Preach the Kingdom in Jerusalem, then Judea & then Samaria
Before the Easter season, we had left off in Acts with Paul, then called Saul, agreeing to the stoning of Stephen and beginning his personal mission of attempting to put a stop to the spread of this new gospel which Saul perceived as a blasphemous distortion of the Law and a real threat to it.
So let’s start by beginning our reading in Acts 8 this morning.
“(1) And Saul agreed completely with killing him. Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.
(2) Some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.
(3) But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
(4) Now those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the word.
(5) Philip went down to the main city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them.
(6) The crowds were paying attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the miraculous signs he was performing. (7) For unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, were coming out of many who were possessed, and many paralyzed and lame people were healed.
(8) So there was great joy in that city.”
So we see that the church began their next steps in fulfilling the great commission which Jesus ordered His disciples to accomplish.
Jesus has told them just before His departure,
Acts 1:1-8, “(1) I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach (2) until the day he was taken up to heaven, after He had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. (3) To the same apostles also, after His suffering, He presented Himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God.
(4) While He was with them, He declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what My Father promised, which you heard about from Me. (5) For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
(6) So when they had gathered together, they began to ask Him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (7) He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His Own authority. (8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”
So following the stoning of Stephen great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem.
The result? They scattered and took the gospel message with them in conversations and the testimonies of their lives.
Notice that the intentions of the enemy are turned against him. He desired to stop the church through persecutions and threats, but the result was the spreading of the good news of salvation through Jesus and phase two of the great commission.
They went to Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus had ordered them!
Now when it says in verse 4 that, “those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the word.” It never occurred to me that some might think it meant that the believers…all of them, went around as preachers, but evidently this is a common misunderstanding. According to Stott, the word “preach” or “proclaim” means that they shared the good news.
As we have stressed in here many times, most people don’t come to faith in Jesus through a pastor, preacher or evangelist; they come to Jesus through people just like you. Through the testimony of every day believers!
God has His way of spreading the Good News of the kingdom.
As we just saw, He began to do so through the testimony of everyday believers, but then He also sent Phillip to the region of Samaria, who was both an Apostle of the Lamb AND an evangelist.
If you remember we JUST covered this on our Thru the Bible teaching in Isaiah 9 entitled – For those in deep darkness, a great light has dawned. Samaria was the region north of Jerusalem inhabited by those Jews who did not go into Assyrian exile in 721BC but remained in their land and intermarried with the Assyrians, making their descendants not 100% true Jews or true gentiles.
As “half-breeds” they were held in some form of contempt among the Jews. While true pagan Gentiles were called pigs, Samaritans were disparagingly called dogs.
During the life and ministry of Jesus the Jews had “no dealings with the Samaritans”.
Let’s read the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman because it proves these points, it illustrates for us why they were to receive the Gospel AFTER those in Jerusalem and Judea but BEFORE the world. Also it shows that eternal LIFE was the message Jesus taught in His ministry.
John 4:1-14, “(1) Now when Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was winning and baptizing more disciples than John (2) (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), (3) He left Judea and set out once more for Galilee. (4) But He had to pass through Samaria.
(5) Now He came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. (6) Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since He was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well.
It was about noon.
(7) A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” (8) (For His disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.) (9) So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you – a Jew – ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?”
(For Jews hold nothing in common and have no dealings with Samaritans.)
(10) Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and Who it is Who said to you, ‘Give Me some water to drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
(11) “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? (12) Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.”
(13) Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. (14) But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”
So by sending the Gospel to Jerusalem and then Judea and THEN Samaria before the rest of the world, God was honoring (in order) those who had in some measure honored Him from within the Old Covenant.
Philip in Samaria
I want you to pay close attention to what it is that Philip was teaching. I’m telling you it is remarkably instructional! Modern ministers would learn much from this.
Notice that Philip was not teaching, “how to get saved” or “how to know you will go to heaven when you die” or “how to NOT go to hell when you die”…etc.
He taught the Kingdom
and the name of its King Jesus!
Salvation comes with a change in Lords and kingdoms, as does our eternal citizenship. These are RESULTS of eternal life – not the cause of them!
NO WHERE IN SCRIPTURE DOES IT EVER TELL ANYONE
TO ACCEPT JESUS AS THEIR SAVIOR!
It tells us to confess Him as LORD and you WILL BE saved.
“(9) Now in that city was a man named Simon, who had been practicing magic and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. (10) All the people, from the least to the greatest, paid close attention to him, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called ‘Great.’” (11) And they paid close attention to him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.
(12) But when they believed Philip as he was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they began to be baptized, both men and women.
(13) Even Simon himself believed, and after he was baptized, he stayed close to Philip constantly, and when he saw the signs and great miracles that were occurring, he was amazed.
(14) Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.
(15) These two went down and prayed for them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. (16) (For the Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
(17) Then Peter and John placed their hands on the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit.
(18) Now Simon, when he saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, offered them money, (19) saying, “Give me this power too, so that everyone I place my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
(20) But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could acquire God’s gift with money! (21) You have no share or part in this matter BECAUSE your heart is not right before God!
(22) Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that He may perhaps forgive you for the intent of your heart.
(23) For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin. (24)
But Simon replied, “You pray to the Lord for me so that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”
Now, this is a somewhat problematic passage to me. Peter saying that Simon had no share or part in the matter, due to what was in his heart is understandable IF the only matter he was referring to was the gift of the Spirit UPON. We can hardly co-participate with Him if our hearts are running diametrically opposed to His.
If Peter were talking about God and salvation, then I believe we have a problem, for Simon was said to have believed and been baptized.
In modern times this could be done with little to no real commitment to Christ at all, but we need to understand that these things were not lightly done back then. Remember those in Jerusalem were under great persecution just be BEING believers. So people were not lining up to become Christians unless their conversion was real.
Simon had a history of being well-respected and perhaps even feared in this area and if his intentions from the beginning were purely envious, one can hardly imagine that he would have admitted to believing Philip’s message, followed him even to the point of being baptized in the name of Jesus Who Philip preached.
All of this showed a heart which was willing to respond and consider that his past ways were wrong. However, Peter seems to have some discernment here regarding Simon’s intentions and Simon does not counter him.
On the surface he appears to accept his rebuke and humbles (hupo-tasso) himself under Peter and asks for prayer.
Surprisingly, many when looking at these words assume he continues in a heart of pride because instead of praying himself, or asking Peter to pray for his forgiveness, he asks Peter to pray that none of the THINGS Peter mentioned would happen to him. But, I think this may be too harsh. I mean, what did Peter actually say would happen to him? Nothing so far as I can tell.
He only said that Simon should repent of his wickedness and pray for forgiveness because his heart was full of envy and was in bondage to sin.
Peter does not say what would happen – only what Simon should do.
So what is it that Simon is asking Peter to pray would not come upon him? It seems the only answer is “remaining in bondage to the sin of envy”. His wicked thought about the power to impart the Spirit was not something he was in bondage to, it was simply a terribly wrong and misguided thought.
I fully admit that I may be giving Simon more than his due and the passage does not give us any conclusions so I imagine I am free to do so.
What I hear is a man who hears the words of Peter, does not understand how to undo what he has done and asks Peter to please pray that he be forgiven so that he might be free from his bitterness.
These do not seem to me to be the actions of a man who has been deceitful regarding his belief in Christ from the beginning. Also, it is of considerable note that Peter does not tell him to repent and believe in Christ Jesus, but to repent and pray for forgiveness – something an unbeliever cannot do.
The ONLY forgiveness afforded an unbeliever is regarding their relation to God through Christ Jesus.
Now, church tradition has it that Simon went away and became a distorting influence upon the gospel, mixing its message with that of pagan and mystic beliefs. However, Adam Clarke, a commentator who I believe is worth the reading, has investigated the claims of some of the early church traditions regarding this Simon (most of the particulars of which do not in any way agree with each other) and says they are dubious and unworthy of being taken seriously.
So in the end, I personally conclude that Simon had truly been born again and was beginning to amend his ways to be consistent with his new relationship with God in Christ, but that envy sparked in him when he began to see the Spirit given through the hands of the Apostles.
Who among us could claim that vestigates of their past sins have not gained entrance into our hearts – threatening to dislodge our loyalties to Christ?
That is in part, the experience of any true believer.
None of this is to make light of Simon’s sin, but I honestly wonder to what degree Simon could have possibly understood what he was thinking, saying and doing.
At any rate, that is all we know of this issue… so due to Simon’s quick response of requesting prayer, I am left with the conclusion that he was indeed repentant.
I suppose I just am not wild about Peter’s choice of words which is the crutch of the matter. He says, “perhaps God will forgive” – aren’t we taught that all sin is forgiven if truly repented for except the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps this sin was more akin to the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit than a written account alone can convey. Perhaps to Peter this was dangerously close to blatant disrespect and disregard for the Spirit – treating Him as more of a commodity to be exchanged than a living part of the Eternal Godhead. I am not sure, but it is my belief and honest hope that Simon both was and is saved.
“(25) So after Peter and John had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many Samaritan villages as they went.
Partnership with the Spirit in kingdom work
“(26) Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)
(27) So he got up and went. There he met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship, (28) and was returning home, sitting in his chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah.
(29) Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” (30) So Philip ran up to it and heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked him, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
(31) The man replied, “How in the world can I, unless someone guides me?”
So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
(32) Now the passage of scripture the man was reading was this:
“He was led like a sheep to slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He did not open His mouth. (33) In humiliation justice was taken from Him. Who can describe His posterity? For His life was taken away from the earth.”
(34) Then the eunuch said to Philip, “Please tell me, who is the prophet saying this about – himself or someone else?”
(35) So Philip started speaking, and beginning with this scripture proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him.
(36) Now as they were going along the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water! What is to stop me from being baptized?”
Verse 37 is omitted in the earliest of manuscripts and is therefore considered added…
(37) “He said to him, ‘If you believe with your whole heart, you may.’ He replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”
(38) So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
(39) Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any more, but went on his way rejoicing.
(40) Philip, however, found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through the area, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”
One of the things this account in Philip’s ministry tells me so clearly is that there is NO ONE who is not known, desired and pursued by God.
This man, like Cornelius of Italy, or Lydia of Asia was a worshiper of God to the degree that he knew how – and God knew who he was and saw to it that he was told of life in Christ Jesus.
He believed, was baptized and returned home.
NO ONE is invisible to God!