I’m not enough of a biblical scholar to know for sure, but I feel safe in saying that one of the first examples of evangelism (if not the first) occurred before Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In fact, the incident I am talking about occurred before Jesus had done much of anything in the way of communicating His special relationship to the Father and to us humans.
In John 1, Jesus has just started assembling His first followers. John the Baptist, the only person at this point who understands that Jesus is the Messiah (with the exception of Mary and Joseph), is talking Jesus up to his own followers, telling them to stop following him and start following the only One really worth following – Jesus.
(Side note: this is the litmus test of an awesome leader – he or she who points you to Jesus, not to themselves, is the only kind of pastor worth learning under.)
For all we know, John’s followers really have no idea who Jesus is. He may not have been anymore than a stranger or a peculiar townsman to them. But they know John. They trust John. And if John tells them this Jesus guy is special and they ought to follow Him around, they’re going to do it. Their relationship with John has that kind of power.
When they start to walk behind Him, Jesus, “turn(ed) around…and asked, ‘What do you want?’ They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ ‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him,” (John 1:38-39).
Don’t you wonder what went on that day? A day with Jesus… at His home… conversations, chores, maybe some discussion of Scripture…
Whatever took place, it was significant. Because the next three verses say, “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus,” (John 1:40-42).
The first instance of evangelism took place within established relationships. Andrew trusted John. Simon trusted Andrew. And Andrew and Simon both personally came to know the Messiah that day. There was something natural, unforced, and organic about it.
(I’m not 100% against evangelizing to people you don’t know. If the Spirit leads, people do come to accept Jesus in those kinds of situations. We just have to be super careful about our presentation to strangers, lest we become those judgmental, harsh, prideful street evangelizers that misrepresent Jesus so often.)
Why was Andrew’s first inclination after being with Jesus to go and tell his brother?
Well, we can assume Andrew and his brother have spent years waiting and looking for the Messiah. All Jews were eagerly awaiting the Savior their scriptures spoke of.
Can you imagine spending your whole life looking for Someone?
Sure you can. Because, whether we realize it or not, we all are looking for Him.
As soon as we are able to understand bad things happen, as soon as we experience firsthand the emptiness we feel inside because this world just isn’t right, we have an emotional and spiritual void we look to fill.
Unless we have parents who guide us toward Jesus, we try to fill our emptiness with whatever is available – people who make us feel better, activities we excel at so we can get praise to make us feel better, entertainment to block out the real world to make us feel better, etc.
But we lose those friends that were so good at pumping us up.
School and sports and our achievements end, and no one is praising us for changing diapers for 5.5 years straight without losing our ever loving minds.
Movies and concerts and other forms of entertainment only last a couple of hours; then we have to come back to reality and face the fact that this world is screwed up. That we are screwed up.
We begin to get cynical. We admit nothing will ever satisfy. Not fully. We spent years looking for Something, and we never found it.
Just like Andrew and Simon.
But, praise God, they didn’t stay lost! And we don’t have to either.
Someone who knew the Only Answer – John, in this case – came along and told Andrew Who he’d been looking for his entire life.
Andrew checked out Jesus and realized in the course of ONE DAY that John was right!
“It’s true! It’s true!” Andrew’s soul must’ve exclaimed. “Jesus is what I – we – have been looking for this whole time! He is the Messiah! He is my Messiah! I must tell Simon!”
And out of that joy, Andrew spread the word. “I’ve found What you’ve been looking for! Look no longer! Waste no more time!”
But Andrew didn’t stop there. No, after he told Simon about Jesus, Andrew brought Simon to Jesus!
And that, dear unbeliever, is why we Christians can’t contain our enthusiasm!
It took us, personally, so many years to discover What we’d needed. But, by His grace and other people’s willingness to share truth with us, we found Him. And we love you so much, we want you to find Him, too!
But, Christians, we must not stop at simply telling others about Jesus; like Andrew, we must show them Jesus.
Yes, I am aware we can’t physically bring people to Jesus. But we can show people the Jesus inside of us – His love, His kindness, His warmth, His truth, His goodness, His patience, His Word, His compassion.
As James 2 says, faith without actions isn’t really faith at all. Yes, tell others about Jesus, but don’t stop there. Love well. Show Jesus.