Bible Study in the New Testament | Book of Acts
Isaiah 33:6 "He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure".
The Bible tells the story of God’s plan of redemption for humankind from a fallen, sinful state to one of salvation and freedom from sin. It was God’s eternal plan to send his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world at an appointed time to become the means of our salvation. This is the “Good News of Jesus Christ”. We see this story woven and revealed throughout the books of the Bible- but we see it most dynamically in the book of Acts.
Within the first several chapters of the book of Acts, Luke gives an account of the days following the death and resurrection of Christ, followed by a foundational accounting of the first converts of Christ through evangelism. Contained in these chapters we find individual stories of how people responded and reacted to the “Good News of Jesus Christ”. It is here we will look briefly at three individual conversions, and some significant points of each that have a bearing on us today. These three conversions are the Ethiopian Eunuch from Acts chapter eight; Saul (later called Paul) in Acts chapter nine; and Cornelius the Centurion soldier found in Acts chapter ten.
The Ethiopian Eunuch, who “had gone to Jerusalem to worship” (Luke, 2004) was most likely a Jew “either by birth or conversion” (Stott, 1990). There are several significant points to his story: first, he was searching the scriptures for truth; second, God provided Phillip at just the right time to come to him to help him understand what he was reading in scripture. Thirdly, the Eunuch received the Good News, was baptized, filled with the spirit and went away in joy.
Here we see a man, who held a high position in the Queen’s service. He was a Jew who had just left from worshipping in Jerusalem. This is significant because it is a good example of a man who was of high political and religious standing who also had a humble and teachable attitude. In contrast to many of his fellow Jews who balked at the teachings of Christ, we see in the Eunuch one who wants to know more about Christ’s teachings as he searches the scriptures for truth after leaving Jerusalem. God faithfully provides a teacher for him in Phillip.
Philip heeds God’s instruction when told to go south to the desert road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza (Luke, 2004). Here Phillip meets up with the Eunuch and is asked to explain the scriptures to him. Phillip has the opportunity to begin with the scripture in Isaiah that the Eunuch was reading and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is after this that the Eunuch declares his desire to be baptized and is filled with the Holy Spirit and leaves in joy.
These events provide several important points for us to consider. First it is important to be teachable and desire to know the truth no matter what our circumstance in life. Just as the Eunuch, we too must desire truth above all else. This Eunuch could have easily been like many of his fellow Jews in that he could have already claimed to be a chosen person of God because of his Jewish connection. He also could have claimed to be someone special because of his political standing with the Queen. Instead, he claimed neither, and only claimed “his ignorance [of the scriptures] freely and frankly” (Stott, 1990).
Because of his open heart, he was ripe for receiving the truth when Phillip explained it to him. This openness lead to his baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit (A great example of how the Spirit of God comes upon us when we believe in the Good News of Christ) Afterward, the Eunuch went on his way in joy- a reaction to and confirmation of the transformation that took place in his life. In our next example, the conversion of Saul, we see a man whose attitude was the opposite of the Ethiopian Eunuch, however.
Saul- later to be named Paul- was an arrogant tyrant who was bent on destroying the church. Here we find a man who wasn’t searching for truth, but was trying to destroy it! So why is Saul's conversion even possible? He wasn’t seeking Christ. I believe the answer to Saul’s conversion lies in the the fact that he had a “personal encounter with Jesus Christ”, surrendered to Christ in that encounter, and was summoned to service for him (Stott, 1990). Saul didn’t choose Christ, Christ in his grace, chose Saul.
Saul is a good example of many religious and zealous people today who think they are on the right track and aren’t. In Saul, we can find hope for those who may be adamantly opposed to the truth. Their encounter with Christ may be different than Saul’s, as his encounter isn’t typical, but just as Saul met Christ personally, so too can others whose heart isn’t open to God initially.
The key here is stated in Hebrews 3:15, “As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion". Saul did not harden his heart when he heard the voice of God…he did not reject the truth when God called him, instead he acted upon it. He spent three days in fasting and prayer waiting for instruction. In addition, just as the example of the Ethiopian Eunuch, God sent someone to Saul to explain the truth to him.
The ultimate outcome of Saul’s conversion was of course monumental as revealed to Ananias in Acts 9:15, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel”. The first of these Gentiles recorded was Cornelius the Centurion soldier, but Saul would be absent from this event. Instead, God chose Peter as the one to minister to the first known Gentile convert.
Cornelius’ had a personal encounter with God just as Saul did. God spoke to him telling him that he saw how he lived and praised him for it. Just as the Ethiopian Eunuch, Cornelius’ heart was humble and willing to hear the truth. In addition, just as God sent Phillip to the Eunuch, and Ananias to Saul, he sent Peter to Cornelius to tell him the Good News of Jesus Christ. Cornelius was ready to receive it. When Peter arrived, Cornelius had gathered his entire family there to hear what Peter would say. Because Peter was willing to go, Cornelius’ entire household received salvation.
This is important for us today as we realize that God does not make distinctions in race, gender, social or political standing. Cornelius’ salvation was noteworthy because of the extreme prejudice of the Jews against the Gentiles. To the Jews, they were no better than dogs. Today, we too must realize that God’s salvation is, and always has been, for everyone, everywhere, just as it was from the beginning.
In each of the three examples here, there are significant points for us today. If we have an open and teachable heart, God will send someone to show us the truth. God still desires “all to be saved”. In his grace, he wants everyone to have a personal encounter with him. God calls and we must respond. It is only in response to him, however, that we receive his salvation.
When we do respond, we declare it with our baptism; we are given his Holy Spirit, led into truth, and filled with joy as we become a "new creation, the old is GONE". In addition, once we have his Spirit, we too have the opportunity and power to minister to and love others. As we have looked at these three individuals from Acts, we see that each offers something important for our own conversions today. It offers evidence of how God works individually in grace to bring us into a relationship with him.
(2004). The NIV Message Parallel Bible. In Luke, The Book of Acts (pp. 1775-1777). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Stott, J. R. (1990). The Message of Acts. Leicester and Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press.
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