Big Idea: 2000 Years on and people are still coming to Jesus
Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today as a church we have good reason to praise God. We want to be a community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus. And today, (as 5 people get baptized and Joyce publicly recommits her life to Jesus) we see in a small, but very tangible way, that God is helping us to fulfill our vision. We are overflowing and growing as a church. Hallelujah
Well friends, right now we live in a world that seems to be forever, full of BAD NEWS and FAKE NEWS. On the one hand we have never ending talk about coronavirus and riots and environmental woes. On the other hand TRUMP and the CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY now declare everything that makes them look bad, fake news. It’s all bad news or fake news. So what can we believe? Is there any news that is truly good? Any news that is positive?
In October 2020 – the medical department of HARVARD UNIVERSITY released a paper on how our endless consumption of bad news and fake news is destroying our mental health. They noted that increased anxiety and uncertainty on the world stage – generally leads us to consume more and more news – even if it is bad. There is this false sense of security that says; if I am well-informed about what is going on in the world – then I am prepared. And if I feel prepared – then I’m more at peace. We tend to believe information is always empowering. But the clinical assessment of Harvard University discovered this is NOT true. The more we consume negative news feeds and social media posts the worse our mental health is becoming. This is what Dr Jacqueline Bullis wrote in the article (SLIDE 2).
Now the article seriously encouraged people 1) to get away from screen time, 2) avoid negative input and 3) seek out more positive social interactions. The article finished by saying; (Slide 3).
Now I’m sure that is okay information. But is that really the best Harvard University has to offer a broken world – a couple of feel good Instagram sites and watch more Netflix (with remote friends). Personally, I think, we have far better news, than the best Harvard has to offer. We have good news about Jesus that not only improves mental health, but also save your soul. We have good news about Jesus that is also 100% effective which is better than any coronavirus vaccine, and best of all and you don’t have to wait until next year to get it.
Point 1: God uses His People to share the Good News of Jesus – NOW
Show: Acts 8:26-29 (READ)
Well in our CHINESE CHURCH SERVICE we’ve been working through the book of Acts and Acts 8:26-40 was the passage scheduled for today’s service. I figured this was as good a passage as any for today’s baptism service. So, as we begin, let me give you, just a little bit of background about the book of Acts. The book of Acts explains how Christianity went from being A) 12 disciples following Jesus to become B) one of the biggest and most influential religions in the Roman Empire. At the beginning of Acts Jesus says to his disciples – (Slide 3; Acts 1:8). Now this is like a summary statement of the book of Acts. The book of Acts begins with the good news of Jesus first spreading to Jews in Jerusalem and Judea. The middle part of Acts explains how the good news of Jesus spread to half Jews and converts to Judaism. And the last half of Acts explains how the good news of Jesus started to spread among Gentiles in Africa, Turkey, Greece and even into Rome. The book of Acts shows us that Jesus is good news for anyone and everyone who believes.
Now the section of Acts we are in today – is the MIDDLE SECTION where the gospel is spreading to half Jews and converts to Judaism. So, the guy we meet in this story today is actually an Ethiopian Jew. Not an ethnic Jew, but a convert to Judaism. Way back in the Old Testament – around 1000BC – the Queen of Ethiopia met the Jewish King Solomon and she took the Jewish faith to Ethiopia. And since about 1000BC – there have been many Ethiopians who actually identified themselves as religious Jews. So we are told the Ethiopian man in this story – has been up to Jerusalem worshiping God, probably for one of the high Jewish holidays. We also know this Ethiopian man is very powerful. He is head of the treasury of Candace, queen “mother” of Ethiopia. Now the way Ethiopian royalty operated is both complex and interesting. But let me say that this means – he was probably the second most powerful man in Ethiopia, second only to the King.
The fact that he is riding in a CHARIOT (which was the first century equivalent of a Bentley or Rolls) tells us he has power, influence and money. But like many men who worked in ancient royal households – he has a major insecurity. He is a eunuch. In the ancient world – men who worked in royal households were often castrated to prevent them interfering with any of royal family or harem. So, I’m pretty sure this is a man with some insecurities. (I don’t think it would be easy for any man who had lost their proverbial tackle to feel like a real man). But as a convert to Judaism – this man’s castration would have heightened his insecurities. (Slide 4; Deut.23:1). Now it’s a bit confusing – as to why castration was an issue in ancient Judaism. But whatever the reason – this man was both a second-class Jew and a second-class man. He may have been up to Jerusalem to worship God, but he couldn’t have entered the Jewish temple. He would have been forced to worship God from a distance.
Illustrate: I think that there are MANY PEOPLE today who feel like this man. I don’t really belong. I’m an outsider. I don’t really fit in God’s family or God’s church. (Have you ever felt like that? Nagging insecurities that just won’t go away). Sadly, the damage done to us by sin in this fallen world – often A) because of the sin of others, but sometimes B) because of our own sin as well – we are left with deep scars – not just in our flesh, but also in our minds and in our soul. WE LONG for acceptance and community, BUT WE FEEL unlovable or unworthy.
Apply: Well, there was A LITTLE PROMISE in the Old Testament that one day those who feel like outsiders would have full access to God. In Isaiah 56, God says (ENTER; Isa.56:7). This promise of God to eunuchs was actually fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sins. Jesus paid the penalty for all our wrongdoing so that we can now enter into the very presence of God – regardless of our background, our race, our insecurities or even messed up sexual identities. In Jesus, God has revealed that he still loves us and his invitation to everyone is come. Come into my church. Come to the banquet I am preparing.
Come, even if you feel like an Ethiopian eunuch. POINT IS Jesus is good news for everyone – including sometimes the most unlikely individuals. You think about it. Phillip sees a dark skinned African official riding a chariot through Samaria who happens to be eunuch (and God’s Spirit) prompts Phillip to go, share the gospel with him.
I just want you to think – who are the Ethiopian eunuchs – of today. Who are the second class citizens – on the streets of Sydney today? (PAUSE). Now if God’s Spirit prompted to you – go share the gospel with them – would you do it or would you hesitate. (WHY?) I think our church in Redfern is a living testimony to the fact God loves the Ethiopian eunuchs of this world. There are many of us who perhaps feel like we are less than we should be, less than we ought to be. But the same precious blood of Jesus that was spilt to save people in North Sydney, was also spilt to save the Ethiopian eunuchs in Redfern. Now whether we consider the Ethiopian eunuch – A) the wealthy stock trader in Martin Place or B) the ice addict in Wooloomooloo – Jesus is still good news. Whether we consider the Ethiopian eunuch – A) the image conscious Facebook influencer or the refugee from Iran – the good news of Jesus is for them too. I sometimes wonder who is more broken. Our vision as a church is to be a community that overflows with faith, hope and love in Jesus – to the least, the last and the lost of Sydney. The question is – are you willing and ready to obey God’s Spirit when he tells you “go to that chariot and stay near it.” We may think surely not! But sometimes those who appear least likely – are actually the most receptive…
Point 2: God Prepares people in advance to receive the Good News
Show: Acts 8:30-31 (READ)
Well can you imagine Phillips surprize when he runs up alongside the chariot and hears the man reading the JEWISH SCRIPTURES. And not just the Jewish Scriptures, but the scroll of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah more or less told the story of Jesus (700 years before Jesus was born). It is full of prophecies about Jesus. But not only is the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah, he is reading Isaiah 53 – which fully prophesies why Jesus Messiah had to die on the cross.
In terms of Christian evangelism – this is a give me. Here is a man who has a KNOWLEDGE of the God of the Bible. He wants to WORSHIP the God of the Bible. But he feels like an outsider and he knows that in some ways he is cut off from God. This is true. None of us are really worthy to approach God – because we’ve all done wrong things. Of course, some of our shame and guilt is MISPLACED. Sometimes we feel bad and insecure because of things that have been done to us by other evil people. Things that rob us of our identity and self-worth. But none of us are complete victims. Despite what has happened to us – we have to accept responsibility for our own actions. All of us – have also done things – that cause LEGITIMATE guilt and shame. We have LIED. We have CHEATED. We have STOLEN and not exercised SELF-CONTROL. We have hurt people – sometimes A) accidently and other times B) intentionally and vindictively. THIS CAUSES US MASSIVE INSECURITY WITH GOD. We hope that God will one day punish those who have hurt and damaged us. But we also know that if God punishes those who have hurt us, He must also punish us for hurting others. What is the answer? How can anyone be saved if this is God’s justice? Incredibly, the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading the best Old Testament explaining of God’s solution.
Look with me again at Acts 8:32-35 (READ). Well it’s not very hard to explain the good news of Jesus from this passage. It’s talking about Jesus being led to the cross – without protest.
It is talking about Jesus being deprived of justice because he was killed as an innocent man. He did NOT deserve to die. But his life was taken from the earth. And Isaiah 53 clearly explains that Jesus (the innocent man) died to take the punishment for our sins. The verses directly preceding the one quoted here; says (Slide 4; Isa.53:5).
(GOSPEL) This is the good news of Jesus. He died in your place to take the punishment for your sin. Everything you have done wrong deserves to be punished by God, but Jesus took the punishment for you as he died on the cross. This means you can now APPROACH God without any fear because your sin has been paid for. It means that there is nothing that can prevent you from having a real, relationship with God. The good news of Jesus is your sins are paid for. But more than that – the fact that God’s Son Jesus was willing to die for you (despite all that’s been done to you and all that’s been done by you) means that you are loved by God more than you can imagine. Maybe your parents did not love you properly. Maybe your spouse or your children have left you feeling unlovable. Well, at the cross God is says “Don’t believe that lie. I love you enough to die for you and I want you in my family. You are precious to me” says God. Come home.”
Apply: This is the good news that Don, Seamourn, Ming Ming, Rebekah, Ming and Joyce now personally accept. I think they would all be willing to admit they’ve done some dumb things and some sinful things. But they also hold to the hope that 1) Jesus has paid their debt and 2) they are wonderfully and unconditionally loved by God despite their mistakes. This is the GOOD NEWS OF JESUS. And we need to continue sharing this good news faithfully and clearly.
We must talk not only about A) God’s love and forgiveness, but also B)about our sin and disobedience. We must talk not only A1) about the reality of heaven, but B1) the reality of hell too. And we must be clear (despite the pressure of the world) – that the ONLY way to be saved is through faith in Jesus. There is no other way.
But as we do so, we may be surprised – by how many people God has prepared (through life experience, difficulties and previous encounters with Christians) to hear, receive and fall in love with the good news of Jesus. God prepared the Ethiopian eunuch to hear and receive Jesus as his Savior and Lord AND through various means and methods – God prepared each of these people today to receive Jesus. And – when God prepares someone – evangelism is nothing more than showing them that Jesus is the door, the gate and the way to heaven – and their response is then exactly like the Ethiopian Eunuch – “here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized.” Why shouldn’t I?
Point 3: God calls People to be Baptized when they accept the Good News
Show: Acts 8:36-39 (READ)
Please notice, the Eunuchs words – “here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized.” It’s not why should I be baptized? It’s why shouldn’t I be baptized? This means, in Phillips explanation of Jesus, he has actually led the Ethiopian Eunuch to make a decision for Jesus – that includes baptism. There is NOTHING in Isaiah 53 about baptism. There is also VERY LITTLE in the Jewish religion about baptism. But from the earliest days of the Christian church – Christian baptism has been linked to Christian conversion. Even the 39 Articles of the Anglican church say that Christian baptism is meant to follow a profession of faith and be the sign by which believers are grafted into the church.
When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost – his gospel presentation included a clear call for people to repent of their sins, to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord and receive baptism – with a promise they will be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. Similarly, when Peter shared the gospel with CORNELLIUS the first Gentile to become a Christian – he ordered that they be welcomed into the church family – by being baptized with water. The sacrament of baptism is actually an important part of the Christian faith – that marks you out as a new person.
Baptism does not save you, for faith alone saves you. But like the Lords Supper, (and all God’s gifts) baptism does strengthen you and in some real, tangible way equips you for Jesus’ service. For all those who are getting baptized today – I want to say;
YOU HAVE DECIDED that Jesus is your Saviour and in gratitude to Jesus for saving you – you are committing yourself to trust him and obey him as your King. This is your decision and profession (and God promises forgiveness, blessing, a place in heaven and power to live a new life) to you. So to all those getting baptized by immersion and/or sprinkling with water – this is the day that marks your turning from darkness to light. Today the old you with all your sin and insecurities dies (and today you start a fresh). YOU START A LIFE that is lived for Jesus’ glory. YOU START A LIFE that is lived in FAITH, not fear, in HOPE not despair, and in LOVE, not I hate or indifference. TODAY, as you are baptized – we welcome you as brothers and sisters into God’s family the church. TODAY we praise God for you – because you are evidence that we are a community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus – and TODAY we call you to join us in overflowing faith, hope and love – so that others may know the good news that God shared with you.
You are loved by God more than you can imagine and TODAY is your new spiritual birthday. TODAY, is the day that marks you have been born, born again. You will need to learn crawl, and then walk and in time run as a Christian. But remember (at every stage) that you are still an Ethiopian eunuch – on a joyful road to recovery. As Tim Keller says (Slide 6); The good news of Jesus is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” And that is good news for a broken world…