Scattered & Preaching
We saw last week that opposition to the church and the gospel has hit its climax. And here we see the results of that in more detail:
“Rejection of the gospel in one place becomes the opportunity for acceptance of the gospel in another… The efforts of enemies to wipe out the church only result in expansion and wider impact”.
But, this expansion and wider impact doesn’t happen automatically. It only happens as those who are scattered point people to Christ.
And though Philip’s role is focused on and exemplified here – and later he is called “Philip the evangelist”, this evangelistic effort was not limited to him.
Rather, it happens, because as the church is scattered – with the confidence (which we saw last week) that God goes with them wherever they go – as they are scattered, they take the opportunities given to them to tell about Christ wherever they go.
- involves normal Christians
- who take every opportunity
- to point people to Christ
- offering him to everyone, even the outsider
Evangelism 1) involves normal Christians
Previously to this point, the Apostles had taken the main role in proclaiming Christ – they had been nearly the exclusive evangelists of the church.
But what we see change here in vv1 & 4 is that this role is taken up by ordinary believers. Who weren’t sent out as missionaries; who weren’t ordained as elders or deacons; but simply had had a personal encounter with the reality of Jesus, and told others what he had done for them.
8:1 – We see that the Apostles are left behind in Jerusalem; v4: “Those who had been scattered – non-apostles – regular people in the church – preached the word wherever they went”
and that word “preached” may be misleading – because you we often think of “preaching” as “giving a sermon”.
But, the idea here is not as narrow as that: but that they were “proclaiming the good news of the word” – or “proclaiming the gospel of the word”
This preaching of the word, was not limited to preaching as in formal sermons done like we think of today, but it involved Christians sharing the good news in Christ which they had come to believe.
And, so, the first missionary expansion of the church was done not by Apostles, but by others – by (except for Philip) nameless ordinary Christians
It excluded the apostles and included all who had been scattered;
And, though the specific examples highlight only Philip – who was a leader – one of the newly appointed deacons – and clearly was especially gifted in evangelism – nevertheless we see that the missionary expansion was not limited to the specific examples of Philip but was broader than that.
And in fact later in Chapter 11, those who were scattered here in chapter 8 are mentioned again – as being the instrumental cause in the planting of the first Gentile church in Antioch.
11:19-21 “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
This church in Antioch was the first church in Gentile territory – and it was the first place where believers were called Christians.
So, this missionary expansion involved many Christians; normal Christians; who certainly did not all have as spectacular giftedness as Philip, but nevertheless played a real role in the church’s first missionary expansion.
Ordinary Christians were responsible for this first missionary expansion of the church. And I think that ordinary Christians often fail to realize that they can do evangelism – sometimes even much more effectively than pastors can.
I’m not trying to get myself off the hook of evangelism, but in my experience I’ve found that more often than not, the fact that I’m a pastor – once discovered, puts a barrier between myself and others; where “ordinary Christians” – not that pastors aren’t ordinary Christians but what I mean is that Christians who aren’t in the special category of pastor – will sometimes have a much better hearing with; and experience a greater degree of trust from; non-Christians.
And, so, don’t count yourself out. If these early scattered Christians could go about sharing Christ, then you can too.
Evangelism 1) involves normal Christians;
2) who take every opportunity
The first missionary wave of the church – the first examples of missions and evangelism – wasn’t done exclusively by officially appointed missionaries or professional pastors; rather was done by normal Christians;
But further: it didn’t result from a missions plan organized by the church leadership; in fact, they don’t result by any purposeful intention or initiative or plan of the church at all;
And neither did it arise in the context of what I would consider an “ideal opportunity”; rather, it is occasioned by the church being providentially forced out of it’s comfort zone; in the context of persecution; and it resulted from individual Christians taking the initiative to share their faith in Christ; taking advantage of whatever opportunity they had to share Christ with those they came into contact with.
We often want to wait for the perfect opportunity; we often want to wait for the ideal situation; but that perfect opportunity rarely comes and the ideal situation is always the next one, rather than the one we’re in; such that as long as we wait for the perfect opportunity or the ideal situation, we wait forever.
But what we learn from this is that the first missionary wave of the church – just as it came from ordinary Christians – came not in the wave of ideal situations, but in the context of suffering. And it wasn’t until after Philip committed to taking up this call to share Christ, was he led to a “perfect” opportunity – not before – that perfect opportunity didn’t come while waiting for it – but only after taking whatever opportunity even the unideal – to share Christ.
Philip actually gets what I think of as a “perfect opportunity” with the Ethiopian Eunuch; He’s reading aloud (which was common to do then) the text of Scripture that most clearly points to Christ and his sufferings as our savior on the cross;
But Philip still has to see and seize that opportunity – and it’s Philip who takes initiative to “butt-in” to the situation and ask him if he understands what it means – and that’s what leads to the opportunity but I’m afraid that if it was me, I’d find something wrong with even that opportunity! To convince myself that it wasn’t the right opportunity to speak up.
Because this context is certainly unideal in every way: the church is under attack! the church is dispersed! the church is on the run!
You know, this isn’t time to think about spreading, this is time to think about hiding! Keeping your mouth shut! Solidifying a base of strength!
But no – whatever opportunity they have – wherever they find themselves – they want to share Christ; they can’t help but share Christ; they instinctively, naturally, without direction or command or plan – share Christ.
And, it’s often that when the church lives in comfort and ease, it loses it’s missionary zeal. When our lives are characterized by comfort and ease, we lose our evangelistic concern and readiness. But here God uses persecution, to keep the church from slumbering in comfort and ease but to set ablaze its missionary zeal!
And comfort and ease isn’t necessarily bad – we shouldn’t seek out persecution – but when it comes we should be prepared to use even that opportunity that seems like no opportunity to share Christ.
none of us are likely to be scattered geographically by persecution for our faith any time soon. But we can still learn from the early church’s readiness to share Christ even in the most unideal situations – and perhaps we can strive to be a little more ready to share Christ in our much more ideal situations.
Wherever they find themselves, they proclaim Christ.
And so maybe you have opportunity with your family; maybe you have opportunity with your neighbors; maybe you have opportunity at your job; or with your friends.
Sometimes we need to create opportunities to do so; but often we only need the eyes to see the opportunities that are right in front of us; that God has already given to us. Maybe we need the spirit of readiness to recognize an opportunity when it comes, instead of only when it’s in the rearview mirror;
“Oh yeah, that would have been a good opportunity to mention my faith…”
How sad it would have been for those scattered, to have just hidden out and rode out the storm, returned to Jerusalem, and then said, “oh man, we were just around all those people that needed to hear about Jesus!”
But they didn’t – because they looked around and saw people in need of Christ, and took the opportunities God gave them to point people to Jesus.
Now, prepare yourself, because right now I’m going to do something very unusual for me to do, probably will never happen again: make a reference to professional sports:
I was reading a news article about the Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (I grew up an Eagles fan and never watch sports now but I feel entitled to being able to jump on the Eagles bandwagon for my past years of fruitless dedication).
But apparently he’s very vocal about his faith in Jesus, and I’m sure some people would prefer he was more quiet about that, but he was asked about it and he said this:
“I always tell people, for example, if you love your job, you love your wife, you love what you do, you’re going to talk about it. Well, I love Jesus.”
And, I found that very convicting first of all, but also very illustrative of what we see happening here – is people who love Jesus – and so they talk about him in hopes of pointing others to him and bringing others into a knowledge of the love and grace and beauty of Jesus that is the cause of their love for Jesus.
And, the fix for our guilty silence about Jesus isn’t to beat ourselves over the heads to speak up for him more; but to love him more; to fall in love with him afresh every day; to be captivated by his beauty; to experience his love and remember his grace; to develop a personal and intimate relationship with him;
loving Jesus is what will give us this kind of readiness to speak about Jesus and point people to him.
Evangelism 1) involves normal Christians; 2) who take every opportunity;
3) To point people to Jesus
In both of the examples of evangelism we see, we see Philip’s encounters with unbelievers and what Philip does is point them to Christ.
v 35 “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”
We see this especially in the contrast between Philip and Simon the magician –
in vv 5-12, there is a contrast between what Philip pointed people; compared to what Simon pointed people to.
v5: “Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.”
v11 – “Philip proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and the name of Jesus.”
Philip preached Jesus. He boasted in Jesus. He exalted Jesus. He pointed to Jesus, so that they could see that Jesus was someone great and worthy of their attention.
v9: “Simon boasted that he was someone great.”
Philip preached Jesus; Simon preached Simon. He boasted in himself. He exalted himself. He pointed people towards himself – trying to convince people the he was someone great and worthy of their attention.
And the result:
While all the people previously were captivated by Simon – v10 – “all the people gave Simon their attention”;
Now, all the people are v6 – “giving their attention”… but not to Philip himself – but “they all paid close attention to what he said.
And, their previous amazement at Simon – v 9 – “he amazed all the people;” v11 – “they followed him because he had amazed them”; v10 “they called him the great power of God”
All that has been overshadowed by the power of the gospel displayed through Philip: and Philip is one of the few exceptions of those who weren’t apostles but still did miraculous signs – and I think that is explained by the fact that the church is in the stage of its initial establishment and in it’s missionary expansion to new places – and these miraculous signs are aiding in that initial establishment and expansion – not because believers today are supposed to still do miracles.
But though Philip did miraculous signs, and that might be what got their attention, but that’s not what kept their attention – that is not what their faith was rooted in.
because their previous amazement at Simon, has been replaced by faith; but not faith in Philip – not even faith in Philip’s greater power than Simon – but v6 – When the cross heard Philip and saw the signs he perfumed, they all paid close attention to what he said.
and v12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
faith in the things Philip said – faith in the message of Philip – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And they – unlike Simon – responded in genuine faith.
first question: Did Simon lose his faith? – v13 – “Simon himself believed and was baptized”
But, there’s hints already at that statement, that there is something deficient in Simon’s faith. b/c that statement that he believed and was baptized, is followed by an odd statement that “he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”
Whereas everyone else was captivated by the message of Philip, Simon is following Philip around and astonished by his signs & wonders – reminiscent of how the people used to be amazed/astonished at his deeds.
And later you see that what he is really interested in is money – selling the gospel – but the gospel can’t be sold – it can only given away for free.
Now, the NT establishes that those who labor in ministry full-time can receive financial support to support them while they do that;
but that’s different than what Simon is doing here – he wants to dispense the Holy Spirit at cost – for a fee – what he used to do – and this is utterly repugnant and evil to Peter – because the gospel is the free gift of God for the salvation of all who believe – not only for those who can buy it;
And probably one of the reasons Philip’s message is so attractive is because he gave away for free what Simon was charging a fee for – and so Simon’s “salvation” could only be received by those who had the resources to secure it; it was only for the rich;
but the gospel was giving away a better product for the best price – free!
certainly not for those who can earn it – but as we sang about this morning
“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
& as Isaiah 55:1 says:
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
And Peter, then, calls Simon to repentance – and says outright that his heart is not right with God; and Simon then doesn’t take up Peter’s invitation to pray – he won’t even pray to God, but asks Peter to do for him what he ought to do for himself –
it’s not wrong to ask people to pray for you – but not as a replacement for you to do before God what no one else can do for you – confess you sin; trust in Christ; turn away from sin.
And so it seems that though Simon made a profession of faith, he didn’t possess faith.
It’s possible to profess faith, but not possess faith – to be deceived such that you think you understand Christ and believe in him but in fact do not.
So this doesn’t mean that Simon wasn’t genuine when he said he believed – and it doesn’t mean that Simon lost his salvation;
but it means that he didn’t have a true & genuine faith to begin with – which is proved by the fruits in keeping with repentance – because a true faith evidences itself – not by being perfect – but by doing what Simon refuses to do – turn to Christ as a sinner in need of forgiveness from him.
So Simon didn’t lose his salvation; but he is exposes for what he is – someone who never truly believed – and persists in not taking the opportunity to turn to Christ when it is given to him.
2nd question: What is the reason for the delay in the receiving of the Spirit upon the Samaritan believers? Was the faith of the Samaritans deficient in some way? Were they inferior Christians at first, and then made some sort of progress towards becoming superior Christians?
Some understand this in that way; as though this is a normative pattern for the Christian life: and it can create a two-tiered system of salvation in which there are two steps – first coming to Christ; and then getting the Spirit.
and it suggests that there are some inferior types of Christians, who have deficient faith and so lack the Spirit, and need to get it; and there are some superior types of Christians who have do have the Spirit.
But this two-tiered understanding can create depression in those who are told they are inferior and their faith is deficient; and it can create pride in those who think themselves to be superior
but there’s a number of problems with that: first, the consistent teaching of the NT – the writings of the apostles themselves, is that “all who have the Spirit of God are children of God, and all who are children of God have the Spirit of God.”
“The baptism of the Spirit is a universal Christian experience, because it is an initial christian experience.”
Now, we certainly all have differently levels of maturity; and we strive to live by the Spirit; and display more fruits of the spirit and christian maturity; but all believers have the Spirit of God in them.
But more so: we’re clued into that something is unusual here – when in v16 he says that the HS had not yet come upon any of them; as though it normally should have already.
and the only thing that’s changed is that the Apostles have showed up – there’s no hint that anything has changed in their faith or that it was deficient in any way. The only difference now is that the apostles showed up – so the question is, why was the Spirit delayed until they showed up?
answer lies in historical circumstance.
Many people call this the Samaritan pentecost. Because like the first Jewish disciples believed but only later received the Spirit in Jerusalem; so now the first Samaritan disciples believe but only later received the Spirit.
And, it’s important to note that this is the first example of the gospel spreading to a new region; which in those days religion didn’t really do – it was much more confined to holy places and holy lands; and not only is the gospel moving outward to a new region; but it is moving to the despised Samaritans.
This is the first movement in Jesus’ outline of the spread of the gospel (1:8) – that they would be witnesses first in Jerusalem; then in Judea and Samaria; then to the ends of the earth.
And some early Christians might have been hesitant to accept that the Samaritans were equally welcomed into the family of God as Jewish believers were; and so this delay of the Spirit isn’t normal; but it’s an exception, because of the unique time in the history of God’s plan: the first movement of the gospel outward from Jerusalem into Samaria – and so the delay of the Spirit until the apostles arrive serves to confirm something to the Church; and to affirm something to the Samaritans themselves:
to confirm to the Church that the gospel has indeed & legitimately spread to Samaria and to Samaritans – that this was in fact a work of God ad they should welcome their believing Samaritan brothers & sisters; and to affirm to the Samaritans themselves they were were in fact full members of God’s family.
Leads to last point:
- involves normal Christians
- who take every opportunity
- to freely point to Christ
- reaching everyone, even the outsider
Philip is wiling to reach out to everyone; even the outsider. Even those who would have easily been considered outside the reach of the gospel or the concern of God – but they aren’t.
Jews and Samaritans were deeply divided: that division started all the way back in Solomon’s day at the division of the kingdom of Israel into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms; and the division, and resentment between the two only deepened
in fact, John’s gospel tells us that Jews & Samaritans did not associate with each other.
Samaritans were outsiders – Jewish people looked down on Samaritans because of their inferior ethnic purity and inferior religious purity.
and considered them undeserving of inclusion in the family of God.
And the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch shows us the same thing – It’s actually a little unclear but I think he is presented not exactly as a Gentile – he is a convert to Judaism – but he’s not fully on the inside either – he’s out on the fringes of judaism:
just as the Samaritans aren’t fully on the outside with Gentiles, but at the same time certainly aren’t on the inside with Jewish people – so this Ethiopian isn’t a Gentile – but neither would he be able to enter fully into Jewish life – because his condition as a Eunuch would prevent him from that. he wouldnt’ be able to enter into the temple intot he presence of GOd.
in Judaism, he would be relegated to the outside; but Christianity brings him to the inside.
I love the gospel; because it brings outsiders in; and puts everyone on the same level before the cross.
And if you’ve ever been relegated to the outside; if you’ve ever been looked down on, left out, lonely, you know that is painful but if you’ve come to Christ you know it doesn’t determine your status before God.
And that’s how it should be in the church – that all who come to Christ are first-class citizens; fully embraced as sons & daughters;
And Philip must get that; because in these two examples of him bringing the gospel beyond Jerusalem to Judea & Samaria he looks upon the overlooked; he reaches out to the discarded; he seeks the lost;
because that’s what God does.
God searches for the one lost sheep; and rejoices more over one sinner coming to repentance than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance;
And so long as we despise the different; so long as we dispense with the outcast; we can’t reflect the heart of God.