Once in awhile, when my family would get together on those special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the 4th of July, someone would pull out some of the family photo albums that my mother had so lovingly put together. They always provided a good time. We'd laugh at the outlandish clothing and glasses that we used to wear. We drove cars that were real cars, they weren't imported and didn't have plastic bumpers. We'd try to remember the setting behind some particular photo. We'd try to figure out who the forgotten people were in some of the photos. We'd notice those changes that growth brings, and those losses of relatives that death brings. We could see improvements that technology brought, and we felt very blessed to have as much as we had and to have faced life's difficulties together as a family. Yes, there was something special about those old family photo albums!
In the New Testament, we have a book very similar which could be called "God's Photo Album" because it shows us how many people became His children. You've probably already guessed that the Acts of the Apostles is that book. Sometimes when we read about these conversions, we can almost picture them as photos. Today, we want to look inside God's photo album at three conversions, those conversions also can represent various types of people who live around us as well. If you're not a member of the Lord's church this morning, please listen carefully as to how each of these men became Christians, for you'll see many similarities in their conversion stories.
As we look into this photo album, we see a title at the top of one of the pages: "An Official -- A Searching Man." Then we see a series of 4 photos. The first one shows a stately Negro reading a scroll while riding in a chariot. Who was this man and what was he reading? Turn to Acts 8:27: "And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of Ethiopia, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet."
The next photo shows this Negro and a Jewish man talking to each other while both are seated in the chariot. Who is this Jewish man? Why is he in the chariot? What are they talking about? Now let's look at v. 29: "The Spirit said to Philip, 'Go near and overtake this chariot.' So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said 'How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. And the place in the Scripture which he read was this: 'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before his shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth [remember how when Jesus was on trial that He remained silent before Herod and Pilate?], In his humiliation, His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.' So the eunuch answered Philip and said, 'I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself, or of some other man?"
Remember the title of this page in God's photo album? Yes, "An Official --A Searching Man." Notice, this man believed in God, and he had made a long trip to he temple in Jerusalem to worship the true God. We notice also that he also wanted to learn more. He had probably paid a good sum of money to purchase a copy of the scroll of Isaiah. And we see that he was reading it when Philip found him. This man was a searching man, wasn't he? He really wanted to know more about God's will. He was a searching man, but was he a saved man at this point? No, he was not. How do we know that? Well, if he was saved, why would the Holy Spirit have led Philip to him and told him explicitly to join him. If the man was saved, he wouldn't have needed anybody to instruct him further. He was not yet saved because he had not yet learned about the Savior, Jesus Christ. Do you know some people like this man? They are searching for the truth. They too purchase all kinds of books trying to understand more, but they've seldom looked at the Bible. They go to various churches to try and get a handle on what faith is all about and to learn more, but often they become more confused. They are searching, but like the good official in God's photo album, they still aren't saved. Well, there is good news for you today, if you are searching!
The next photo shows two men in some water, and Philip is raising the official out of the water. Why are they there? What are they doing? What's behind this scene? Let's read v. 35: "Then Philip opened this mouth and beginning at this Scripture preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, 'See here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?' Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,' So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him." Philip began with the very passage from the prophet Isaiah and began explaining to this official that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, who Isaiah had written about. Surely Philip explained the unjust trial that Jesus had received and showed that He was the perfect Lamb of God whose blood was shed on a Roman cross to pay the price for the world's sins. His death was no accident, but God's marvelous plan for the salvation of all people! He must have also then told him of Jesus' wonderful resurrection and how Jesus told them a short time later that repentance and remission of sins would be preached to all nations, starting in Jerusalem (Luke 21:46) and that they should immerse those who wanted to become His disciples (Mt. 28:18-20)! The official understands Philip's teaching because when they came to a body of water, the official asks why couldn't he be immersed. Philip says that He can if he truly believes that Jesus was God's Son sent to be everyone's Savior. The official eagerly confesses that He does believe that good news. So Philip and the official go down into the water where Philip immerses him so that he too might become Jesus' disciple!
The last photo shows this official smiling broadly and lifting his hands towards heaven while Philip has disappeared from the scene. Why is the official doing this? Why is Philip not there any more? Let's read v. 39: "Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing!" Now the official knew that he had found His Redeemer and that his search had ended! He was saved, and the promises of resurrection and eternal life were his as well. If you are a searching person this morning, your search can come to an end. Jesus wants to be your Savior and Redeemer. Once a woman asked me why was Jesus so different from Mohammed or Buddha? Thank the Lord, Peter's statement in Acts 4:12 came to mind, so I replied, "Now good woman, this is not my answer, but it is the words of an inspired apostle: 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.' Salvation is found only in the name of Jesus! He is the only teacher who arose from death to offer all people the hope of eternal life!" If you're searching today, Jesus is who you're seeking!
Now we turn to another page in God's photo album, and again, we find another title at the top of a page: "A Rabbi -- A Sincere Man". There is also a series of 4 photos. In the first one, we see a many lying on the ground, and a bright light from heaven is shining upon him. Who is this man? Why is he in this position? Why is there light? Let's read from Acts 9:3ff: "As he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly a bright light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And he, trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do you want me to do?' " What a shocking event this was to the rabbi named Saul! He had thought the young rabbi from Nazareth that had been hung on a cross could in no way be the Messiah; Saul was convinced that He was an imposter and His followers were deluded. But now, Jesus is alive and speaking to Him form heaven! God HAD raised Him from the dead, and here He was asking him why he continued resisting the truth spoken by His followers or kicking against the goads!
The second photo shows this rabbi with glassy eyes being led by others toward a city's gate. Why are others leading this man? When the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."... v.8 "Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank."
Remember the title for this page? Yes, "A Rabbi--A Sincere Man". Please look now at Acts 23:1 where Paul, the same man called Saul in Act 9, makes this statement: "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." Paul states that he had sincerely tried to follow God all his life. Even when he was hunting down Christians, he had believed that he was doing God's will. Yes, he was a sincere man. We know others who are sincere. They sometimes even argue, "It really doesn't matter which denomination you follow, just as long as you are sincere." That may sound appealing, but can someone be sincerely wrong? Paul himself answers that question for us in 1 Timothy 1:12ff: "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent [or angry] man, but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." I was sincere, yes, but I was sincerely mistaken! I had acted ignorantly in unbelief. Yes a person can be sincerely wrong. Now, let me ask another question: "At this point in the story, was Paul saved? Hadn't He seen Jesus? Didn't he now believe that He was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews?" Yes, he saw and believed, but he was still not saved! How do we know that? Notice, Jesus told him to go into the city of Damascus where it would be told him that he would have to do something. Why would Jesus have given Paul these instructions if he was already saved? There is good news for you today if you are sincere!
Now we see our third photo. A man is lifting Saul out of a pool of water. Who is this man? Why are they both in a pool of water? What is happening here? we are told in Acts 9:10 that Jesus appears to a disciple named Ananias in a vision, and Jesus tells him where Saul is located and for Ananias to go there. Ananias had heard how Paul was a persecutor of Christians, so he was fearful, but Jesus insisted that he go, so Ananias was obedient. Now please turn to Acts 22:13 where we find the reason that both men were in the pool of water: "[Ananias] came to me, and he stood and said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight." and at that same hour, I looked up at him. Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.' " Acts 9:18 says that he arose and was baptized.
The last photo shows Saul standing with a joyful expression and preaching before a group of people. Where is he? What is he saying? Why is he doing this? Acts 9:20 gives the answer: "Immediately, he preached the Christ [meaning he preached that Jesus was the Messiah] in the synagogues [of Damascus] the city where he had heard the good news about Christ from Ananias], that He [referring to Jesus] is the Son of God." Paul was so excited about discovering that Jesus was the Messiah and God's Son that he started immediately to tell others this good news as well. Just as his sins had been washed away, their sins could also be washed away! And my friends, so can yours, even today!
Now we turn another page in God's photo album, and at the top is this title: "A Soldier--A Spiritual Man". Here we also find a series of 4 photos. The first photo shows a Roman centurion bowing down at the feet of a muscular Jewish man. Who are these men? Why is the soldier bowing to the Jew? Why are they together? Let's read from Acts 10:25: " As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet, and worshiped him, But Peter lifted him up, saying, 'Stand up, I myself am also a man." And as he talked with him, he found many who had come together. Then he said to them, 'You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean?"then Peter asks why he had been called, and Cornelius explains that he had seen a vision from God and received orders from an angel to call Peter so that Peter could explain some things to him.
What was this page's title again? "A Soldier--A Spiritual Man". Now go back up to verse 1 where we are introduced to Cornelius "there was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always." Notice that this Roman soldier was described as being devout, one who feared God, a man who had a good influence on his family, a generous man who helped others, and a prayerful man. He was very spiritual, wasn't he? But was he saved? No, he wasn't. Well, how do we know that? If he was already saved, there would have been no need for him to have sent for Peter, and Peter would not have had to travel to give him a message. You probably know some people like Cornelius as well. They are spiritual people who treat their families well, help others and do good things. It's great to have a neighbor like that, but that neighbor can still be lost in God's eyes. Cornelius was instructed to send for Peter so that Peter could tell him something and give him further instruction. There is good news for you today if you are spiritual!
This brings us to the next photo where we see Peter standing before a group of people in a house with his mouth open and his arms extended as if accentuating some point of his message. What is his message to Cornelius and his family? That was today's reading where we saw Peter telling Cornelius about Jesus, and how God had raised Him from the dead, and how He would one day be the Judge of all people.
The next photo shows this same speaker and the same group of people, but the people have something that looks like fire over their heads and their mouths are now open. What's happening here? Look at verse 44: "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God."
The last photo shows Peter and the Jews lifting smiling Gentiles out of water in a spacious swimming pool seen in an enclosed courtyard. What was happening here? Look at verse 47: "Then Peter answered, 'Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? and he commanded [or ordered or strongly urged] them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." After these people learned about Jesus an experienced the Spirit's presence, they also were commanded to be immersed in Jesus' name in order to be saved! Now even the Gentiles could become a part of God's family. Nationality was and still is no long an issue!
Now we turn one more page in God's photo album and find the title: "Me--A Sinful Person". It too has a series of 4 photos. First of all, we see someone walking down one of the aisles in this auditorium as others around them are singing. They have realized that they may be a searching, a sincere, and a spiritual person, but they also are still not saved. They realize now that they need a Savior and a Redeemer! In the next photo. we see this same person standing at the front of this auditorium talking to a church leader. We know what they are saying. Like the official, they have found Jesus, and they are confessing publicly that they believe that Jesus is God's Son! Like Saul, they want to have their sins washed away, so that they too can live a new life which will strive always to imitate Jesus. The next photo shows this person and the preacher or an elder or a friend standing with them in our baptistery. The sinful person wants to be a disciple of Jesus and have their life transformed by Him and filled with His Holy Spirit! This person is being lifted out of the water because they have been immersed into the name of Jesus, just like the official, the rabbi, and the soldier. The last photo shows this person, who has just been immersed, with a big smile and their hands lifted to heaven in praise to the God who has saved them! Like Cornelius, they now belong to God's family! A righteous life on earth and an eternal life in heaven are their new goals! "Me--A Sinful Person has now been changed into "Me --A Saved Person!" Won't you let God add your conversion to His photo album? Won't you confess Jesus right now? ....... as we stand and sing...