(i) His martyrdom leads to a great persecution
(ii) The great persecution leads to a great dispersion
(iii) The great dispersion resulted in widespread evangelism
Truly, the gates of hell shall never overcome the church, because the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ, who has overcome the evil one through His death on the cross! Satan is bound in this age. The Gospel must triumph.
A wonderful thing has happened in the 20th century. In 1949, when the Communists came into power in China, 637 China Inland Missionaries had to leave. Contrary to popular expectation Christianity has not died in China, but has grown significantly by means of local evangelists. There are now 40 or 50 times more Christians in China under persecution, than the time when the missionaries had left. The exact figures are not known. Official government figures puts the number at around 23 million Christians in 2010, but a Pew Research Center report estimates that there may be close to 68 million Christians in China (which is 5 % of total population).  Another report maintains that there may be as many as 200 million Christians. The lack of credible statistics on how many Christians there are in China today have led to estimates that vary widely.
…. Which brings us to the point!
In Chapter 8 we are introduced to the second of the major 5 characters in terms of the foundation of the mission to the gentiles: Philip the evangelist. Philip, like Stephen was one of the seven, who were chosen to take care of the diaconal or social responsibilities of the church. (Acts 6)
It immediately strikes us that these men did not only engage in diaconal work, but we note that Stephen proved to be a competent theologian and a discerner of spiritual issues, and he showed the ruling council, the Sanhedrin up!
Philip impresses us with his bold evangelism of the Samaritans and also the Ethiopian eunuch on the road between Jerusalem to Gaza. All this was really remarkable and totally uncharacteristic for a Jew, who regarded the Samaritans as untouchable (cf. John 4 - the Samaritan woman). As for the Ethiopians, they were gentiles too! The only explanation for this unusual boldness is that the Holy Spirit was truly at work here.
We may divide the story of Philip into two sections:
(i) proclaiming the gospel to the Samaritans (8:5 - 25)
(ii) proclaiming the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch (8:26 - 40).We will consider this story next time .
1.PHILIP BRINGS THE GOSPEL TO THE SAMARITANS (8:4-8) :
Philip evangelises the city: 8:4 begins with the phrase "those who had been scattered went about preaching the word ( lit. evangelised i.e. announced the good news) wherever they went." 8:5 tells us that Philip proclaimed (Gr. kerusso - to proclaim/herald) the Christ (Messiah) in Samaria.
It is interesting to note that the Samaritans were also expecting a Messiah (see Jn. 4:25). Remember too that in that context (Jn. 4:26) Jesus plainly claims that He is the Messiah who the Jews and they, the Samaritans are waiting for! Jesus therefore announces Himself to be the Messiah of the Jews and the gentiles. In that context too, we take note that the Samaritans are ready to believe in Jesus (Jn. 4:39 - 42) and here they plainly state that they believe that this man really is the Saviour of the world.
As Philip proclaims the Christ, and as he does miraculous signs they paid close attention (Gr. prosecho) to what He said. Oh, what a tremendous phrase that is. Give your close and full and undivided attention to the gospel, and you will see greater things than you have ever seen before! Many people are simply not bothered to examine the gospel, and so they easily miss the narrow road that leads to life!
And so we see that the gospel is not only confronting the dark and unbelieving hearts of men, but it also confronts the dark forces of evil, "for unclean spirits crying out with a loud voice came out of many who had them..." (8:7) Who can stand before this gospel? What power can stand before God? (Rom.1:16,17)
No wonder that there was much joy in that city! (8:8)
2. SIMON THE SORCERER PROFESSES FAITH (8:9-24)
Before Philip arrived in the city, it had been under the spell of a very different sort of power. A man named Simon had amazed all the people of Samaria because of his great magic (8:11). He was known as "the man who is the power of God that is called Great’” (8:10). But now he finds himself challenged by Philip. This was the authority of Christ that confronted and triumphed over the "lesser greater powers "! What Simon saw convinced him that he was outclassed! The demons know that too, and they shudder! (James 2:19).
Philip's preaching concerning the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, caused many in Samaria to believe, and like the first converts in Acts 2, they were baptised in response to their profession of faith.
This is great!
The gospel triumphs!
Men and women are snatched out of the kingdom of darkness and heaven rejoices in welcoming its lost sons and daughters.
Two tricky issues, arise from this text:
(i) Simon claims to believe and is baptised (8:13), but his false motives in believing are later exposed (18 - 24). So the first tricky issue is whether it is possible that someone may profess faith, be baptised, and yet subsequently prove to be an apostate.
(ii) The second tricky issue (which has caused division in the modern church) relates to the happenings in 8:14 - 18. Here we see that the Samaritan believers receive the Holy Spirit after their profession of faith, and at the laying on of hands by the apostles. What did the apostles have which Philip did not? Is the Christian experience of salvation a "one-stage" or "two stage" experience?
The Issues Resolved
1. Is it possible to profess faith and be baptised and yet be lost?
Yes it is! Read 8:18 &19! Simon was tempted to purchase this power. Peter immediately rebuked Simon publicly for imagining that God's gift could be bought (8:20). Simon’s true heart was exposed in an instant. Peter rebuked him and to told him to repent. The words in 8:23 are deeply instructive: "I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity”. Simon Magus was a false professor. He was still ruled by evil. This teaches us that only time can tell whether a profession is sincere. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth eventually speaks! We have no record here of Simon repenting!
I have met people like this, who have attempted to turn the spiritual into the commercial, and to manipulate the things of God in order to gain prominence in the church of God. They have no share in this ministry because their heart is not right with God! No matter how much we profess to be Christian and no matter whether we have been baptised in response to that profession - by our fruit, or fruitlessness, we shall be known. The Holy Spirit will sooner or later bring out our true nature, by taking us through the fire of purification (see also 1 Cor. 3:12-15).
2. Should we expect a 'second blessing' subsequent to our conversion?
Does this passage teach a two stage experience in our lives? Should we expect the Holy Spirit to be given in a spearte experience, after our conversion experience?
Those who hold to are two stage initiation come from groups at the opposite end of the church spectrum i.e. Catholics and Anglo Catholics on the one end and Pentecostals and some Charismatics on the other end.
Catholics and Anglo Catholics (Anglicans) teach that the first stage is baptism which is conferred upon an infant, and the second stage is confirmation by a bishop.
Pentecostal churches and some Charismatic churches also teach a two stage initiation, but formulate it differently. To them the first stage consists of conversion followed by water baptism, while the second stage is a 'baptism in or by the Holy Spirit', followed by the gift tongues which is often, but not always associated with the laying on of hands by a Pentecostal/ Charismatic leader.
And so we have this situation where the Samaritans are described as not yet having received the Spirit. They have simply been baptised into Christ. That sounds like a typical Old Testament style of baptism, such as John the Baptist would have practised (see also Acts 19:2-7). There is as yet no "fire" (i.e. Holy Spirit ) baptism, such as is associated with the the Lord Jesus Christ!
So what is happening here? Why was it necessary for an official apostolic delegation from Jerusalem to confirm the work of Philip? For what special reason could God have withheld the Spirit? The most logical explanation is this. This was the first occasion on which the gospel had been proclaimed outside Judea and in gentile territory!
It was step two in terms of our key verse in Acts 1:8 "… You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria … to the ends of the earth."
The conversion of the Samaritans was the official first fruits of the gentile mission field. This was a moment of significant advance in the kingdom of God! Something special needed to happen,just as special as in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost! This public sign of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring had been first given in Jerusalem in the presence of the apostles, Christ’s appointed leaders.
This act and the following manifestation now joined these two works! Believing Jews and believing gentiles are now God's new people - Christians - the church of God! Baptised by one Spirit, and possessing one faith, one Lord (Eph. 4:5). This was the sign that the Samaritans (symbolic of the gentile harvest field) were incorporated on precisely the same terms as the Jewish converts. There was now one body, because there was one Spirit. The dividing wall had finally come down. (Eph. 2:11-22).
And so we see that the gospel spreads, just as Jesus had said , and despite the incredible odds. The power of the gospel is greater than any demonic power. It is mightier than our sin and our fallen natures. Our Saviour is mightier than the great powers of the Universe.
We see what God can do through one man, Philip,whose life is yielded to Jesus.
Above all we see how the gospel of the kingdom of God finally unites the scattered people of God, Jews and Gentiles into one body!
There is something very wrong with that 20th century phenomenon – the so called Pentecostal and Charismatic revival, because by it the church was not gathered but scattered. The division of the modern church is truly terrible to behold. This is so because of its insistence on experience and not on the objective Word of God.
Hear Jesus’s words in Luke 11:23: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” That is what is happening today. Many are scattering the church, but the testimony of the Bible shows us that the true gospel unites the people of God. Hold on to the gospel, dear ones.