What Life is Really All About
Reading: Acts 8:1, 26-
Olympic athletes make enormous sacrifices. For 4 years their lives are dominated by their determination to be ready for the next games. They do everything they can to ensure that they’re in the best condition possible for an event which will be over in hours at most and in some case just seconds.
These folk are held up to us as heroes whom we are expected to adulate. Their single-
Let a man or a woman decide however that they mean business with the Lord Jesus Christ and order their lives so that they can perhaps attend church twice on a Sunday and again during the week and people’s reaction is very different. Such a decision is met with derision and we are written off as fanatics or extremists.
Jewish leaders in the first century feared the growing influence and popularity of the prophet from Nazareth. They wanted to stop this and they thought that they could extinguish his popularity by executing him. It didn’t work and the numbers of his followers just kept on growing. It was not long before another policy was adopted. If killing the man hadn’t worked perhaps the persecution of his followers would succeed.
With the fires of persecution burning this was a dangerous time for Christians in Jerusalem. It was not a propitious time for thinking about the Christian faith as the authorities put up their warning signs: "Danger! Men at work". The immediate danger for any follower of Jesus was the danger of being dragged away and putting in prison.
Yet without Jesus Christ men and women were, and are, in danger albeit of a different kind. They were, and are, missing out on the very purpose of their lives – man’s primary purpose si to know God and to enjoy him forever -
The episode I want us to consider this morning for a few moments presents us with another road sign and this time it is much more positive: it reads "Safety! God at work".
I’ve made the assertion that to miss out on Jesus is to miss out on the real meaning of life. But maybe you will want to argue with that. Maybe you feel that there are many different ways of living a fulfilled life without needing Jesus. How can I defend what I’ve said?
Well consider with me for a moment this Ethiopian man and let’s see what we can learn about him and what we can learn from his experience.
The first thing to say is that this man did have had a great deal going for him and indeed he seems to have made a real success of his life:
He was successful in his career. He had risen to a position of great authority, power and influence – he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Ethiopian court, the man in complete charge of the royal treasury. This was not only a powerful position to occupy it was a responsible post and the man who occupied it would have to be a trustworthy man, an honourable man. It was also a well-
Many in our world today long to have what this man had achieved: status, power, money and the various trappings that go with it.
But all this didn’t satisfy the deepest needs of this man. Life, he knew, was about more than this.
So we find that this respected and respectable man was also a religious man, a god-
Now there is a type of religion that is little more than a social veneer. It used to be popular in Britain because it offers the pretence of acceptability without being too rigorous and as we all know we mustn’t risk being seen to be fanatical. To say a man was a Christian was understood to mean that he conducted himself as a gentleman no more no less.
And of course such religion, (or should we say irreligion?) is always popular with Satan – if men must have religion then let it be this kind of religion. This sort of religion doesn’t touch the heart and so does no good to the soul and this Ethiopian knew it! He wasn’t content to be religious in name only he was devout, you could even perhaps label him as an enthusiast. After all how else do you explain his travelling to Jerusalem? It involved a round trip journey of some 3.000 miles.
However when he went to Jerusalem to worship he would have met with restrictions he could do nothing about: no eunuch was allowed to enter the temple complex. How frustrating it must have been to have travelled so far and to be rewarded with such little success and yet he didn’t allow this life-
So we can add another description – this man was a Bible reader too. But just as with his position in the world and his experience of worship his Bible reading did not for the moment help him.
And why should that be?
For the simple reason that he didn’t understand what he was reading!
There were tremendous truths stored away in Isaiah’s writings. They included the promise that one day the eunuch would no longer be excluded from worship – how appropriate to this particular individual. But for the moment he simply did not understand who or what Isaiah was writing about.
For all we can tell this Ethiopian man was a very genuine person indeed. He did and had done his best and in a number of ways had made a very real success of his life. But, and it is a very important but, he had not discovered the true meaning of his life. All he knew was that all was not as it might be.
I wonder whether that describes any of you this morning.
Compared with others in the world you seem to have made something of your life. You may well have a certain influence and authority and you may enjoy the approval of those you rub shoulders with. But you know deep down inside that life is meant to be more than that, that this is not all there is.
Safety God at Work
The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, wrote in his work Pensées (‘Thoughts’ published in 1662) that every man had an empty void at the centre of his being which only God could fill. This void has been sometimes been described as a God-
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were doing what they could to inhibit men and women putting their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. By their actions they were providing no help whatsoever for those who had a sense that there was something more to life than they currently knew.
Well the good news is that God delights to fill this God-
The Ethiopian had travelled hundreds of miles under his own steam to a city where the leaders were doing their utmost to banish all knowledge of Jesus Christ. Humanly speaking it would be unlikely that the Ethiopian would meet Christians in Jerusalem but God was at work – the Ethiopian would soon be delivered from his danger.
The Spirit of God gave some instructions to the Christian evangelist Philip. He was to undertake a journey of some 50 miles and find the road that led south out of Jerusalem before turning west to head to Gaza. There were two routes to Gaza and this road, known as the desert road, was the much less frequented of the two. It sounded like a strange instruction to be given but happily Philip followed the instructions he was given. (It is even possible that he was told at just what time to travel too as the Greek "toward the south" could also be translated "at midday".)
As Philip approached the chariot in which the Ethiopian was travelling he heard the latter reading from the prophet Isaiah. It was the usual custom in the ancient world to read out loud. It was thought that this aided the memory to retain the text whereas to read silently only served to encourage forgetfulness.
If the Ethiopian had chosen this quiet road in order to be able to read he didn’t seem to mind the interruption and in fact responds remarkably well to it. As readers of the account, we know that God had sent Philip but the Ethiopian wasn’t to know this but he shows himself open to receive help.
In response to Philip’s enquiry as to whether he understands what he is reading the Ethiopians freely admits his need of assistance and listens eagerly and attentively to what Philip has to say.
The passage the Ethiopian had been reading was an ideal one for Philp for he could easily start there and go on to explain all about Jesus! And it was Jesus that the Ethiopian needed and it is Jesus that we too in the 21 st century need equally as much.
Let me remind you of the passage from Isaiah that the Ethiopian had been reading: vv.32-
"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth."
The one spoken about in this prophecy is not Isaiah but Jesus and it speaks about his death. And how important it is for us to understand this death.
Isaiah speaks of a sheep, a lamb, and a lamb was an animal that was used as a sacrificial victim, a sacrificial offering. Jesus is spoken of then as being put to death as a sacrifice and the fact that he goes quietly and without resistance shows he was a willing victim.
Isaiah also spoke about the absolute injustice of it all. Jesus was denied justice and so condemned wrongly – he was an innocent victim. He was cut off as it were in his prime and had no physical descendants. And yet he had an ever increasing number of followers.
What are we to make of this?
Jesus came with the express purpose of humbling himself and experiencing a judgment which he personally did not deserve. He hadn’t come in the first place to tell men to be more moral. He hadn’t come to tell them to try harder to sort out the mess they had made of their lives. He had come, stooping low, in order to save his people from their sins.
He had spent his ministry life going round doing good: he had healed the sick, consoled those in grief, fed the hungry, given eye-
Jesus had secured by his sufferings and death a full and free salvation for all those who would respond to his open, free and genuine offer.
Men and women had misunderstood Jesus when he first came and men and women go on misunderstanding him to this very day. Salvation is a free gift offered to us in Jesus Christ but so many don’t want a free gift like this.
But the Ethiopian was not one of those who would go on stubbornly rejecting him. As soon as he hears and understands he doesn’t argue or resist or complain but immediately pledges his allegiance.
Faith comes by hearing and by hearing the word of God that speaks about Jesus Christ.
This Ethiopian heard and believed and committed himself asking at once to be baptised, a sign of his new faith-
And what about you?
The two ladies who are shortly to be baptised have themselves heard and responded to the good news of Jesus Christ. Many others gathered here this morning have also responded to God by putting their faith and trust in Jesus who died for sinners being raised too for their justification.
So what about you?
You can go on in your life unchanged and unmoved. Yes, you can go on missing the very reason for which you are alive at all or you can drop your resistance and put your trust in Jesus too. He is the Son of God and he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Come to Jesus Christ and live!