Date: 23 Apr 2023
Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Text: Acts 8:4-40
Good morning to all, both here in person and those tuning in online. A blessed Sunday to all.
Are you rejoicing today? Are you filled with joy and peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?
Think back again with me to Easter Sunday. The resurrection of Christ has freed us from sin and death.
Ps Luwin reminded us that we have now this eternal hope that though we die on earth, yet we will live forever with God.
We will be united with all our believing loved ones who have gone before. Together we will stand in front of God’s throne, worshipping and singing His praises with our glorified bodies.
Bodies that will no longer have pain, disease and sickness.
And while we await that day, by the Holy Spirit that dwells in us, Jesus is present with us through the daily trials.
He gives us the strength to bear the toils of today and the burdens of tomorrow.
In Christ we can say it is well with my soul. In Christ we can sing, we can smile at the storm. In Christ we can claim, He will hold be fast.
Friends, if you are in Christ, you can rejoice. You have been filled with God’s peace, joy and hope. In His sight you and I are blessed.
The reason why I’ve started off today’s sermon with emphasizing joy is because that is what is highlighted for us in today’s passage.
Look at v8 and v39, they describe for us how the audience felt after Philip had preached the Gospel. There was much joy in the Samaritan city and for the Ethiopian, he went on his way rejoicing.
Ac 8:8 So there was much joy in that city….39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
The recipients of Philip’s Gospel sharing would I’m sure identify with the famous Christmas carol we sing – Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.
There is joy because, no more will sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground. For Christ has come to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.
Between Jesus’ parables on the lost coin and the lost son, Jesus says
Lk 15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance… 10 … there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
There is much joy in heaven over a sinner who repents.
Believers, the joy we experience is a taste of heaven. Jesus says, now go and testify in my name so that many will also be able to experience such heavenly joys.
Now if you are convinced that you want to spread this heavenly joy, today’s text might make you a bit uncomfortable.
It’s going to tell us that the Lord may take us out of our comfort zone.
It might take us like Philip to our enemies and to the outsiders of society.
But I pray that we will resonate with God’s heart for the lost, thus becoming obedient to His call.
God reaches out to our enemies
Let’s begin with the first segment which is from 8:4-25. I’ve entitled, God reaches out to our enemies.
Yes, even our enemies are entitled to know the Gospel and to experience the joy of the Lord.
This section begins with v4.
Ac 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…. 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
Remember last week, I said that persecution was God’s providential push for the disciples to go into Judea and Samaria. And that they left not as refugees but missionaries.
They were missionaries because the word ‘scattered’ in the original has the same root word as ‘sow’. And this is the word that is used in the Parable of the Sower.
That means, God the sower was intentional scattering the disciples to the various locations in Judea and Samaria.
And as the disciples were scattered, it has now, become part of their DNA that they are a sermon in shoes. Wherever they went, they preached the word.
Take note, these were disciples, believers of Christ Jesus. These were not the Apostles, these was not the evangelists like Stephen or Philip. They were just disciples like us, Hermonites here.
Philip like Stephen is described to have a ministry as powerful as the Apostles. The Spirit gave them the ability to do signs and wonders. Philip could cast out demons and heal the sick.
But because Luke mentions it first, Luke stresses instead in v6, the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said and not so much what Philip did.
Ac 8:4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word…. 6And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip … 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women….25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
In this section, v4 and v25 also form a bookend. Showing us the unity of the disciples with the Apostles. They both were preaching the Word.
And v12 helps us to understand what was the content of the ‘word’. It is the good news about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
Through Acts 8, we should come to appreciate the fact that Philip a Greek-speaking Jew has gone to Samaria to testify about Jesus Christ.
Why? Because of the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. Let’s take a look at 2 examples from the Gospels:
Luke records for us the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. This parable was to answer who is my neighbor that I should help?
A Jew is robbed and badly hurt. A Priest and a Levite, men of God deliberately walked away from helping the man. Instead, and this is the twist of the story, a Samaritan helped. An enemy of the Jews, helped this robbed man and even paid for his recovery.
In Jn 4, we have recorded Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan women at the well.
Jn 4:3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria…. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
When Jews typically journeyed between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north, they would not go through Samaria. Many would actually cross the Jordan river and then cross back nearer their destination.
Thus, it is significant that John records that Jesus ‘had to pass through Samaria’. John also gives us an explanation why the woman felt it strange that Jesus should talk to her – Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jews hated the Samaritans, they view them as half-breeds. The Samaritans did not recognize Jerusalem as the place of worship and they only recognized the first 5 books of the Old Testament.
And from history, we know that this animosity has gone on for hundreds of years.
In view of such animosity, would it not also be very courageous for Philip to have preached Christ to the Samaritans. He was going into very hostile territory to tell them, salvation has come in the form of a Jew from Nazareth.
Who is our enemy today? A relative who has hurt us deeply? A boss who has caused our career to derail? A colleague who has stabbed us in the back? A friend who has betrayed our trust?
Can God redeem your painful history as how he did with the Jews and the Samaritans? I know it will not be easy at all, but would we be open to bring it before God in prayer?
Jewish Philip because he obeyed God, became God’s channel of grace to the Samaritans. Because Philip overcame his prejudices, he was privileged to witness the joy of salvation in the lives of the Samaritans.
Luke then inserts a comparison of Philip with a local cult leader named Simon.
And the way Luke describes him, we see that he is contrasted with Philip.
The Samaritans used to pay attention to him, but when Philip preached the Gospel they believed.
They used to pay attention to Simon for a long time. But upon Philip’s preaching, they believed and were baptised.
They used to be amazed at what Simon did with his magic, now even Simon was amazed by what Philip has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to do.
Remember I linked earlier about the word ‘scattered’ to the Sower, now we get to see what type of soil Simon’s soul was. On the surface it seems he was a genuine believer. He was even baptized.
Yet, he wanted to bribe Peter and John for the power to bestow the Holy Spirit.
He seems to fit the description of the soil that is rocky or thorny. They are those who hear and receive it but eventually fall away or bear no fruit.
Peter’s verdict is that Simon has got it totally wrong. Firstly, he cannot buy something that is a gift.
Ac 8:20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Secondly, v21 & 23 uses Old Testament language that says, Simon has no share in God’s promises. It refers to those who have turned to idolatry.
Simon has no part or lot in the gift of God. He is in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity.
Though Simon asked for prayer in v24, the prayer seems only about saving himself from the consequences of his idolatry and nothing about establishing a right relationship with God.
There are some bible commentators who have argued that Simon is a genuine believer who will just get into heaven by the skin of his teeth. But I’m not so convinced by their argument.
I submit that Simon’s testimony raises the point that we might in the words of Acts, be circumcised physically - we might show all the external trappings of Christianity.
And yet, are uncircumcised in our heart - not truly a believer.
Simon’s testimony thus serves I submit, as a warning for all of us today. Let us examine if our conversion is genuine.
Kevin Deyoung has helpfully offered 3 signs to assure us of what authentic conversion is from 1 John.
The first sign is theological. You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God (5:11-13).
The second sign is moral. You should have confidence if you live a righteous life (3:6-9). Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness-should not be confident.
The third sign is social. You should have confidence if you love other Christians (3:14). If you hate like Cain you do not have life.
With regards to the Samaritans in Acts 8, the authenticating of their conversion was with a special and unique sending of the Holy Spirit by the hands of Apostle Peter and John.
They came all the way from Jerusalem and God in a visible way confirmed that the Samaritans were equal with the Jews in His sight. They too received the Holy Spirit.
This 2-stage filling of the Holy Spirit will again be seen in Acts 10 at the home of Cornelius the Centurion and in Acts 19 in Ephesus with John the Baptist disciples.
We need to remember that the church is in her infancy. There were many barriers the believers had to cross in the expansion of the church.
As such, God in His wisdom knew that visible evidence was needed to show that the Gentiles were also included into His Kingdom.
I submit that these incidents are therefore not proof-text for a two step filling of the Holy Spirit.
May I quote a good summary explanation “God himself withheld the Spirit until the coming of Peter and John, in order that the Samaritans might be seen to be fully incorporated into the community of Jerusalem Christians who had received the Spirit at Pentecost.”
Church, will you and I be accepting that our enemies have as much right to come to faith in Jesus Christ as we have?
Would we today, plead with the Lord for the souls of our enemies and ask God for the privilege to rejoice when they come to faith in Jesus.
May Philip be our model.
God seeks after outsiders
In Samaria, Philip preached to many in the city. Initially from the least to the greatest, they paid attention to Simon, but after hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Philip had their attention.
In v26, we see explicitly that an angel of the Lord directed Philip to a desert place in Gaza.
Philip was not told why. But as he was obedient to preach to the Samaritans, he was obedient to go south to Gaza. Leaving what we would call a very fruitful ministry in Samaria. Luke records, Philip just rose and went.
Would you and I do the same if the Lord were to impress this upon us? I’m sure I’ll struggle. I might try to justify, am I not doing well for you Lord here? Why leave when there is still so much more fruitful ministry at Samaria.
Shouldn’t I follow up on what Apostle Peter and John have done in the many villages in Samaria?
If God is the one who decides the fruits of our ministry, then it is not for us to decide if we should stay or go. That decision is left in the hands of the potter, we are but the clay.
In this desert place, Philip meets just 1 person. An Ethiopian eunuch who was the country’s minister of finance. He had just come back from worshipping at Jerusalem.
This man was dark-skinned in colour, he was likely not a Jew and furthermore a eunuch.
This means that he would only enter the Court of the Gentiles. And to the Jews, an outsider. Maybe even someone not quite religiously pure.
Ethiopia was considered in those days, near the borders of civilization.
He was rich though, he rode on a chariot and had sufficient cash to buy a scroll of Isaiah.
This description is of a person, the religious leaders of the day I submit, would not even consider spending 2 mins looking in his direction.
Do such insider and outsider segregation still exist? According to the internet, such segregation in the Christian community still persist in some form in places like India.
Just over 10 years ago, this interview appeared in the Methodist for World Mission.
Rev Sunil Raj Philip of the Central Kerala diocese of the Church of south India commented:
“The major challenge faced by the Commission on Dalits is the casteism within the Indian church itself. We have been fighting against these elements within the church by leading a campaign with a slogan ‘no one can serve Christ and caste. Dalits who are converted into Christianity are discriminated against by the denial of many rights.”
I’m sure the Indian churches have made many strides against the caste system since then.
But in every society, no matter how developed, we still have Insider/Outsider boundaries. So how should we as believers view them?
Do we have a ‘social caste’ system in Singapore?
On 14 April 2023, the Straits Times ran a commentary titled “How would you respond if your graduate daughter dated a plumber?”
It’s trying to get a sense whether Singapore parents would allow their daughter to marry down. Someone who is blue-collar and possibly earns below the 50th percentile.
Or in Singapore, would an Ethiopian minister of finance be discriminated positively instead? His societal and financial status an attraction.
Philip was colour and socially blind. He simply obeyed the Holy Spirit and reacted accordingly to this divine appointment.
What we can observe is God’s providential hand in bringing the Ethiopian to faith in Jesus.
By God’s timing, Philip was led to a desert place and meets him just as he is reading from Isaiah 53:7-8.
To us, Isaiah 53 is all about Jesus, but not so in the first century. It was to be another 17th centuries before Handel’s Messiah was written.
And so, beginning with Isaiah 53, Philip pointed the Ethiopian official to Jesus. That Jesus is this suffering servant of Isaiah 53.
I’m wondering also whether Philip might have encouraged him by referring him Isaiah 56 which is just 3 chapters down:
Is 56:3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
What sense of joy and thanksgiving it would give the Ethiopian believer. What assurance this should also give to any outsider in our society today.
I submit that 1-2-1 evangelism would be the norm for us today. And for many of us who are parents both biological or spiritual, personal evangelism works well in the context of our homes.
Next month, we will have our church conference. There we will be equipped to understand how we can do 3-2-1 bible reading. I’m confident we can adapt the skills learnt to bless our biological and spiritual children.
We will be enabled to point them to Jesus the Messiah through Scripture and the good Christian books we read with our younger generation.
Church, will you and I be accepting that the outsiders in our societies have as much right to come to faith in Jesus Christ as we have?
Would we today, plead with the Lord for their souls and ask God for the privilege to rejoice when they come to faith in Jesus.
May Philip be our model.
Here in Acts 8, the Gospel goes out to Samaria and to an Ethiopian. The Holy Spirit is empowering and directing the church towards fulfilling Acts 1:8.
May I end with the encouraging testimony of a Noel Cheong. Posted on the Operation Mobilization Singapore website in 2017.
Noel Cheong openness towards missions was nurtured at home. Thus, his testimony is titled “Missions Begins At Home”. Noel shares,
“If I had to answer, in one word, how I ended up in missions, it would be: Family.
Not that my parents or any of my siblings were missionaries; in fact, no one in my immediate family is in any form of full-time church work, nor did they ever pressure me in that direction.
Rather, ever since I was little, all the foundational elements of an abundant Christian life – the joys of reading the Bible, the power of prayer, the vitality of Christian community – were not only taught to me by my family, but were daily and actively lived out before my eyes.
Every night, my father would be sitting at his table, Bible and notebook open before him, eyes attentively following each line. My mother would be busy in the study, preparing materials for Sunday school lessons, or asking us, her four children, about our day.”
Noel further shared about the influence of his church community (and may this be an encouragement for all HCYM teachers) :
“Moreover, as I grew up under wise Christian teachers, what became increasingly clear to me was the purpose of the Christian life. The well-known Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever,” and as my own local church’s vision puts it, “To know and proclaim Jesus Christ.”
Stepping into missions was a natural progression in this journey of discipleship. I told God, “I want to grow as Your disciple,” and He made it clear over the course of several years that the mission field would play a key part in that journey.”
In one of his final paras, Noel says:
“Missions is an act of worship and discipleship. God did not send me to the mission field because I was perfect or could do great things – He sent me because I offered my half-baked life for His service.
And freely I offered it because, over the course of my life, I was blessed to see real-life examples of such obedience in my parents and siblings.”
Church, let’s as a family live out the Gospel daily in our community and our homes. When we do so, God may be pleased to raise men and women to model after Philip and Noel within Hermon.