The Gospel Crosses Racial Barriers

01 title slide

       Thus far in Acts the spread of the Gospel has taken place in Judea. However the great commission was to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to all the world. Here in Acts 8 we see the spread of the Gospel to Samaria and the beginning of the spread to all of the world.

            Last week we focused on Stephen and it ended in his death, which resembled Christs sparking the spread of the Gospel. This week we will focus on Philip and how God used him to bridge the racial gap and preach the gospel to an excluded people group then person excluded by circumstance.

Philip in Samaria

So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:4-8 HCSB

      The death of Stephen and persecution of the church was the method of sending the first church out of Jerusalem. Notice they did not scatter and cower, they scattered and continued preaching the gospel. The death of Stephen sparked a wildfire of evangelistic mission, and Philip the second of the seven first deacons was the next to be used by the Holy Spirit. Wethersby said “Persecution does to the church what wind does to seed: it scatters it and only produces a greater harvest.”

      The Samaritans and Judeans were bitter enemies. In fact in Jesus parable of the good Samaritan He used the opposition to drive His point home about who a good neighbor was, and made a second point that not only was it God’s will that we love others, serve those in need but there should be no racial boundaries. The Samaritans used to be part of Israel, but back in the tenth century BC the ten northern tribes separated from Judah, Benjamin and the city of Jerusalem as Israel split after Solomon’s death. This split became a racial divide when the Assyrians destroyed Samaria’s capital in 722 BC and these conquerors deported the population and systematically mixed the remnant with other populations, as was standard practice. They were no longer pure blood Israelites, racially descendants of Abraham. Later the animosity grew as the Samarians opposed the rebuilding of the temple and built their own temple to worship God in.

         So in going to Samaria Philip was crossing racial boundaries doing God’s redemptive work of redeeming relationships between God’s image bearers. Racial tension is still very much a problem today, even in our own nation. It seems to me as we saw in Acts 6:1-7 and now here in chapter 8 the answer to bridging racial divide is the gospel. God’s will is for unity, His two laws that make up all of His moral law are love God and love others. We love others best through the lens of the gospel, meeting their needs and telling them the good news. I like the words of Warren Wethersby in describing the Gospel. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is much more than an idea. The Gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16,nkjv). It is God’s “dynamite” for breaking down sin’s barriers and setting the prisoners free. Its time had come and the church was on the move.”

 

The message of the Christ, which Philip spoke to them was most likely derived from Deutoronomy:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” Deut 18:15

18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name.” Deut. 18:18-19 HCSB

        Peter, and Stephen had also used this basis in proclaiming Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. Just as God has sent Moses to redeem His people from slavery in Egypt and performed many miracles through him, and given the law to His people through him, God sent Jesus the better and perfect redeemer. Jesus redeemed His people of their sin nature, and brought them in to a more intimate relationship with God dwelling in them through the Holy Spirit, rather than among them in the tabernacle. As God had given them the law in stone under the first covenant, in the second covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) inaugurated through Christ, He wrote the law in their hearts and empowered them to follow it. Philip like Peter and Stephen would have started back in the Torah that these people knew then worked through the rest of the Law and the Prophets showing them how Jesus was the fulfillment of scripture and prophecy.

       Miraculous works also accompanied Philips message. The demon possessed found freedom, and paralytics, and sick were healed. The response to this evangelism of words and deeds was that the people found great joy. The gospel holistically professed brings joy. To just give them the knowledge but do nothing for their needs would not be modeling for them that which was preached. Jesus taught to love and serve. This is done both physically and intellectually. To tell someone God loves them but not show them is bad practice. Also to show someone love, but not tell them is incomplete. If Philip had merely come and healed the sick and set the demon possessed free they would only have temporal freedom. They may have been happy in their situation but would not have the joy of a purposeful life, or hope of being in God’s eternal Kingdom.

        Another interesting thing happening here starting with the work of Stephen and now Philip was the passing of the baton of leadership from Apostles to second generation of leaders. Previous to Stephen and Philip only the Apostles had done great works and preached the word, but now Two of those who were appointed to serve had risen up and in the power of the Holy Spirit preached and performed great works. Through the struggles of the church and the forming of structure to care for those needs they were prepared to grow and spread the gospel. It seems the precedent we have here is that part of discipleship in the church is to be observant of those who are growing in spiritual maturity and possess the attributes of spiritual leadership and invest in training those people and prepare to send them as God calls. By being intentional about preparing people for doing God’s work we are in essence raising our sails and preparing for the spirit to move. We are agreeing with God that His mission is our mission and being obedient in preparing to do His work, with the knowledge that He will empower it at the right time.

       Another point to make about Philip specifically being the person used to do ministry was his background and experience in the 1st church in Jerusalem. Philips background was messy. He was a Hellinistic Jew, a Greek Jew who’s people had suffered neglect at the hands of their Hebraic Christian brothers. He had also gone through racial tension, so he understood the Samaritans context and feelings. Who better to speak to the Samaritans than someone who had first person encounters with racial tension. An application here for us is that God has a habit of using people’s mess for His glory. You can have confidence even in your mess that God is in control and in the end a mess even between Christians can serve God’s purposes of redeeming His people. Also if you have suffered or have mess in your past, don’t hold on to the pain of the situation, be free in Christ to forgive those who wronged you and use your experience to help you to love others well. Your experiences have purpose, not

      Now just as there were obedient and faithful responses to God’s call there were also deceivers in the first church who were not part of God’s redemptive work but part of Satan’s work to thwart the progress of the first church, and our churches today.

The Response of Simon

A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” x 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.” Acts 8:9-13 HCSB

      Simon was a powerful sorcerer in Samaria. We tend not to take this kind of thing to seriously in our present time and in the West. However what we have here is an account of someone much different than some trickster doing slide of hand on the street. People of all socio economic levels believed Simon to be “The Great Power of God!” There are stories in history later of a Simon Magus who had great power and competed with Peter, however was out done by Peter repeatedly. Early church fathers believed the two men were the same. The point is this man had great power, but it was not from God. There are two places power comes from, the Holy Spirit or Satan. In fact part of the many works of Philip was casting out demons, showing there was demonic presence in the area.

       Previous to Philip arriving the people were attentive to Simon, BUT when the people heard Philips words and saw the power of the Holy Spirit in him, they believed and they were baptized. This changed their allegiance from Simon to Phillip in following Christ. Then, after the people were no longer attentive to Simon he made a profession of faith and was baptized. His response after being baptized was to follow Philip in astonishment of the miracles being performed. This does not seem to be the response of one who is amazed by the love of their savior, and has repented of their sins. He seems to be focused on that which has caused the people to stop following him, and start following Philip. Though Simon had made a profession it does not seem he has had a heart change. This truth is also spoken of in John:

23 “While He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. 24 Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man.” John 2:23-25 HCSB

and Jesus even proclaimed that there would be those that not only professed believing in Him but preached in His name, and performed miracles in His name that did not know him:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!” Matthew 7:21-23 HCSB

      It seems to me these texts describe Simon, and as we continue on in Acts it seems that this is what Peter confirms.

 Simon’s Sin

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them, so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 “Please pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans.” Acts 8:14-25 HCSB

            This was the first that the gospel had been received outside Jerusalem, so it seems the Apostles were sent to confirm the conversion of the Samaritans. A similar practice occurred when Cornelius came to faith in Acts 10:1-11:18. God sent an Angel to Cornelius, then sent Peter to tell him the gospel and take part in the conversion experience so that Peter as an Apostle could witness their conversion and receiving the Holy Spirit and report it to the other leaders in Jerusalem so as to make precedence for spreading the gospel to the gentiles.

            It is of interest in this text that they believe and are baptized but haven’t yet received the Holy Spirit. Peter in his sermon in Acts 2:38-39 stated that belief, baptism, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit were immediate occurances.

“Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, a as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” Acts 2:38-40 HCSB Clearly something different has happened here. It seems the best way to approach this question is to follow the story line and consider the context of who had come to faith, and who had led them to faith. The Samaritans were outcasts and enemies of the Jewish people. Their conversion would be suspect from the Jerusalem church. Also Philip was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian, who’s people were being neglected back in 6:1-7. So for this great ministry to have taken place would have been amazing to say the least, and obviously worth looking into. If everything had happened and was final before Peter and John had arrived they would only have been able to judge the fruit of these new believers lives to determine the validity of their conversion. However because the Spirit had not yet come and this happened when Peter and John laid hands on them the full completion of their conversion was experienced by the Apostles so they had eyewitness of the true acceptance of the gospel and work of God in the Samaritans. It seems God worked this way at this time to give assurance to the new and growing church as well as to the Samaritans themselves. Both could have confidence that God’s kingdom was being extended beyond the ethnic people of Israel.

            When the apostles laid hands on the people and prayed for them the Holy Spirit came, this occurrence was visible, Simon saw it happen and tried to pay to receive this power. It seems Simon was an unbeliever. He saw others receive the Holy Spirit but it doesn’t mention he received it, and his concern was not salvation but in receiving the power.

            Peter offers strong words of rebuke to Simon. No part or share in this matter seems to mean no inheritance as an adoptive child of God. Peter then pointed out Simons heart was poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity. He then told Simon to repent and pray for forgiveness, which means he had not received it. Simon’s response was to ask for prayer but not to repent or ask forgiveness, he just wanted freedom of the consequences.

            Finally we see that even the Apostles return journey to Jerusalem is not wasted. The Apostles continued evangelizing from town to town on their way back, spreading the gospel throughout Samaria. This seems to be continued verification of the validity of the conversion of Samaritans. Not only did the Apostles verify the work of Philip and the faith of those believers but they continued in Philips work of evangelizing the Samaritan people.

            It seems a very real application here is that we can judge the fruit of salvation in our selves and in others. Peter saw that Simon displayed the fruit of bitterness and enslavement in sin. When one has received God’s freedom and the gift of the Holy Spirit their lives are transformed. They haven’t changed to receive God’s love, but God’s love changes them. So a great question for us to ask is how can we know? First we must agree that conversion does not mean perfection, so we are not looking for a life that is free from all sin, we are looking for the presence of the spirit of God. Lets look to Galatians 5.

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: a sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, o drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. 26 We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:16-26 HCSB

            Again the litmus test for a true believer is not absence of sin, but a overall disposition of love, the desire to glorify God, and a freedom from the power of sin. A believer will not be content to live a lifestyle of sin, rather they will struggle against temptation, and though they will fall at times, the spirit of God will bring conviction in their hearts rather than complacency.

            Another truth here is that we cannot serve two masters. If we profess to know God but still live a life that shows the fruit of the flesh rather than the spirit we should question our true allegiance. Consider this text in 1 John:

“5 Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” I John 1:5-10 HCSB

            Now I tell make these points not to cause believers to question their faith but to show you that it is important to evaluate our lives and the lives of professing Christians. In evaluating our own lives we can have confidence in our salvation. This was the purpose of Johns letter of 1 John:

            “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” John 5:1-5 HCSB

            In addition to having confidence in our own salvation it is necessary to evaluate the lives of others. The most unloving thing Peter could have done for Simon was not speak this truth to him. It would have been unloving to Simon and the new believers in Samaria. Peter also did not simply rebuke him and cast him off, he rebuked him and encouraged him to confess and repent. He spoke truth to reveal his heart condition then gave him the answer of how to respond. I would not encourage anyone to walk around telling everyone they are going to Hell, however in the context of relationships and loving conversation I do believe we need to speak truth into the lives of others. If we are talking with someone professing to be a Christian but who misunderstands the gospel or is blatantly living a life of sin the most loving thing we can do is point out the truth, explain the path of salvation, and pray God works in their heart.

            Here in the story of the Ethiopian Eunich we switch from an account of a false conversion to a true conversion. We also switch from a broad view of many coming to salvation to one specific person coming to faith. God is indeed interested in large numbers coming to faith and joining His kingdom in the church, but not because of a scoreboard, because each number represents a soul being transferred from death to life. This is the most amazing miracle God performs.

            In this account we see that just as God is interested in numbers he is interested in individuals. He is interested in YOU. He has a plan for how each soul will be saved and a purpose for each one. Now as we see here and elsewhere in scripture God is the one orchestrating events and personally interacting in His redemptive plan. However the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty is not an excuse for you to be complacent in spreading His word. Sometimes God specifically tells us to go to a place and person, but we should not sit and wait for this kind of revelation because God has already revealed his mission for all believers, to go where we are, and everywhere including the ends of the earth making disciples and teaching them to do the same. Philip in this case was sent by an angel of God to a place, for the purpose of saving one specific man. Here is what happened:

The Conversion of the Ethiopian Official

26 “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) l 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”

30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:

He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,

and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,

so He does not open His mouth.

33 In His humiliation justice was denied Him.

Who will describe His generation?

For His life is taken from the earth. r Isaiah 53:7-8

34 The eunuch replied to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or another person?” 35 So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.

36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?” [37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer. But he went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” Acts 8:26-40 HCSB

 

            Here we have a great example of Spirit led ministry, the Angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and sent him on mission.   Just as Philip had led the movement of evangelism into Samaria, the Holy Spirit was now leading him to spread the gospel to Ethiopia. It is noteworthy that the Eunich was Ethiopian rather than any other race. In ancient literature Ethiopia was considered the ends of the earth. In going to Samaria then the Ethiopian Philip had gone to the last places called for in the Great Commission of Acts 1:8.

            It also seems of note that just as it wasn’t the Apostles but the next generation leaders that were taking part in this evangelistic ministry, now it wasn’t Philip that was going to Ethiopia but ministering to an Ethiopian who would take his new faith back to his own people. The work of the gospel is given not just to a few individuals with certain gifting but to all believers, and we must all grow in wisdom of the gospel and prepare to do the work and speak the words to those we come in contact with.

            It seems God chose this Eunich next after Samaria to continue not just His mission in reaching the world but also in redeeming people. You see a Eunich was a man that had been castrated. They did this often in the royal court to people who worked in and around the palace. The purpose was to keep the royal women safe. Now in Old Testament law as quoted in Deuteronomy

            ““No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.” Deut. 23:1. HCSB

            Just as God had redeemed the people of Samaria to His kingdom he was about to redeem those who had been excluded from fellowship as well. Just a few chapters after where He had been reading is the following text, that it seems likely Philip would have pointed out to him while explaining the gospel because it speaks directly to his situation.

No foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord

should say,

“The Lord will exclude me from His people”;

and the eunuch should not say,

“Look, I am a dried-up tree.”

For the Lord says this:

“For the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,

and choose what pleases Me,

and hold firmly to My covenant,

I will give them, in My house and within My walls,

a memorial and a name

better than sons and daughters.

I will give each of them an everlasting name

that will never be cut off. Isaiah 56:3-5 HCSB

            The Eunich responded to the gospel in faith and asked to be baptized immediately. Philip baptized him and the Eunich’s response to believing and being baptized was to rejoice. He could rejoice because he had a relationship with Jesus, and God’s word revealed to him his new identity. He was no longer simply a Eunich, someone who was not whole, an outsider in temple worship, he was now an heir of the one true God. This is a very different response than that of Simon. Also God whisked Philip away and left the Eunich in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

            Now for me an important application I see from Philip and the Eunich is the importance of evangelism even in awkward situations. Philip had been prompted by God to go to the middle of nowhere then approach a man of another race, socioeconomic status, and who was a complete stranger. He observed the man reading scripture and asked him if he understood. We need to be on the lookout for opportunities to share the gospel, even with complete strangers. God will provide the right circumstances and we just need to seek them and to be ready to answer when people ask questions. I believe the way we can prepare for this is by studying His word, praying for opportunities and wisdom, as well as being in fellowship with others who encourage and challenge our own spiritual growth and understanding.