So far in this series we have considered the facts of the gospel. That there was an individual named Jesus of Nazareth, that He was God walking this earth in human form—That He died on a cross at the hands of the Jews and the Romans—that He rose from the dead and returned to heaven in bodily form. Now we need to consider the experience of the gospel. We must look at those examples presented to us, of people whose lives were radically changed, when they placed their trust in what Jesus did when He lived, died and rose again.
The Ethiopian, already educated regarding the Jewish Messiah—it had been the main subject of conversation and speculation while he had been in Jerusalem — was able to understand the principle of the substitutionary nature of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Israel. He asked if he could become a Christian, and be baptized. Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” (Acts 8.37) The African responded in the affirmative, and was baptised there and then.
Emphasised in this conversion are certain important ingredients.
1. At the heart of the encounter is the Scriptures—he was reading his Bible.
The Jewish Rabbi.
Saul of Tarsus, Rabbi and special envoy of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, was given letters of authority to extradite and imprison any followers of Jesus who had fled to Damascus. He himself was to execute the extradition warrant. He was on this mission, and had almost reached Damascus when he had a traumatic experience. He was blinded by the glory of God, and heard a voice speaking to him out of heaven. It was Jesus Himself, asking “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He fell to the ground and acknowledged that Jesus was alive and the true Messiah of Israel. He became a follower of Christ from that day on.
Emphasised in Saul’s conversion are the following.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, robed in the glory of God.
The third conversion is that of Cornelius, a soldier in the employ of Rome, who was a ‘God-fearer’. He already had some knowledge of the Jewish religion, and demonstrated his generous disposition by acts of kindness and gifts of money to the local synagogue. Peter was instructed to visit him and preach the gospel. Peter, initially reluctant to visit a non-Jew, finally acceded and began to explain to Cornelius and his household something of the person and work of Jesus, the Messiah. But before Peter could come to the end of his sermon the Spirit of God had fallen on the assembled company, a clear witness that they had been accepted for salvation. This Gentile household was the first among the non-Jewish population to embrace Christianity.
The main points to identify here are as follows:
1. The Spirit of God (everyone in the household was affected by His presence.
2. The ascension of Christ because the Spirit of God was only available as Cornelius and his household experienced it, after the return of Jesus to heaven.
And again, the decision of the household members was seen in the rite of baptism. (Acts 10.47)
In summarising these three important personal conversions, there are some things to remark on.
The Bible makes them representative. The group is made up of a Jewish proselyte, a Jew and a Gentile. They also represent the three main population streams that rose from the sons of Noah, i.e. Ham, Shem and Japheth. If they are representative, I would suggest that the main ingredients needed to bring a soul from darkness to light, from death to life must be included here. So let’s pull the central features of the three experiences together.
(1) The Scriptures (the Bible, the Word of God), which was the both the start and the heart of the conversion of the African statesman.
(2) The Person and Work of Christ.
(i) In the first narrative, Philip preached to the Ethiopian the truths concerning ‘Jesus’, especially explaining the crucifixion since he was reading from Isaiah 53, the prophecy of the suffering servant of Jehovah.
(3) The Spirit of God is active in all conversions, and is especially highlighted in the third of the above examples.
It could be that these are the essential elements in any true conversion.
In respect of the Word of God, Paul wrote, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. (Rom.10.17). It is the Bible that provides the information that enables an intelligent response to the gospel.
In respect of the person and work of the Lord. Jesus, Son of God, died, was buried, rose again and returned to heaven so that those who personally accept His substitutionary death might also have eternal life and join Him in heaven.
In respect of the work of the Spirit of God. Jesus said, “Except a man be born of … the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. (John 3.5) It is the Spirit of God that enables a spiritual response to the appeal of the gospel.