This Sunday in Vinebranch, we’re looking at Acts 8:26-40, the remarkable account of the deacon-turned-evangelist Philip explaining the meaning of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah to an Ethiopian official (and eunuch) who, though an outsider to Israel, worshiped the Jewish God. The official is reading aloud from Isaiah 53 as Philip comes upon him.
Why was he reading aloud instead of reading silently? Because people of the ancient world didn’t read silently! Even if they were reading only for themselves, they read out loud. (Isn’t that a curious cultural difference between their world and ours?) Philip hears him reading and understands this as a Spirit-led opportunity to witness to the man.
[Philip] asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him…. Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
Philip was obviously prepared for this life-changing encounter. Are we?
If someone invited us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, what would we say? How long would it take to explain it—in a nutshell? What would we be sure to include? What would we leave out? Would we feel competent and qualified to explain it? Is it necessary, do you think, for us Christians to be able to explain it?
A Methodist clergy friend tells me that this popular new diagram of the gospel, called the “Big Story,” from Korean-American pastor James Choung—which comes from this book by Choung—lays it out nicely. Supposedly you could even write it on a napkin if you wanted. Watch these videos, if you don’t mind, and please tell me what you think of them. (Are those little squiggly things supposed to be people?)
I haven’t studied it in any depth, but I’m certain it’s a dramatic improvement over this golden-oldie from Campus Crusade, which they used to call the “Four Spiritual Laws.”
At first blush, the Big Story seems rather busy for something we could write on a napkin. And I wish Choung would say more about atonement—the circle in the lower right corner. But unlike the Four Spiritual Laws he gets the Holy Spirit right and the cosmic scope of salvation. Also—and I can’t emphasize this enough—his presentation does more justice to God as Trinity than the Four Spiritual Laws, which, rightly or wrongly, encourages us to imagine that a righteously angry God sent an innocent victim, Jesus, to be killed.
This is exactly wrong, and I don’t blame our skeptical friends for rightly scoffing at this cartoonish understanding of atonement: From God’s perspective, Jesus isn’t a victim at all. Rather, Jesus is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, whose will is identically equal to the will of God the Father, and whose thoughts, words, and actions are identically equal to the thoughts, words, and actions of God.
In other words, God himself comes to us in Jesus and willingly suffers death on our behalf, out of love.
What are your thoughts?