Monday, November 14, 2016

Acts 8:1-25 “Philip the Evangelist and the Gospel Mission to the Samaritans“

The death of Stephen has a three-fold chain of cause and effect :
(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). [1]  Another report   maintains that there  may be as many as 200 million Christians[2].  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 .


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)


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.
Amen !

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