by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Across the road from where I worked until earlier this year, there’s a billboard. It wasn’t always possible to read the billboard due to the angle and height of the sign. One day, I happened to look in the direction of the billboard and it caught my eye. There on the sign was a huge picture of a sandwich, along with what appeared to be the words “SALAMI BURGER.” What, I wondered, was a salami burger? A hamburger made from ground salami? A regular hamburger topped with a slice of salami, somewhat like a cheeseburger?
Later, as I was leaving work, I made a detour so I could get a better look at the sign. When I did, I discovered that the sign actually said “5 ALARM BURGER.” Apparently, it’s some kind of very spicy hamburger. That made a lot more sense than a “salami burger,” whatever that might be. From the original angle, the number “5” had looked like the letter “S” and the following letters had been squashed together with it to give the appearance of one word. But when I was able to see more clearly, the words became easy to read.
This incident reminded me of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), one of my favorite New Testament stories. The eunuch, a treasury official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, also had trouble understanding what he was reading. He was riding along the road between Jerusalem and Gaza (vs. 26). As he rode, he was reading from the scroll or “book” of Isaiah (vs. 28). He was apparently a devout Jew, for he had gone to Jerusalem to worship (vs. 27b), and he read the Scriptures, but he had not heard the message of Christ.
When Philip approached him, he was reading the passage aloud that we know today as Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip asked him, “‘Do you understand what you are reading?’” (vs. 30b NKJV). He replied, “‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’” (vs. 31a NKJV). He invited Philip to join him in his chariot, and pointed out the passage he had been reading, about a man who was humiliated, denied justice, and killed. Then he said, “‘I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?’” (vs. 34b NKJV).
Philip interpreted the passage for him and tied it to Jesus, telling the eunuch about how Jesus had been humiliated, denied justice, and killed, and the rest of the gospel. After a while, they passed by some water, and he asked Philip if he could be baptized (vs. 36). Philip said to him, “‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’” (vs. 37b NKJV). And he replied, “‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” (vs. 37c NKJV).
After the eunuch was baptized, the two men went their separate ways, the eunuch back to Ethiopia and Philip to Azotus and then Caesarea. We don’t know what happened to the eunuch but Philip remained in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9). Yet his story, and his encounter with a questioning stranger on a lonely desert road, is significant: First, it reminds us that there are people who don’t know the truth of Christ, who have questions you and I can help answer; and second, it underscores the importance of one-on-one personal witnessing.
Jesus didn’t think much of people who demanded “signs” to prove who he was. He told those who demanded them,
“‘. . . asJonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.’” (Luke 11:30b NKJV). He didn’t want people coming to him because of any “signs” he performed. Instead, he told them his words and actions were the only “signs” they needed to find the truth.
There are still people today who don’t know Christ, who haven’t read the “signs.” We can be “signs” for them, through our own words and actions. We don’t have to baptize them like Philip did, we can leave that to “paid professionals” like our pastor, Jeff. But we can show them our “signs.” We can tell them who Jesus is. We don’t need to worry about being super-apostles, witnessing to hundreds or thousands at a time. One other, person to person, is fine too.
“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24 NKJV).