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THE GOSPEL PREACHED IN SAMARIA

Acts 8:1-8:25
Key Verse: 8:12

In chapter 7 we thought about Stephen the martyr. He was one of the Seven, whom the apostles chose for the ministry of waiting on tables. He was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit and full of God’s grace and power. He was falsely accused of speaking against Moses and God and the temple and the law. But his testimony of defense before the Sanhedrin showed that he correctly knew God’s history, the point of which is Christ Jesus, who came to replace the temple and fulfill the law. He trusted and loved Jesus until he was martyred for Jesus and obeyed his law of love by embracing and praying for his fellow Jews who stoned him to death. The story of Stephen is forever beautiful following the life of our Lord Jesus in the history of God. Chapter 8 is the story of Philip, another of the Seven. If we say Stephen the martyr, we can say Philip the evangelist (Ac 21:8). He preached the gospel in Samaria at the time of great persecution and to an Ethiopian led by the Spirit. Today we will study about the gospel work in Samara.

Look at verses 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.” Here “that day” was the day of Stephen’s death and the day of a great persecution. Stephen’s death as a martyr was glorious but did not seem to bring any positive immediate effect but instead great persecution, suffering, and sorrow. Verse 2 says, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” And verse 3 says, “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” Usually mercy can be shown to women. But as for Saul he had no mind even for women. In his murderous spirit he put both men and women of Jesus’ people in prison searching for them from house to house. He wanted to completely destroy (ravage/make havoc of) the church of God . What can be done in this situation? Yet, this hostile environment of great persecution for the church was actually the backdrop for the great work of God about to take place.

Look at verse 4. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” This was the power of the church in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, the destroyers of the church thought that if the church members were scattered, the scattered would be powerless and helpless whereas the united, powerful. They were greatly mistaken. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. It shows that the word of God had been planted in the hearts of the believers. They were driven out from their home land but the word of God could not be driven out of their hearts. So wherever they were scattered, they could scatter the word, the seed of life through their preaching. This is the mysterious work of the word sown and planted in hearts of the believers.

Among those who had been scattered a specific person Philip is mention. Look at verse 5. “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.” In view of the history of Israel, Samaria was a despised and deserted land because they lost the purity of Jewish race and became the people of mixed blood. They were half Jew and half Gentile. The Jews did not want to associate with the people in Samaria, let alone trample the soil of Samaria. But Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. It shows that Philip knew the heart of God and wanted to break any human barrier for the proclamation of the Christ. Philip must have remembered that Jesus, while on earth, had gone to Samaria to help a thirsty and ostracized Samaritan woman. (Philip was one of the architects of the Christian Church.) There is no favoritism in God; there is no segregation in Christ (Colossians 3:11). All people are the object of Christ’s love.

Look at verses 6-8. “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” In these verses we see that in Samaria many people were possessed by evil spirits and there were many sick people with paralysis and crippled body conditions. But through Philip’s proclamation of the Christ and miraculous work many were healed and became the people with sound spirit and mind and body. This work of God through Philip brought city-wide joy. However, the people in the city were not carried away by their excitement of the miraculous signs. The author comments that they all paid close attention to what Philip said. We will think of this more later on.

Something noticeable is written in the next paragraph. It is about a particular person, Simon, and his influence. Verses 9-11 are about him: “He had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great 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.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic” (9-11). These verses show the influence of Simon in that city and susceptibility of the people in Samaria. He amazed all the people. It is written twice. He amazed all the people, both high and low, for a long time with his magic power, which they thought was divine power. Actually human beings are inclined and vulnerable to magic powers that attract people like American idol and fascinating rock music. They are apt to be deceived by those who show such powers.

But I believe that what the author wants to stress is verse 12. Look at this verse. “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.” One man, when John Lennon died in 1980, felt that heaven fell. But he was changed when he heard the message of the kingdom of God through Bible study, and became a powerful gospel worker. The preaching of the good news of the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ superseded the influence of Simon’s magic. This indicates that what the people in Samaria really wanted was not the magic power but the kingdom of God. Since men were cast out of the Garden of Eden, all have an unquenchable and unceasing yearning for the kingdom of God, our original eternal home. Paradise lost because of man’s sin but paradise, that is, the kingdom of God, restored through Christ’s death and resurrection. From the outset of his earthly messianic ministry, Jesus preached the kingdom of God. He said, “The time has come; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15). On the cross he invited a repentant robber to the kingdom of God, saying, “I tell you the truth, today, you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). As we studied in Acts 1, after his resurrection he appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. The message of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ is the message which must be preached and all people living on earth must hear.

The people of Samaria accepted the message of the kingdom of God and put their faith in Christ Jesus. This is the reason the author had said in verse 6, “they all paid close attention to what he (Philip) said.” Their faith was based on the word of God they had received, not miraculous signs. Jesus showed many miraculous signs to the people. But when they asked more and more miraculous signs, Jesus rebuked them, saying, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah” (Mt 13:39). To our surprise the Samaritans were not miracle-seeking people but God’s word-loving people. And then they were baptized, both men and women. It was their declaration that they would be identified not as the followers of Simon but as the believers of Christ Jesus and members of the kingdom of God. It was their confession of faith in public. This was a great change in their lives.

Look at verse 13. “Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.” Simon seemed to be a man of question. His believing and being baptized and following Philip looked great. But according to the author’s description it was likely that he was interested not in Philip’s message of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ but great signs and miracles, which to his eyes must have been more powerful than his own magic. Later we see that his belief and baptism was not true one.

Look at verse 14. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.” Here the author again assured that the people in Samaria accepted the word of God. The faith of the people of Samara was not like superstition, but through accepting the word of God. The apostles in Jerusalem could see that this was the true sign of the work of God. So they sent Peter and John, two main figures in Jerusalem church, to them, and the work of God was confirmed. So they were happy and willing to pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John acknowledged that their being baptized into the name of Jesus was true. It was their expression of repentance and faith in Jesus. Then they placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

The land of Samaria had been occupied and oppressed by evil spirits through magic arts and sorcery. Now the Holy Spirit came upon them when they accepted the word of God and truly believed in the name of Christ Jesus and the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit would make them free from evil spirits and evil power and enable them to live as Jesus’ people and citizens of the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit dwelling in them would guide their lives and help them to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Holy Spirit would empower them to become witnesses of Jesus and do the work of God. It is truly a beautiful work of God in Samaria. It is biblical truth that the Holy Spirit comes into the hearts of those who repent and accept the word of God.

Last week we learned that when the Israelites rejected God in their hearts, they right away made an idol in the form of calf, while Moses was receiving the living words from God. Afterward they held a celebration, eating and drinking and indulging in revelry. Idol worship is always accompanied by materialism and sexual immorality. Spiritually speaking, idol is what occupies the rightful place of God in one’s heart. Last Thursday was Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day sounds good. People are to love one another. But without loving God, people cannot truly love one another. Without God the object of love becomes an idol in one’s heart. In our times the concept of love is very much distorted as people reject God more and more. It is oriented to money and physical pleasure. It seems that for many people Valentine’s Day means spending lots of money on an expensive gift as the expression of their love. We were surprised to hear about U of T’s sex party that was sponsored by the school in the name of “education” and “awareness”. But spiritually speaking these is the rampant influence of evil spirits. We are inspired by the work of God in Samaria through the word of God and the Holy Spirit. May we be more and more equipped with the word of God and the Holy Spirit so that we can also engage in the powerful work of God in this city Toronto. May God bless our 1:1 ministry richly and bless our Easter celebration by raising Allen and Jemmie as living messengers and Michael and Estefania as powerful reciters of God’s words.

The following verses 18-24 tell us more about the Holy Spirit. Look at verses 18 and 19. “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’” Here we see that his motive to receive the Holy Spirit was wrong. It was not for his life of holiness and life of mission. He wanted to make use of the Holy Spirit for his own selfish purpose. And his eyes were so blind that he did not know who gives the Holy Spirit. Thinking the apostles could give the Holy Spirit, he offered them money for the Holy Spirit. This showed that that his faith and baptism was not true. How did Peter respond to him. In verses 20-23 Peter answered, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money. You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Peter had a clear discernment and severely rebuked him. Peter did so in the hope of Simon’s repentance and also in the prevention of his horrible influence among the believers in Samaria in the case of his not repenting, since he had been an influential person. Even hearing such a strong rebuke, he just answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” We are not sure of his repentance. Anyway, this is the end of his story in the Bible.

Then the author turns our attention to what Peter and John did as they returned to Jerusalem. Look at verse 25. “When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan towns.” Usually people return hurriedly. Certainly the apostles had many things to do in the big Jerusalem church. But they took time to proclaim the word of God and preach the gospel in many Samaritan villages. They wanted to use God’s given opportune time fully for the proclamation of the word of God and the preaching of the gospel. For they knew the urgency and significance of their proclaiming and preaching the gospel. The gospel must first be preached by anyone and in any town. It should be done until Jesus comes again. When people hear the word of God, they can turn their hearts to God and receive the salvation of their souls. This is the reason Jesus said, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In this study we could see that those who had been scattered because of great persecution preached the word wherever they went. And through Philip’s preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus many people of Samaria put their faith in Jesus and were baptized, and they received the Holy Spirit through the apostles who came from Jerusalem. This was a beautiful and powerful work of God in Samaria once noted for evil spirits through magic power and sorcery. May the word of God be planted in our hearts and we be equipped with the word of God more and more so that there will be a powerful gospel work in U of T and in this city Toronto through our preaching the word of God.

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