ACTS 8:25-38 “This Is My Story: The Ethiopian Treasurer”
Cheryl & I love Stefan Berci (our Romanian pastor) and his family. They did a Facetime chat with us yesterday, and we had a great visit. One of the things I appreciate about Stefan is that he has such a balanced ministry. They have an outreach to the gypsy village, to the “down and out”, you might say — but he also has a heart for the intellectuals of the area, and ministers to them as well.
The salvation “story” that we are studying this morning reminds us of the need that everyone has for the Lord. You may be “down and out” today, and in desperate need of God — or you may also be very successful — but just as much in need of salvation, whether you realize it or not. Let’s look together at some truths we learn from the “story” of the Ethiopian Treasurer:
I. All Types Of People Need A Story
:27 “An Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship.” There are a couple of very important lessons for us here in this verse that describes who this man was:
A. “Successful” people still need a story.
This story reminds us that you don’t have to be “down and out” to need Christ. This man was not “down and out.” He was a court official. He was in charge of all of the Queen’s money. He was what we would call the “Treasury Secretary” of Ethiopia! He was riding in a chariot – translate that “limo” today! This man was well off – but despite all of the outward success that he enjoyed, he still needed a personal “story” of salvation through Jesus Christ.
There is a good lesson here: Christianity is not just for the “down and out” – it is for the “up and out” too. The fact is, you can go to hell when you die just as quick whether you have money or not! In fact, money may make you MORE likely to go to hell, because it can make you pretty comfortable here on earth, and fool you into thinking that you don’t need God. That is why Jesus said: “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God; it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Proverbs says a rich man’s money is like a high wall in his own imagination. A lot of people with money think that they are ok spiritually because they are well off financially.
But the truth is, you can go straight to hell even if you are very well-off financially. There is one story in the Bible of a man who did just that: The Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-23:
“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.” This guy had it all! Notice what all it says about him: he had money (“rich”); he was well-dressed (“purple and fine linen” – purple was “all the rage” then; it was the color of the “well-to-do”); he lived in “splendor” – and he was “joyous”. He was happy just like he was. I think this is important. It wasn’t that he was so rich and successful, but he had this “empty feeling” inside and “knew he needed something more.” He was “joyous”! He had so much that he barely had time to notice that he didn’t have a relationship with God, and he didn’t care about it.
But listen: just because you are well off, and don’t think you need anything, doesn’t mean that you don’t!
— You may be very happy with your car, but that doesn’t mean that it is not about to break down and leave you stranded.
— You may be very happy with your health, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have an illness that you are not aware of.
— You may be very happy with your life and prosperity and success – but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a serious spiritual problem, and that you are not going to hell!
Several years ago, John Sullivan and Forrest Claunch were both Oklahoma State Representatives serving in Oklahoma City. Both were successful men in their businesses and personal careers, and were veteran legislators, being re-elected by their constituents. Claunch was an evangelical Christian, and Sullivan was a nominal Catholic. But they found themselves working together on a number of issues at the capitol. One day, Sullivan leaned over during a session and said to Claunch: “You don’t like Catholics, do you?” Claunch said, “that’s not true.” But then he added: “But that’s not the question. What matters is this: if this place were blown up today, and you stood before God, would He let you into heaven, and can you explain why He should?” Sullivan’s face turned “ashen.” He said he was confronted with a question that he couldn’t answer. He began to ponder: “Why SHOULD God let me into heaven?” He was a “good man”; a member of a church; had enjoyed professional success, and looked upon by others as a success, was a member of the legislature, elected by the people repeatedly … but he said “I did not have a legitimate answer to the question of why God should let me into heaven”. Later that year, Sullivan talked to Claunch again, and Claunch explained to him that no one is good enough to deserve to go to heaven, and that the only way to know that you are going to heaven is to trust what Jesus did on the cross, and surrender your life to Him. They knelt together in that legislative office, and Sullivan accepted Jesus as His Lord & Savior. He said the first thing he did was go back to his office and call his wife. She told him: “Two weeks ago at a ladies’ Bible study, I did the same thing!”
But the thing is: this was NOT some “down and out” couple; they were what you might call “up and out” – they were wealthy, successful in the eyes of the world – but they did not know the most important thing: they did not know for sure that they had a relationship with God through Christ and that they were going to heaven.
You may be that same way today. Listen: you don’t have to be “down and out” to be heading to hell. You can go to hell just as quickly from a mansion as you can from a shack. Money and success do not guarantee you a place in heaven. You need to know for sure that you have a personal “story” of giving your life to Jesus as your Lord & Savior. Let me ask you this morning the question that Forrest Claunch asked John Sullivan: “if this place were blown up today, and you stood before God, would He let you into heaven, and can you explain why He should?” I can promise you: money, a nice home and car, success, will not get you in. However rich or poor you are, you need a personal “story” that you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior.
B. Religious people still need a “story”!
:27 says this Ethiopian “had come to Jerusalem to worship”. So this was a guy who “went to church.” In fact, he was very committed to church. He came all the way to Jerusalem from Ethiopia – I looked that up; it is almost 1600 miles from Addis Ababa to Jerusalem! That is roughly the same distance as going from here to Denver, Colorado – only he didn’t have an airline to fly or a car to drive! This was a LONG way, especially in those days – to worship. In addition to that, the Ethiopian official had a copy of scripture – he was reading from a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. He had a “bible” – not that common in those days — and he was reading it! This was a very “religious” guy! But even though he was very “religious”, he didn’t yet know Jesus as his Savior. He still needed a “story.”
This is another great reminder to us. You may be here today, and you may be very “religious” – but that does NOT mean that everything is right between you and God. You may drive a long way to get to church, just like that Ethiopian. You may read your Bible. You may be very “religious” – but it doesn’t mean you are right with God. If you have never come to trust Jesus as your Savior, you still need a “story.”
SO many people have “stories” of how they were very religious, but had not really known Jesus as their Savior. One of our church members in Louisiana whom we loved was a schoolteacher named Vicki Barto. She grew up in church, went to Bible School, got baptized, and attended services regularly. She knew the words to hymns – she knew the song “In the Garden”, which says: “and He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own …” – but she said one day as they were playing that song in church, all of the sudden she realized that she did NOT walk with Him and talk with Him, and that she was NOT His own! She was very “religious” – but she did not know Jesus as her Savior.
Some of you may be that exact same way today. You may be very religious; you may have grown up in the church; you may know songs and have a Bible and read it – but NONE of those things makes you right with God. I promise you: there will be many religious people in hell! Just because you are “religious” does not make you right with God. You need a genuine story of how you put your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
So this man was “successful”, and he was “religious” – but he still needed a salvation “story.” God in His providence brought this man right to the place where he could hear the answer. He has done the same thing for some of you today. God in His providence has brought YOU here, so that you could come to know Jesus as your Savior today.
II. Jesus Is The Focus Of The Story
:28-33 The Ethiopian was reading from the Old Testament, from the book of Isaiah, and God told Philip to go up and talk to him. Philip asked the Ethiopian if he understood what he was reading, and he basically asked Philip to help him. :32 says “Now the passage of scripture he was reading was this: and it quotes from Isaiah 53.
This is SO significant. Isaiah 53 is a magnificent prophecy of the Messiah, written 600 years before Jesus was ever born, and yet it describes in incredible detail what He would do, years in advance. If you have your Bible, you might want to turn there. It is about 2/3 of the way through the Old Testament, probably just past the middle of your Bible. This is the full passage the Ethiopian Treasurer was reading. It predicts what the Messiah would be like, and do, and it describes Jesus in incredible detail:
— :4 “surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried”
— :5 “He was pierced through for our transgressions … by His scourging we are healed.”
— :6 “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him.”
— :7 “He did not open His mouth, like lamb that is led to slaughter …”
— :9 “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men – yet with a rich man in His death”
— :11 “My servant will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities”
— :12 “He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors”
This passage wouldn’t make sense to a person who did not know about Jesus – like this Ethiopian did not yet. But looking at it in retrospect, it becomes so obvious that it is speaking of Jesus. This passage is all about Jesus.
In fact, several years ago, there was a man who was studying Isaiah 53, and he was so enthralled with the picture of Jesus that it gives, so accurately, and hundreds of years in advance, that he printed out Isaiah 53 on a piece of paper and took it to work with him. He did not put on the paper where it was from. And he asked everyone at his workplace: “Who do you think this is speaking of? Where do you think it is from?” And everyone he showed it to said: “This is talking about Jesus.” Christians or not, they all knew, as soon as they read the passage, written 600 years before Christ, that this chapter was speaking about Jesus.
Here’s the clincher: this man even showed these verses to a Jewish co-worker of his, and he asked him, “Who do you think this is, and where is it from?” His Jewish co-worker took one look at it and said, “This is speaking about Jesus Christ; it must be from somewhere in your New Testament.” The man said, you are right, it IS speaking about Jesus – but it is from YOUR Old Testament! But powerfully, even that Jewish co-worker recognized, from the Old Testament description, that Isaiah 53 was speaking about Jesus!
There are several things in this passage that point to Jesus, or describe Jesus: how He did not speak in His own defense, but went like a lamb to the slaughter; or how He should have had a grave with wicked men because He was crucified as a criminal, but instead He was buried in a rich man’s tomb, etc. But THE single most significant thing that this passage points to is the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for us: “He bore our sins … our sorrows He carried … He was pierced for our transgressions … the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him … He will justify the many as He will bear their iniquities … He Himself bore the sin of many.”
The most important thing Isaiah 53 tells us is that this Messiah who God prophesied 600 years in advance, came to die for our sins.
I know a young man who went to India one summer on a mission trip. I was a prayer partner of his, and one Thursday during the trip I received an e-mail from him, in which he said that he had gone into a village, and was talking with two men in a shop there. He asked one of the men what he knew about Jesus. He said he knew that Jesus had died on the cross. Then he asked Terry: “What fault caused Jesus to die on the cross?” Well, Terry took that as a good opportunity to explain that Jesus hadn’t any fault; that He had in fact lived a perfect life, but that He died on the cross for our sins – as I Peter 2:24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” But after explaining the gospel to the man as best he could, Terry said it seemed like the man was not interested, so Terry turned to leave. But as he was walking out the door, Terry said he heard the man say: “It was for MY fault …”.
That man got it! Jesus died on the cross for OUR faults – for our sins. He “bore our sins in His body on the cross” so that our sins could be forgiven, and that we could have the relationship with God that He made us for, and that we could know that we could spend eternity in heaven with Him.
That is the “story” that Philip preached to the Ethiopian treasurer that day. And that is still “the greatest story ever told”! The “story” is about Jesus – what He did for us on the cross, dying for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life and a relationship with God. But listen: knowing that the gospel story is about Jesus is not “the end” of the “story”; there is one other ingredient that really makes it “your” story …
III. The Response That Makes It Your Story
Finally, we see that this Ethiopian did something very important: he made it personal; he made this HIS story. After Philip had preached Jesus to him, :36 says he saw some water and said, “Look, water, what prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said in :37, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And :38 says they went down into the water (important, by the way, because their going “down into the water” indicates that the baptism was by immersion!) “and he baptized him.” This is SO important. The Ethiopian made it personal. He had to respond, and make this HIS story, by accepting Jesus as HIS Lord & Savior.
This is what each of us must do. You must respond to the story of Jesus. A few years back, I received an invitation in the mail to a certain party, and I had planned on going. I had it filed away in the back of my mind – I’m going to go to this. But the day of the get together, I noticed on the bottom of the card it had 4 important letters that I had neglected to notice — and those 4 letters made a big difference: they stopped me in my tracks! Some of you can guess what those letters were: R.S.V.P. Those 4 letters, as many of you know, are an abbreviation for the French phrase “respondez, s’il vous plait”, or in English, “respond, please!” It was saying, you are invited to this gathering, but if you intend to come, you must personally respond, and confirm that you are coming so that preparation can be made for you. I had been invited — I could have gone — but I never did respond, and make my reservation.
It is that same way with the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ comes with an “R.S.V.P” – respond, please. The invitation has gone out into all the world; as we have seen over the last weeks, it is for everyone. But the blessings of the gospel will only be given to those who respond. Those blessings are intended for YOU – but you must personally respond to God, and say, “Yes, God, I want this. I admit my sin; and I want Jesus as MY Lord & Savior; I will follow You from this day forward.” You must respond to Him personally. The time and place that you respond to God is your “story.” Your “story” is just a description of how and when you gave your “R.S.V.P.” to God for heaven!
Now, you don’t respond to God with a card or an e-mail; you respond to God in your heart! Salvation is a matter of the heart. Walking down to the front doesn’t make you saved; taking my hand doesn’t make you saved, and getting baptized doesn’t make you saved. It is believing in your heart that saves you. We saw this last week in the story of Cornelius the Centurion. The moment they believed in their hearts they were saved. And that is how you must respond to God: in your heart. In your heart before God, repent of your sins. Trust Jesus as your Savior to forgive your sins, and as the Lord of your life from this day forward. That may be happening right now, in your heart.
But if it IS happening in your heart, there will be some outward signs that will confirm it:
— One of them is that you will want to tell someone about it. Jesus said, “If you confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father who is in heaven.” That is one of the reasons why we give you an opportunity to come forward and share your decision. We also want to have someone pray with you and make sure that you understand this decision, because it is so important.
— Another thing you will want to do is be baptized. As we’ve said a number of times, baptism doesn’t save you. It doesn’t wash away your sins. But it is an outward expression that you are telling the world: “I am responding to Jesus.” You respond in your heart. But through baptism you proclaim your decision to the world. That Ethiopian treasurer responded in his heart. He did “believe with all (his) heart”, as Philip said. And because he did, as soon as he saw water, he wanted to be baptized.
In the same way, if you are believing in Jesus today, coming down to the front will not save you, and being baptized will not save you. But if you are really respond to Jesus in your heart, you will have a great desire to be baptized. In fact, if you really understand what Jesus has done for you: dying for you on the cross to forgive your sins, and give you eternal life – you will want to RUN down to the front, and point to that baptistery and say like that Ethiopian treasurer, “Pastor, there is water up there, and I want to be baptized!”
Some of you need to do that today. You need to personally respond, and say with that Ethiopian official: “Yes, I believe, and I want to be baptized.” When you do that, and make your own personal R.S.V.P. to God, then THIS will be YOUR story!