Summary: The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared.” That’s biblical. The apostle Peter wrote: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). As you go about your day’s activities, what may seem like chance encounters may actually be divine appointments for you to share the gospel. Be ready!
Every day most of you will have casual contacts with people that can be openings to share your faith. These seemingly random encounters may have been presented to you by the Lord as fruitful opportunities for personal evangelism. Be alert and be willing to obey His promptings.
Luke 19:1-10 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
• Jesus was simply “passing through” Jericho. This seems to have been an unplanned, casual contact.
• But the Holy Spirit had already been touching Zacchaeus’s heart. Note that “he wanted to see who Jesus was.” There was an openness, an interest planted in Zacchaeus by God. Remember that some of what we pass off as merely random encounters have actually been orchestrated by God and presented to us as an opportunity for witnessing to that person.
• Many of our apparently casual encounters are with people who “want to see who Jesus is.” So be prepared! Be ready to share the gospel with them.
• When Jesus spotted that wealthy tax collector up a tree(!), He graciously ignored that odd circumstance and spoke to Zacchaeus courteously. Don’t make an issue of unusual situations like that when you have these chance encounters with strangers. Some reactions that will not help you in personal evangelism would be responses like: “Whoa, what’s with the rainbow-colored hair?” …or “Do you think you’ll ever get a job with all that metal hanging off your face?” …or “That’s a pretty strange-looking tattoo” … or “Hey, you’re a short guy, so you had to climb a tree, huh?” …or … well, you get the point.
• Jesus was always alert and ready, “always prepared” to take any opportunity to share hope and truth. So as he glanced up and saw the tax collector in a tree, Jesus the famous rabbi-teacher honored Zacchaeus greatly by saying in the hearing of the crowd, “Zacchaeus, come down. I must stay at your house today.”
• Jesus was willing to get involved with a total stranger. He did this even at the risk of incurring scorn from his fellow Jews for associating with a despised tax collector.
• He was willing to be the “guest of a ‘sinner’,” because He knew that “this man, too, [was] a son of Abraham.” In other words, Jesus saw through the externals and recognized a man needing salvation. As He said of His own purpose on earth, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vs. 10). And salvation did indeed come to the spiritually hungry Zacchaeus (vs. 9).
John 4:6-10 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
• Again we see a seemingly random contact, which we will see was in fact a divine appointment. Jesus was weary from his travels, so he sat down by a well in Samaria. A Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well. Now this would seem to be an unlikely contact for evangelism, since “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (vs. 9). But Jesus did not treat her as unlikely, unworthy, or to be avoided. The message for us is: don’t discount a seemingly chance encounter with someone who is very different from you.
• Jesus was always ready for any soulwinning occasion. In this instance He opened the door for conversation with a very normal, natural question: “Will you give me a drink?” Once the dialogue was open, he gently steered it towards spiritual issues and began to speak about “living water” (vs. 10). Jesus now had her full attention, and in the following verses we see Him leading her to faith. And she in turn quickly led a number of the townspeople to Jesus, and they too came to believe in Him. All this came from Jesus meeting a stranger in unlikely circumstances.
Acts 8:26-31 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
• Philip had been preaching in Samaria with great evangelistic success (vss. 5-8). Multitudes were being saved and healed. Yet the Lord took him from that fruitful harvest of souls to a lonely desert place to minister to a single stranger from another country. Remember that the Holy Spirit may direct our comings and goings to fit into something bigger that God is doing, as in this instance.
• The angel of the Lord directed Philip to the location (“Go south to the…desert road”). Then the Holy Spirit led him further (“Go to that chariot”). Follow God’s promptings. He will lead you into evangelizing opportunities that He has already prepared. All you need to do is obey His directions.
• We see that the Ethiopian’s heart was open, it was predisposed and ready for someone to share the Gospel with him. He “had gone to Jerusalem to worship” (27). On his way home he was reading the prophet Isaiah (28). In fact, he was reading what we today know as Isaiah’s 53rd chapter, which some have nicknamed “the fifth gospel,” with its extraordinary prophecies of the coming Messiah.
• Philip’s task was simple. He quickly sized up the situation — He “heard the man reading Isaiah” — and he asked a door-opening, leading question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian invited Philip into the chariot, which led to Philip explaining Jesus Christ to him from Isaiah. The man came to faith in Christ, was water baptized, and went on his way rejoicing (vss. 32-39).
I have shared these three biblical accounts of successful personal evangelism to show that God is always working for the salvation of mankind. God loves lost sinners and wants them saved. Our place is to be prepared. Yes, God will send us to family members and to our friends with the message of the gospel. But stay open also to those seemingly chance encounters with those who are strangers or just casual acquaintances. They may be divine appointments, and you have the privilege of telling them about the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When God has prepared the person’s heart, even these random contacts may surprise and bless you by hearing your message and coming in faith to the Lord. So be prepared!