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Persecution, Proclamation, Profession, Power

Text: Acts 8:1- 25

Dr Alex Tang

Sermon Statement (Big idea)

God uses all types of circumstances as opportunities for his people to share the gospel so that others may be saved. There will be true and false professions of the faith. To all true believers there is only one church. Power is a powerful attraction for some, even within the church.

Introduction

Adverse events in our lives may lead to better things. In the Bible, Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers. Yet, it turn into an opportunity for him to become the right hand man of Pharaoh and saved his family from starvation.

A. Persecution

AC 8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.

    On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

  1. Persecution started the first missionary expansion
  1. Paul started the missionary expansion. As the ringleader of the opposition to the gospel and the persecution of the church in Jerusalem, Saul was instrumental in the first “missions thrust” of the church. Granted, this was not his intent, but it was the result. God uses the “wrath of men to praise Him”.
  1. We often think of the evangelization of the world of that day as the result of Paul’s “preaching,” rather than as a result of Saul’s “persecution.” Both are true. The sovereign God can just as easily employ the intense opposition of an unbeliever to spread the gospel as He can the faithful preaching of one of His saints. A sovereign God does not need the obedience of men to achieve His purposes, but how blessed it is when men obey, becoming a willing participant in God’s plans and purposes!
  1. God’s plan. Philip’s arrival in the city of Samaria was but a part of a much larger program, whereby the persecution of the church scattered saints. Notice that this scattering occurs in such a way as to exactly follow the order of Acts 1:8:

… and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

And so the church was born in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), it spread through persecution to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1, in that order), and then abroad (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 13:1ff.).

Jerusalem  -----    Judea ------ Samaria (Philip in 8:5) ------abroad (Philip and the Ethiopian 8:26)

  1. Not organised by man

Left on their own, the Jewish Christians will not go the Samaritans. They hate the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated them. The Jews considered the Samaritans as half-cast, impure because they were the descendents of those who were left behind when the Assyrians and the Babylonians carried off the population to exile.

Sometimes I think that God will have to do this in our day before people will begin to believe that they have spiritual gifts and put them to work. He may have to bring persecution upon us so that there cannot be dependence upon a central ministry, but each one will begin to utilize the gifts that God has given him.

Are you going through some kind of pressure today? Well, it may not be punishment for sins. The pressure, the trials, and the problems that come are by no means always the result of sin in our lives. Sometimes they are, but it may be God's way of moving you, of pressuring you into a new experience, into a new understanding of his truth and of his equipment in your life, and giving you a new opportunity to put it to work.

B. Proclamation

  1. Sharing their life and beliefs wherever they go (8:4,5)

AC 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.

Here is the ministry of a layman, Philip. Yet it is a ministry of power, the power of the Holy Spirit.

  1. accompanied by signs and wonders (8:6,7)

6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.

  1. salvation (8:8)

     8 So there was great joy in that city.

When people are set free it always fills them full of joy. What other agency in our day can do this? Our cities are, for the most part, seething pools of human misery. You drive around them and see people, millions of them, living in squalor and poverty, in filth and degradation. And you know also that within them there is loneliness, emptiness, and depression of spirit. Life looks gray and dull, drab and uninteresting to them. What can set them free? What can fill them with joy? The glory of the gospel is always that, wherever it goes, even though it may not immediately change their outward circumstance, it does fill people with joy. And soon the circumstance begins to change as well. This has been the story throughout history. As people are filled with joy by the power of the Word, they begin to change for the better. The gospel gives us joy.

C. Professions

There are three professions in this section:

  1. Profession as Philip the evangelist and Simon the magician (8:9-12)

 

    1. Simon the Magician

AC 8:9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Many traditions revolve around Simon the sorcerer. It is alleged: (a) that he was the founder of the Gnostic heresies, (b) that he went to Rome and perverted Christian doctrine there, and (c) that he became involved in a miracle contest with Peter and lost.

Magic (the Gr. words for “practiced sorcery” and “magic” are related) is contrary to Christianity, and yet it is often confused or combined with it. Luke deals with magic in the Book of Acts three times: here, in chapter 13, and once again in chapter 19. In all three instances, the “magic” which is exposed has a religious flavor. Here, the magic of Simon merits him the title, “the Great Power of God” (8:10). In chapter 13, Bar-Jesus, the magician, who attempted to keep the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, from turning to faith in Jesus, was a “false prophet” (13:6). Finally, in chapter 19, the beating which the exorcists (the sons of Sceva) received from the demonized man, caused many to turn to Christ and to renounce their magic practices (19:11-20). In chapters 13 and 19, the magicians were Jews.

In magic, God becomes man’s servant (the magic genie, who does man’s bidding). In Christianity, men become God’s servants. The difference is the sovereignty of God. God is not manipulated by men, for men have no claim on Him, on His grace, or on His power. God owes men nothing, and nothing men do can merit or cause God’s blessings.

    1. Philip the Evangelist

Philip is a layman. He is a deacon, a Hellenist Jew. Philip was one of the ‘Seven’ who were chosen as deacons of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 6:5). On the persecution of the church following the martyrdom of Stephen he took the gospel to Samaria, where his ministry was much blessed (Acts 8:5-13), and subsequently he was sent to the Jerusalem-Gaza road to lead the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ (Acts 8:26-38). After this incident he was ‘Spirited’ away to Azotus, the Philistine Ashdod, and from there conducted an itinerant ministry until he reached the port of Caesarea (Acts 8:39-40), where he appears to have settled (Acts 21:8). He was known as ‘the evangelist’, presumably to distinguish him from the apostle (3, above), and had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). Luke is here at great pains to distinguish the evangelist from the apostle.

 

  1. Profession as followers of Christ (8:13, 18-24)

13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

   AC 8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

    AC 8:20 Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

    AC 8:24 Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."

    1. True profession of Faith

Becoming a Christian or professing faith is accompanied by joy, not desire for power

    1. False profession of Faith

We know who we are by the fruits we bear. True conversion brings joy and bear fruit of the Holy Spirit (joy is part of the fruit). Those not converted show their true colour sooner or later. For Simon it is a desire for power.

Was Simon saved? Luke did not specify this clearly, so it is difficult to be dogmatic. But seven facts suggest that Simon probably was not born again:

(1) The verb “believe” (pisteuoµ) does not always refer to saving faith. Simon’s faith could have been like that of the demons in James 2:19, merely intellectual assent.

(2) Furthermore, faith based on signs is not a trustworthy faith (cf. John 2:23-25; 4:48). (3) In addition, Luke never stated that Simon received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17-18).

(4) Simon continued to have a self-centered interest in the display of miraculous power (vv. 18-19).

(5) The verb “repent” (metanoeoµ) used in verse 22 is normally addressed to lost people. (6) The word “perish” (eis apoµleian) employed in verse 20 is strong. It is related to the word “perish” in John 3:16.

(7) The description of Simon in Acts 8:23 is a better description of a lost man than of one who is saved (cf. Deut. 29:18).

Still one cannot be dogmatic on this point.[1]

The focus of this account is not to emphasize the reception of the Holy Spirit, but rather the undue attraction which this power to bestow the Holy Spirit has for Simon.

  1. Profession of unity of the church (8: 14-17, 25)

   AC 8:14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

    AC 8:25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

    1. The Apostles stayed in Jerusalem

The apostle is now the highest authority in the church. During the persecution and the martyrdom of Stephen, they were in Jerusalem and they stayed on when the persecution started. This time they did not run.

    1. Laying on Hands for the Holy Spirit

We must be very careful in reading this to see exactly what they had, and what they did not have. They did have power. Manifest in their midst was the operation of the Holy Spirit, in power, to set them free from the illnesses and depressions that had been besetting them. And they had joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and this kind of joy can never be produced except by the indwelling Spirit. Power is an outward sign; joy is inward. Both outwardly and inwardly they were demonstrating the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They had the Holy Spirit. They were saved (regenerate). They had been baptized in water as a testimony to that very regeneration which had occurred within their hearts and which manifested itself in the joy that was there.

So we would make a great mistake if we said that the Holy Spirit was not yet in Samaria. He was. But, what the account specifically says is that they did not yet have the Holy Spirit fallen upon them. You see, there are various terms for the ministry of the Holy Spirit used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit does a great variety of different things, yet he is behind all of them. This account makes clear that they had not yet received a certain manifestation of the Spirit. What was it? They had not yet been baptized by the Spirit into the one body. They were still separate, individual, regenerated Christians, just as the apostles themselves had been before the Day of Pentecost. The apostles had been born again; they had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on them. On the Day of Pentecost he did, and they were then baptized into a body and made members of one another, members of one body in Jesus Christ. They also received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What the Christians in Samaria had not yet received was this baptism into the one body, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

When Peter and John came down they first prayed for the church. Then they laid hands on them and the Samaritans, too, received the baptism of the Spirit, making them one body in Jesus Christ. (No signs accompanied that, at all.) They also received the gifts of the Spirit, among which was probably the gift of tongues. Because it was probably by that sign that Simon and others recognized that the Holy Spirit had been given to them.

    1. Signs of the Universal/catholic church

That is what the Spirit of God is doing here. If he had come upon these Samaritan disciples when they first believed in Jesus, there could easily have developed a church of the Samaritans, apart from the church of the Jews. There was already existing at that time a wall of partition dividing the Jews from the Samaritans. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, nor the Samaritans with the Jews. Had the Spirit of God come upon this church when Philip first went down there, it could easily have produced two separate churches. But, by tying it all together with these apostles who came down from Jerusalem, the Spirit of God was saying, "There is one body; not two. There are no great distinctions in the church; there is only one church, and that is all. The Samaritans belong to it equally as much as the Jews." Thus he was teaching these early Christians the great truth that there is one catholic church.

D. Power (8:18)

  AC 8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

 Simon was amazed by the power of God at work through Philip, but he did not offer Philip money to have such power.  Once the apostles arrived, it would seem that Simon quickly transferred his fixation on them, and on their power, rather than on Philip. To Simon, if their power was not greater than Philip’s, it was at least more desirable.

 

Some points of observation of the text

  1. Persecution: Saul and persecution started the first missionary movement
  2. Proclamation: Philip shared his life and belief as he goes
  3. Profession (1): People from all walks of life believed. Even magicians.
  4. Profession (2): Some believed, some pretend to believe
  5. Profession (3):There is only one church
  6. Power: Spiritual gifts may be a source of power struggle

Lessons for us

  1. Circumstances will give us opportunities to share our faith
  2. Evangelism is the responsibility of every Christian, not just the pastors
  3. The message of the gospel breaks through ethnic, racial, tribal barriers, hatred and rivalries
  4. Believers must be aware of false believers
  5. Influence and power in the church is not for sale.

 

Conclusion

God uses all types of circumstances as opportunities for his people to share the gospel so that others can be saved. There will be true and false profession of the faith. To all true believers there is only one church.

 

 soli deo gloria

 

download sermon pdf here

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|posted 23 September 2007|

 

 


 

[1]Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

               

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