In 2014 Cheryl & I were living in Norman, Oklahoma while I was recuperating from illness that had caused me to resign my pastorate in Louisiana. One winter afternoon about 4:00 I suddenly had a strong urge to go out and check the mail — in the 26 degree weather, and the mailbox was 60 or 70 yards across the parking lot from our condo. When I got to our mailbox, there was nothing in it! I started back to the condo, puzzled, and wondering, “I had such a strong impression to go. Why would God lead me to walk all the way out there in this cold, only to find an empty mailbox?” I had not taken two more steps when I heard a voice: “Excuse me!” I looked and there was a young lady, with no jacket on, who said that she had just locked herself out of her apartment, and could I help her make a call. I told her my wife was at home, and we could call from there. Cheryl & I ended up taking her to her work, which was not far, where she had a key. On the way we were also able to talk to her about the Lord, and mentioned that the church we attended was just a couple of blocks from her job. We gave her my card with my blog address, and Cheryl put her cell number on it, in case she ever needed us again. But all of the sudden, that “empty mailbox” sure made a lot more sense! It was a “Divine Appointment.”
Have you ever had a Divine Appointment: a time when God put you at just the right place, at just the right time, to witness or minister to someone, and you looked back at it later, and thought, “God arranged that!” It was a Divine Appointment.
Our story from Acts 8 today is the story of a “Divine Appointment” God gave the deacon Philip with the Ethiopian Treasurer. There are several things in this passage we need to apply to our lives today:
I. EVERYONE YOU MEET NEEDS THE LORD
Verse 27 here says that on the Gaza road where the Lord sent Philip, “there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure …”. So this was an important and powerful man. He was the treasurer of their whole country; today he would have the title of something like “The Minister of Finance” or “The Secretary of the Treasury.” He was a big shot in his country, which was not what we think of as “Ethiopia” today, but the ancient nation of Cush, in what is now Sudan, a nation of dark-skinned peoples that the Jews considered to be “the ends of the earth.” He was well-off, traveling in a chariot, not walking or riding a donkey. But despite his riches and position and color, he still needed the Lord. And God had Philip go up to his chariot to lead him to Christ.
This is a good lesson for us today: everyone you meet, whoever they are, needs the Lord. Now, some people you meet may already know the Lord, but if they don’t, they need Him, no matter who they are, what riches they seem to have, or what position they hold.
We often go on mission trips, and see people living in difficult circumstances, like the “tent city” I visited in Lucknow, India, where thousands of people were living by the river in little tents and cardboard “huts” they had built from castaway garbage. One man I talked to said he was hoping to get some more cardboard so he could make his hut larger for his family. We look at people like that, and we think, “They need the Lord!” And they DO. We need to get the gospel to them.
But we also need to realize that being right with God is not a matter of how nice your home is. The Indian man in a cardboard hut has sinned against God and has a hollow place in his heart, needs Jesus — but so does the richest man living in the biggest home you know of in Brazoria County!
See, the Bible says in Romans 3:23, “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Being right with God is not a matter of how much money you have. We have ALL sinned against God: rich, poor, white, black, American citizen, every race. We have all sinned in our thoughts, words, deeds, attitudes, and things left undone. And we ALL have an empty place in our hearts that only God can fill. That’s why Jesus came: to die on the cross and pay for our sins, so that “WHOEVER would call on the name of the Lord would be saved” — from whatever standing in life they might be. Whoever will admit their sin, and turn from their sin and trust Jesus as their Savior will be forgiven, given a home in heaven with God forever, and He will send His Holy Spirit into their heart to give them the relationship they need with Him, and the “love, joy, and peace” they are looking for.
That is the gospel. But we need to understand that EVERYBODY needs that gospel. There is no class distinction. There is no financial distinction. Everybody we meet, needs the Lord.
And I’ll go even further: this Ethiopian Treasurer was also very “religious,” as we see here. He traveled all the way from what’s now Sudan to Jerusalem to worship, probably about 1500 miles — that’s the distance from here to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — only he didn’t do it by plane, or even in car; he did it in a chariot! That was “riding in luxury” in those days, but it still took a great deal of dedication to ride a chariot that far! He also had a copy of the scriptures — and it wasn’t some paperback Bible or a Gideon New Testament; scriptures in those days were on expensive leather rolls or papyri; very costly. But he had a copy, at least of the Book of Isaiah that he was reading from here. This was a very religious man. But despite that, he still did not know the Lord. He was reading Isaiah 53, and didn’t know who it was talking about. He needed someone to share Jesus with him.
What we need to get in the front of our mind is that it’s that same way with almost everyone you meet today. They may live in a cardboard shack, or they may live in a showplace. They may be very rich, or they may be “down and out.” They may be white, or black, or something in between. They may be atheists, or they may be “very religious” but they ALL need the Lord. We need to understand that unless they are already saved, every single person we meet needs the Lord, and we need to watch for opportunities to share Christ with them.
Dwight L. Moody was a famous evangelist, the “Billy Graham” of his time, in the second half of the 1800’s. Moody once said that to help remind him that every person needs Christ, he pictured every person he met as having a big “L” on their forehead — “L” standing for “lost” — until he found out otherwise.
That’s not a bad idea. Whether we picture a big “L” like Moody did or not, we need to treat every person we meet as though they need the Lord, until we specifically find out otherwise. We would treat a lot of people differently if we’d do that, wouldn’t we? And we SHOULD do that. Treat people carefully; treat them respectfully; be sensitive to them; watch for opportunities to minister and share Christ. Because everyone you meet, needs the Lord.
So when you DO meet people:
II. LISTEN TO THE PROMPTING OF THE SPIRIT
:29 says that when Philip was confronted with this scene of the Ethiopian treasurer, “The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’” And the next verse says that Philip “ran up” — he instantly obeyed.
It is SO important that we listen to the leadership of the Holy Spirit when He is speaking to us — ESPECIALLY when it comes to opportunities to witness and minister. God will give us opportunities, but we have to be sensitive to His leadership, and listen to the promptings of His Holy Spirit.
I remember one time while I was serving in Moss Bluff, Louisiana, one day I needed to get my car inspected. There was a little metal building in the parking lot of the big grocery store in town where they did the inspections, so I just pulled in there and waited for the guy to come around. I was listening to a podcast or something inside the car, but I felt the Lord nudging me: “Get out of the car.” Well we had been doing a discipleship class called “Just Walk Across The Room,” which talks about putting yourself in the position to be a witness to someone. One of the things the class teaches is, if you’re in a room full of people, “just walk across the room” and talk to someone. Maybe the Lord will open up a door for you to witness to someone if you do. Maybe He won’t. But you won’t have the CHANCE to do it, if you don’t “walk across the room.” So the idea was: just put yourself in position to talk to people, and see what God does. So anyway I was sitting there in the car and I felt the Lord “nudge” me: “Just get out of the car.” Channelling Moses, I argued with God: “But I’m listening to this podcast; I’m comfortable here,” etc. But the words of that class kept coming to mind: “just walk across the room.” “Just get out of the car.” Why did I have to get out of the car? I didn’t know. But I felt like the Lord wanted me to. So I did — but no one immediately came out to meet me, so I walked around a little bit, and I ended up going into the little garage they had there, where a young man was working on something. We just began to chat — and sure enough, I had a great opportunity to share with him. But it all started with that little step of obedience: “Just get out of the car.” Listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
This is one of the most important things we need to learn, to effectively witness and ministry in our community: Listen to the prompting of God’s Spirit; be sensitive to His leadership in every situation.
Now, I think the key to this, as with so many things, is to begin your day with the Lord in His word and prayer. Get full of the Holy Spirit in worship and His word first thing in the morning. PRAY for opportunities to share later in the day. Then we will be “primed and ready” to share — whereas if you DON’T spend time with God first thing, you will NOT be “primed and ready” to share. Starting off the day with the Lord “tunes you in” to Him, to His Kingdom work, to being sensitive to what He wants to do in people around you. So start off your day with the Lord, then keep your “spiritual antennae” up throughout the day. LISTEN for His leadership, and when He says something in your heart, DO IT!
— Like Philip, when He says, “Go up and join this chariot,” DO IT!
— Like me in Moss Bluff, when He says: “Get out the car,” get out!
— When you’re in a room at some function and He says, “Just walk across the room” then just walk across the room!
Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit; LISTEN for His promptings; and DO what He leads you to do.
And when God does give you an opportunity to share, be sure that you:
III. POINT PEOPLE TO JESUS
This is the most important thing that Philip did here: he shared Christ with that Ethiopian official. When he went up to the chariot, he saw that he was reading the scroll of Isaiah the prophet, and he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (A great opening line, by the way!) The man said, “How could I, unless someone guides me?” (This is what we were talking about last week, remember, we need the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible) So Philip went up and joined him in the chariot, and they looked at Isaiah 53 together. The Ethiopian asked him who this was speaking about, and :35 says: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he preached Jesus to him.”
That’s the key, right there: “He preached Jesus to him.” Isaiah 53 was prophesying about Jesus. If you have never read it, we’ll come to it this summer in our Daily Bible Readings. Isaiah was written 700 years before the time of Christ, but it speaks of how One was coming who would be “led like a sheep to slaughter,” and it goes on to say “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That is so obviously speaking about Jesus — and it was written 700 years before He was ever born!
Philip explained to him how this was all fulfilled in Jesus, who was led like a lamb to slaughter before Pontius Pilate, was killed on the cross, but He bore our sins in His body, paying for our sins — but He rose from the dead, proving that He was Lord & God, and now whoever will believe in Him will be saved. He “preached Jesus to him.” Jesus was what this Ethiopian treasurer needed to hear.
In the same way, we need to remember that Jesus is what the people WE meet, need as well. The people we meet don’t just need “religion;” they don’t just need to “go to church.” They don’t even need to just “read their Bible every day;” what they need is Jesus. Only Jesus can save. We just read where the Apostles had been commanded not to preach or teach any more in the name of Jesus, but they said, we’ve got to keep sharing Him, for “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” They said, we are going to share Jesus, because only Jesus saves.
We need to remember this as God gives us opportunities to share with people. When we get those opportunities, let’s be sure that we share Jesus. Especially that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. That’s the heart of the gospel: Jesus saves. Put your faith in HIM. We need to point people to HIM.
— I love our church — but just attending First Baptist Church Angleton is not going too save anyone!
— I love our people. We have a such great fellowship. But we are just people. We are not perfect; we are going to disappoint you some time. It WILL happen. Don’t put your faith in people; put your faith in Jesus.
— I love the Bible, and reading the Bible is vital; as we are emphasizing. But the Bible is to point people to Jesus, like it did that Ethiopian.
— Baptism is important, as we are going to see in a moment. But baptism (or any other religious activity) will not save you.
Only JESUS saves. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” So share Jesus with people. Point them to HIM; not just to the church, or anything else.
— Now, if the only opportunity you have is to invite someone to church, then by all means invite them to church. They WILL hear the gospel here. I make a point to share the gospel at some point in every message I preach. Our church will point them to Jesus.
— If you can get someone to read the Bible, get them reading the Bible; God can use that just like He used the Book of Isaiah with the Ethiopian to lead them to Jesus.
But never forget. It’s not the church that saves; it’s not our religious practices that save; it is only faith in Jesus, and what He did on the cross, that will forgive our sins and save our souls and make us right with God and give us a home in heaven. Only faith in Jesus saves. So let’s make sure we point people to JESUS!
IV. RESPONDING TO THE MESSAGE
And when Jesus is shared, and people believe in Him, they need to respond. The gospel is not just “Jesus died and rose again;” the gospel comes with an RSVP: you need to respond to it. You respond by repenting of your sins against God, by trusting that Jesus died on the cross to pay for YOUR sins, and by committing your life to Him as your Lord & Savior.
Some of you need to take that step today. You have heard all this; you believe it. So now respond to it. Give God your “RSVP” today!
And as you respond, you need to be baptized. Now, we say all the time, baptism doesn’t save you; it doesn’t wash away your sins.
You may have seen in the news recently, that there’s been a controversy regarding the way a Catholic priest in Arizona was saying the baptismal formula for the people he was baptizing. It turns out that for years he has been saying, “WE baptize you” instead of “I baptize you.” The Catholic authorities have said this may sound like a small thing, but to them this is vital, because to them the priest supposedly represents Christ, who is saying, “I baptize you,” not the church saying “WE baptize you,” so they have said that all of those baptisms he performed were invalid. And that is a HUGE deal to them, because they believe baptism brings salvation.
But the Bible doesn’t teach that baptism saves you. The Bible is very clear that faith in Jesus saves you. And God is not going to keep you out of heaven on a “technicality.” He’s going to judge you on the basis of how your respond to the gospel of Jesus in your HEART, not whether some priest “said the right words” over you or not!
But having said that, baptism IS important to the gospel. Jesus commanded His followers to be baptized. Baptism is a picture of the gospel: when we go down into the water and are brought back up, it pictures how Jesus died, was buried, and rose again for us. And just as water washes dirt off the body, so baptism pictures how the blood of Jesus on the cross washes away our sins. And importantly, when you are baptized, you make a public confession of your faith in Christ. Over the years in our Baptist churches, many of us have regarded “going down to the front” of the church at the invitation time as when we confess Christ. Going down to the front in church is not a “bad” thing to do, but they didn’t do that in the New Testament. Churches didn’t start having what we call “invitations” after messages until the 1800’s. It is a relatively recent practice. It’s not “bad,” I don’t think; it’s just recent. But the New Testament time of confessing your faith, happened at baptism. You declared your faith publicly by being baptized. This is why at our baptisms, I ask each person, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior,” and I give them a chance to say, “Yes sir,” or “Yes I do” — and publicly confess Christ. That is what baptism is. It is the opportunity for you to publicly confess that Jesus is your Lord & Savior.
Philip undoubtedly shared something like this with the Ethiopian, and so then :36 says the chariot they were riding in came by some water, and the Ethiopian said: “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip said, if you believe, you can — because like we have been saying, the baptism doesn’t save you; it is faith in Jesus that saves.
And :38 says “they went down into the water” (because Biblical baptism is by immersion; that is what the word “baptism” means, “to immerse”) and he was baptized, testifying to his new faith in Jesus.
But the question of the Ethiopian is a question for us today too: “What prevents YOU from being baptized?”
If you have never been baptized, what IS keeping you from being baptized?
— maybe you have never put your faith in Jesus as your Lord & Savior. Maybe you still have some questions about it. Don’t just leave it where you are. FIND out more about it. Talk to me or talk to somebody else you trust today. Nail this down. Give your life to Christ, and then follow through by being baptized.
— or maybe you HAVE given your life to Christ, but you have just gotten busy, or didn’t realize the importance of it, or whatever, but you have never been baptized. You need to do it.
— or maybe TODAY you are giving your life to Christ for the first time. You have heard this message today, and understand it, and TODAY, right now, you are giving your life to Christ in your heart. If so, you are saved right now, as you trust Jesus in your heart. But as we have been talking about, you need to be baptized, and make that public confession of Christ as your Lord & Savior in baptism.
— Or maybe there IS something that is “keeping you from being baptized.” Maybe you’ve thought it wasn’t that important, if you don’t “need” it to be saved — but Jesus commanded His followers to be baptized. If He is your Lord, one of the evidences of the reality of His Lordship in your life is that you will obey Him in baptism.
Maybe you’re thinking it’d be hard to be baptized in front of all those people … But Jesus said, “If you confess Me before men, I’ll confess you before My Father who is in heaven …”. It IS important to be baptized.
This week, I saw a picture of a military chaplain, baptizing some soldiers who had just put their faith in Christ. What was unusual about it, was that at the lake where they were baptizing, they had to cut a hole in the ICE on top of the lake in order to do the baptism! Those military men were serious about being baptized. We SHOULD be serious about it. We should be serious about anything Jesus commands us to do.
So I ask you the question today: “Have you been baptized,” and if the answer is “no,” then I ask you the question that comes right out of this Bible text today: “What prevents YOU from being baptized?”
INVITATION: How do YOU need to respond to God’s word today?
— If you are a Christian, ask God to help you treat each person you meet as someone who may need Christ … to be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit … and to be sure to share JESUS with them.
— Maybe you are a Christian in your heart, but you have never been baptized … or TODAY you are giving your life to Christ; share with me today that you need to be baptized.