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Acts 8

February 21st, 2010 by Vic

“Philip’s Story”

February 21, 2010

When is persecution good?  How do you define persecution and good?  The American Indians defined good by how something would effect the next 7 generations.  How does Haiti define good?  What will people think about the earthquake in 7 generations?  God seems to use persecution and tragedies like parents use discipline.  When you were disciplined, did it feel good?  But was it good for you?  Good carries a lot of meaning.  It can mean beneficial like a gift or a blessing.  “That was a good meal.”  Or it can mean the opposite of evil, like a good man.  “He has a good heart.”

Severe persecution of the church follows the death of Stephen.  Was persecution good?  Saul thought it was good.  Saul, a Pharisee of the Pharisees was determined to correct the Christian distortion of the holy Scriptures.  Some might say Saul had a good heart.  He was defending God’s word and the Temple that God had established.  He saw these Greek Jews falsely claiming that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Saul was going to straighten out their thinking.  But God is going to use Saul to scatter the Christians.  Saul thought he was doing good.  God used it for good.  But did the Christians think it was good?  Probably not.

8:1-3

This says Saul voted for Stephen’s death.  To literally vote Saul had to be a member.  To be a member he had to be married.  From this point there is a lot of speculation.  Was Saul married?  Maybe he was not a member and he only gave consent and did not formally vote.  Maybe Saul’s wife left him when he became a persecutor or a Christian.  Later Paul says he is single.

All except the apostles were scattered.  The apostles had been preaching the story of Jesus, His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Stephen, a leader among the Greek-speaking Christian Jews, preached about God’s plan for change.  He showed from Scripture that the Temple was not God’s idea and was not necessary.  Saul heard this and got furious.

The apostles were probably not exempt from persecution, but they weren’t Saul’s focus.  They apparently felt it their responsibility to stay in Jerusalem even while Saul ravaged the church.

Philip went north to Samaria.  Samaria was a safe district for persecuted Christians to hide in because a good Pharisee would not go to Samaria.  Even the air in Samaria would contaminate you.  Samaritans were half Jews.  After the fall of the northern tribes, the Assyrians removed half of the Jews and brought in other conquered people to settle in with the northern Jews.  After they lived together and intermarried, they were considered half-breeds by the pure Jews.  The Samaritan Scripture was the 5 books of Moses.  They were expecting God to send a prophet like Moses.  Jesus’ last words had promised that the disciples would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world.  Now we read of Philip going to Samaria, not because he remembered Jesus’ last words, but because he was running for his life.

8:4-8

Everyone preached.  The word for scattered is the word ‘to sow’.  God sows seed.  God scatters us so we might grow and bear fruit.

Philip, one of the 7, was a respected leader.  He was becoming a cross-cultural missionary.  Many think he planted this church in Sychar.  When Jesus had to go through Samaria He stopped at the well and then stayed in Sychar two days (John 4).  Many believed without seeing any miracles at that time.  Now Philip updates these people on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and confirms the truth of his message with miracles.  There was joy in the city.  Many of these had visited with Jesus just 3 or 4 years ago.  Think about the growth and excitement in this church.

What these people had looked forward to for centuries has now been fulfilled.  Many may have considered Moses’ prediction a fable, or symbolic promise.  The story of another Moses is something the old people talked about and believed in.  The woman at the well had suggested that Jesus was the expected Messiah.  But Philip is confirming how Jesus is the fulfillment of all prophecy.  News of this revival will get back to Jerusalem in the next paragraph, but first we read about a clever magician.  He claimed a lot of power.  Our kids are interested in magic and unseen powers.  Satan has power and should not be messed with.  Don’t buy a Oiji board so you can fight satan.  Jesus never picked a fight with satan.  He just went about doing good and satan was defeated.

8:9-13

Simon was into sorcery, magic, and miracles.  History calls him Simon Magnus or Simon the magician.  He bragged about his abilities but now recognized some greater power or magic in Philip that he did not have.  He wanted more power so he attached himself as a student to Philip.  He was well known in Samaria and boasted about his credentials.  For a long time he had amazed the people with his magic.

Philip did not criticize or rebuke Simon (12).  He just kept preaching that the kingdom of God has come.  The kingdom of God is in the heart of every Christian.  God rules and reigns today in the heart of everyone who obeys Him.  Philip preached the name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, and giver of the Spirit.  Jesus died, rose again, and reigns in heaven.

He reminded them that during His visit a few years back, Jesus preached to them repentance, forgiveness, and the coming kingdom of God.  Now the kingdom has come.  Jesus has died to atone for our sins.  He can forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  He is the Lamb of God seated at the right hand of the Father, Lord of all today.

When the people heard this they wanted to be baptized as believers in Jesus the Christ.  They wanted to be identified with Philip’s ministry.  Simon also believed Philip and was baptized.  It looked like he was sincere, but he seemed overly interested in miracles.  Simon wanted to be like Philip.  He followed Philip everywhere and kept track of all the miracles Philip was doing.  The church was growing and the news got back to Jerusalem.

8:14-25

Peter and John came to help Philip.  They felt a responsibility to share what they knew about Jesus and His promise to send the Holy Spirit.

The people had already been baptized ‘into the name’ or into the sphere in which Jesus is acknowledged as Lord.  They were citizens in the kingdom where Jesus was reigning.  In the NT some people think there is a distinction in the Holy Spirit’s ministry made with prepositions.  Before we are Christians the Holy Spirit is with us.  When we become Christians the Holy Spirit is in us.  When we are filled with the Spirit He comes upon us.  I’m not sure the use of prepositions is always that exact.

The laying on of hands was primarily a token of fellowship and solidarity.  It was an assurance to the Samaritans that they were no longer outsiders but fellow members of the Christian community.

Simon did not offer himself to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but he offered money to buy it.  Simon had been impressed with Philip’s power now here was something more impressive.  Simon wanted the power that Peter and John had.  They were leaving town soon and he wanted their power before they left.  His attitude has become known as ‘simony’, the buying or selling of spiritual offices.

Today Peter would say, “May you and your money go to hell.”  Simon believed with his head, but his heart was full of selfish ambition.  The devils also believe, but they do not repent and ask forgiveness.  Peter tells Simon his profession of Christ and his baptism are worthless because his heart was not right (21).  Peter tells him to repent, but he doesn’t.  Instead of repenting and praying he begged Peter to pray for him.  Simon did not want to pray to God.  He tries to explain that he did not mean any harm.  He just wanted to help people.  Tradition says that Simon founded the Gnostic movement and opposed Peter the rest of his life.

I wonder if Peter is more perceptive than Philip because he had spent 3 years with Jesus.  He heard Jesus rebuke the religious hypocrites.  Did Peter try to find the woman at the well who had five husbands?

8:26-40

We’ve seen a violent persecutor in Saul, a successful preacher in Philip, and a power seeking pretender in Simon.  Now we see an honest seeker.  The false conversion of Simon is now contrasted with an honest conversion.

Think about what is going on in Philip’s life.  He has been a very successful church planter and pastor.  He is well known and respected by the whole city.  He has the support of the apostles.  God was using him mightily.  Why did the angel take him away from his ministry to go to visit one man?  Why didn’t the angel go directly to the Ethiopian, appear to him, and answer his questions?  Why didn’t God just give him the answer?  Philip had a great ministry and a lot of responsibility.  Why would God choose Philip to go walking on a 50-60 mile long road with very few homes and villages?  Why does God use people to do His work?

This Ethiopian was a very important government official from Africa.  He had a personal copy of the Isaiah scroll.  He rode an enclosed chariot, which meant he had an entourage of men with him.  He was a god-fearer who had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was returning.  He was discontent and still seeking to know God’s will and ways better.  He would travel faster than Philip would walk.

Philip had probably been walking for over a day greeting everyone and trying to find God’s next step for him.  Maybe he had healed a couple sick or crippled on the way.  He had obeyed instantly.  He had left his church and started walking.  Maybe he was planning to go to the river and then walk back to Caesarea.

Then the Spirit told Philip (29) to run over to that chariot.  This was not the angel talking that had sent him on this errand.  This was an inner voice.  He obeys that too.  He arrives at the chariot as the Ethiopian is reading out loud.  God’s timing is perfect with those who obey.  Philip had been ministering to the whole city of Sychar and now he is ministering to one.  He was faithful in all things.

This Ethiopian was noble in his humility.  He asks a dusty foot-traveler to join him in his elegantly covered wagon.  Philip began where the man was in his thinking and preached the good news about Jesus.  The Jews had never understood this Scripture because it described the Messiah as a suffering servant rather than a conquering king.  Jesus was the Lamb of God who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a white horse.

The Ethiopian experienced the joy of seeing God’s promise fulfilled and receiving forgiveness for his sins.  He knew the joy of Scripture coming alive.  He wanted to identify with God’s plan of salvation as revealed by Jesus.  He could not be baptized in the synagogue without circumcision.  But in Jesus he just had his heart circumcised and he wanted to be baptized.  He did not claim to be a Christian.  He did not agree to join Philip’s church.  In fact Philip does not go back to his church.  The Ethiopian had not finished his confirmation class.  He just saw all the pieces of God’s plan now fitting together in Jesus.  Everything now made sense and he wanted to be baptized.

Philip’s ministry had brought great joy to a city and now to one honest seeker.

After the baptism, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away.  It sounds like he went up the seacoast and preached from town to town until he reached Caesarea.  There he settled down and raised a family.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  His 4 daughters were all preachers (21:9).  Saul was the one who chased him out of Jerusalem and then his home becomes a refuge for Paul.  I bet they had a lot to talk about when Paul stopped to visit.

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