too. This means we have to be well informed and theologically literate.
Fourth, we must be ready to act, perhaps in ways we would never imagine.” Phillip didn’t bat an eye when he was asked to go to Gaza. He didn’t bat an eye when he spotted a black man – a eunuch, no less- from a different tribe and a different nation. No, he only spotted the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and the rest was easy. It was easy because when that kind of good news is bottled up inside, you can’t wait to let it out. It was Wesley that said, “Give me a preacher that’s on fire and people will come from miles around to watch him burn.”
And I guess that’s my point here today. We build buildings, we mount up missions and soend time in prayer, we study God’s word alone and in groups, and we give of our resources that the church, the body of Christ, might thrive and grow. These things are important; there’s no question about that. But let’s hold fast to reason why we are here in the first place: that God sent his only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Now that, people of God, is some pretty doggone good news.
I have to tell you: for the last few days I’ve had the old Sam Cooke song “Ain’t That Good News” rattling through my head, and I can relate. I can relate, because just as much as I am sustained and hopeful for the day when Christ will come again, I have to say it is the good news of the gospel that makes the day to day worth living. Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so. Now if that ain’t good news, I don’t know what is.
Amen & Shalom