Pilate might have been the first evangelist. We read in the Gospel of Saint John:
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol′gotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:17-22)
It is certainly unlikely Pilate actually believed Jesus was King of the Jews, but here he is declaring that truth in the three primary languages of that time, as though it is being proclaimed to the whole world — for everyone then and there, though that number was relatively small, and then for the world down through the ages, and against the objections of those who thought they were only putting to death a troublemaker, Pilate officially stated: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. He was, unintentionally so, an evangelist proclaiming Christ the King.
He was the first to publicly do so. Strange, ironic, but beautiful in a way. God is always surprising.
There are others who unintentionally proclaim the truth of God’s offer of salvation.
I live in Oregon, just an hour north of Roseburg where the terrible shootings recently took place at Umpqua Community College. The murder of nine people and the wounding nine others shocked the world. In one of those ghastly and ironic twists of fate, the shooter also became an evangelist of sorts.
How can this be?!
While holding the gun to each person’s head, the murderer asked one specific question: “Are you a Christian?” If the victim answered “yes,” he replied “Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.” And then he killed them. One after another. Are you a Christian? Yes.
If you are a Christian you are going to see God. This profound and powerful truth does not diminish the nearly unspeakable tragedy and massive waves of sorrow the killer has caused. And yet, consider this: In our age of global social and mass media, news of this event has gone around the world countless times. The entire world has beheld, even if only through description, the martyrdom of these brave witnesses to the unchanging truth of Christ.
Millions upon millions of people read the words: “Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.”
Millions upon millions of people heard that in an ordinary, small town community, regular people said yes. They said yes with a gun to their heads. Tears come my eyes while typing this.
That angry, religion hating, God hating, lonely, self-pitying, gun fetishizing, nazi infatuated young man got his name in the news, but he also unintentionally declared the beauty of the Gospel — if you are a Christian then you will see God. Oh that it had never happened. Lord help us to understand. But God be praised for His love. They carried their crosses all the way. Not dead, but eternally alive. May their souls flourish forever in the loving embrace of their Heavenly Father.
The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We owe so much to so many.