INTRODUCTION – One of the things we know about the triune living God of the Bible is that to Him “a thousand years is as one day and a day is as a thousand years.” (II Peter 3:8). He is not bound by time. He in fact created time. And thus when He first created man however many thousands of years ago, He could see into the 2nd century and the 10th century and the 16th century and even into the 21st century. Seeing what He could see, and knowing what He knew – – He decided early on to produce – through the fingers of men – a collection of historical accounts and letters and songs and prayers and prophecies that we today call the Bible. While this – one of a kind collection was penned by 40 different men over a period of 1,500 years, we know from Peter’s second epistle or letter (1:16, 20, 21) and Paul’s second letter to Timothy (3:16) – – – that it has only one author; and that author is the living God. The clearest statement to this effect is II Tim. 3:16, which says, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness – – so that the man (or woman) of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” God inspired every word of it; and every word of it is necessary and useful to make us into the kind of people He can use to accomplish His purposes in the earth.
These words that God authored – we know from Hebrews 4:12 are “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” These words on any given day – can read your mail like none other – – and can bring things to light that neither you or I could detect or discover on our own.
Every book of the Bible has a specific purpose – – a specific reason why God led the author to write it, and why God preserved it, and why He had it included in what we today call the Bible. For instance the Psalms was given primarily to teach us how to worship and pray – both personally and corporately – when assembled with God’s people.
The book of Acts was given to show us how the church was meant to impact and transform a given community or city, and then how the church is supposed to help the church be birthed and formed in and among any and every people where the name of Jesus has not been made known, and where the church is non existent. Over the last 38 plus years that I have been daily reading the Bible – various books of the Bible have had powerful impacts on me. But few if any have stirred me like the book of Acts. When it comes to knowing and fulfilling our mission in the earth as His people and His army – – no other book is more crucial or useful than this one. When it comes to discovering those “keys of the kingdom” that Jesus Christ said He would give to us for the expansion of His kingdom and the building of His church – – no book like the book of Acts can help us discover and learn to use those keys. And one of the things that undergirds this process of discovery is the reality that the church was always meant to be a supernatural people. That’s what we see in the book of Acts. And that is what the Head of the Church – King Jesus wants us to see and experience today.
For the sake of review – – this great book starts out with a crystal clear statement of the mission of the church in Acts 1:8, where Jesus repeats for the final time what is often called the great commission. Luke 24:49 – “you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” The supernatural seen in the unity of the formerly divided, afraid and scattered people; Peter’s leadership; their corporate ability to discern the voice and direction of Jesus the Head regarding the need to appoint someone to replace Judas.
Acts ch. 2 – the power of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them in the form of tongues – – that is the spontaneous and supernatural ability to speak and to worship God in languages they had never learned – – in fulfillment of Jesus’s promise of Acts 1:8.
Acts 2-7 – the church in Jerusalem growing like wildfire, but in terms of its mission – it really had not advanced too far outside of Jerusalem – – not really fulfilling its part of acts 1:8 – – even though Jesus fuflilled His
Last part of ch. 7 and first part of ch. 8 describes the outbreak of intense persecution – led in part by a wild angry and violent Jewish leader named Saul. One result of this persecution is the church members were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (vs. 1) – – places where they were supposed to have traveled to to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God – but up to now had not done so. Theories abound as to why the church in Jerusalem had not intentionally gone to Judea and Samaria. Some say it was because they were just enjoying too much – the wonderful life and community in Christ they had going in Jerusalem. Some point to the intense hatred many Jews had towards the Samaritans, and believe they didn’t go because of racism. The Samaritans you see were seen by most Jews as half breeds due to their intermarrying with the Assyrians back when the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians around 722 B.C. As vibrant and mature as the church was becoming in Jerusalem, I find it kind of hard to believe that believers were still stuck in that kind of racism. But then again it took a vision and a trance and God repeating Himself twice in that vision for Peter in ch. 10 to finally get it that the gospel was just as much for Gentiles as it was for Jews.
I. Perhaps God had to force them out of Jerusalem via persecution, but the truth is – once they got there they did not hide or cower in fear, nor did they refuse to preach because of racism, but they obediently “went about preaching the word.” Vs. 4
II. The powerful ministry of Phillip – vs. 5-13 (read it) A. Phillip “went down to the city of Samaria”. Whether Phillip was sent from Jerusalem or just decided to go from Judea where he was scattered to along with the rest of the believers – it appears to be an intentional decision – most likely in obedience to the Holy Spirit, and perhaps in obedience to leaders over him.
B. So who was this Phillip? Well we know he wasn’t the Phillip that was one of the original 12 of Jesus’s disciples or apostles or else he would have stayed in Jerusalem, and he wouldn’t have been appointed to wait on tables – as we saw in Acts ch. 6. So he was not an apostle,
C. But he was an evangelist according to Acts 21:8, “On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.” Now the church might not have known Phillip was an evangelist at this point in his life and ministry as recorded in Acts ch. 8. But years later – it was clear to everyone that he was an evangelist in gifting and calling. So what’s the big deal about him being an evangelist? Well primarily – the difference is fruit. All these other believers mentioned in 8:4 were faithfully preaching the gospel. And their efforts were not in vain. Seeds were sown through their efforts and I’m sure eventually some of those seeds bore fruit. But Phillip saw very significant fruit very quickly. Vs. 6 says, “The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.” What were those signs or attesting miracles? Well vs. 7 explains, “For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.”
D. As Philip roamed the streets of Samaria he began to encounter men, women, young people and perhaps even children who were weighed down by demons, by diseases, and sometimes deformities – – and just like Jesus and the apostles – when Philip encountered these people – he didn’t just focus on their spiritual need, but knowing God cared about their physical need as well – he ministered to those very legitimate and pressing needs.
As was the case with the tongues speakers in Acts 2, and with Peter and John healing the lame man in ch. 3, and with the apostles healing the sick in ch. 5, and with Stephen (another non apostle) “performing great wonders and signs among the people” in ch. 6, which probably was primarily healings of some kind – – when God moved in supernatural ways through His servants – – crowds formed and great opportunities for witness followed. Both vs. 6&7 and vs. 13 make clear that signs, wonders and miracles paved the way or opened a door for Philip to preach the good news to the people of Samaria.
III. The Seriousness of Simon’s Sorcery – vs. 9-24 Well that brings us to Luke’s account of this guy named Simon. (read vs. 9-24) For “a long time” vs. 11 tells us – this guy had lived in Samaria and “astonished them with his magic arts”. This is the 2nd time in 3 verses Luke states that Simon had “astonished” the Samaritans with his magical powers. So he must have had some significant demonic powers to pull that off. Add to those powers his constant self promotion as vs. 9 speaks of, and Simon probably looked like a formidable threat to the spread of the kingdom of God in that region. But the reality is he wasn’t. When he saw Philip in action, and saw his townspeople not only believing in the gospel of Christ but being baptized in His name – vs 13 tells us, “Simon himself believed” and he was baptized. And he was constantly amazed at the kind of miracles Philip was pulling off. This guy was no slouch when it came to miracles, but after hearing and observing Phillip operate, he was ready to get out of the kingdom of darkness and enter into the kingdom of light……
Now while there is no reason from the text to believe his conversion was not real, his fleshly attraction to miracles and power was still operative, and the next thing you know he is asking Peter and John if he can pay them money to get some of their authority . Now to his credit, he wasn’t asking for that authority necessarily for selfish reasons. He seemed to sincerely want to be able to lay hands on people and see them receive the Holy Spirit. But the thought that he could somehow purchase this authority was a huge flashing red light to Peter, and he quickly and very straightforwardly addressed this error to Simon.
Do you see the contrast that Dr. Luke is painting here with Philip, Peter, John and Simon? Philip was doing miracles but he was always quick to follow the miracles with faithful proclamation of Christ and His kingdom. Philip was not unduly enamored by the miracles, and certainly did not bring attention to himself via the miracles. Peter and John – through the laying on of hands – were used by God to help these new believers in Samaria receive the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit. When the Samaritan believers received or experienced this, there must have been some kind of visible manifestation because vs. 18 says, “Now when Simon SAW that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money…” Simon was drawn to the supernatural; and it is very likely that these believers were either speaking in tongues or prophesying when the Holy Spirit came upon them – – this was often the case in other instances with new believers in the book of Acts – – and if this was not the case – – I don’t think Simon would have been so enamored with it all.
Simon in the beginning was doing miracles purely for bringing attention to himself and proving that he himself was something great. Then when he saw whatever the manifestation was of the Holy Spirit coming upon these new believers, instead of praising God and glorifying Christ – – he wanted in on the action and was even willing to pay money to get it. To him this was all still somewhat of an act, a supernatural thrill instead of having God’s heart for these new believers, and just being willing to be a conduit of His power and grace to them.
IV. Why Peter and John instead of Philip? Some have made issue with Peter and John having to come down to Samaria to do what Philip (in their mind) should have done himself – – that is making sure that these believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. These commentators or theologians believe that somehow Philip’s experience with the Holy Spirit was deficient, and/or his ability to help new believers grow in the things of the Spirit was deficient and thus Peter and John had to come and bail him out.
Allow me share a few reasons why I think that thinking itself is deficient.
1. When the church in Jerusalem – at the request of the apostles – chose seven men to help serve the widows – – they were given very specific standards for the caliber of men they were to choose; and right next to the top of their list was that they be “full of the Spirit”, “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom…” vs. 3
2. I don’t see any possible way Philip could have cast out demons and healed the sick as vs. 7 of ch. 8 tells us he did if he was not full of the Holy Spirit. And my guess is – like Stephen he learned to do this in Jerusalem and that is how the congregation knew he must be “full of the Spirit”
3. Philip was called and wired to evangelize. That was his passion. He was not an apostle nor a pastor. It was not his job to stick around and make sure these new believers got grounded in their faith and in their experience of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Evidence of that was how an angel of the Lord spoke to him – as seen in vs. 26 of ch. 8 and took him off to a desert road to speak to one unbeliever about Christ, when it could be argued he should stay there in Samaria and help these new believers. If an angel of the Lord sent him elsewhere, then the Lord knew Philip had finished his part of the mission in Samaria.
Jesus Christ – the head of the church – has always delighted in using a plurality of leadership in any given community or city to accomplish his purposes. If the church in a given locality has any sense at all, when Christ raises up an evangelist – the last thing we should do is get them bogged down in doing pastoral work. Now this doesn’t mean an evangelist should not be concerned for the spiritual growth of new believers. But it does mean – if there are pastors and apostles around to help – they should release the evangelist to keep evangelizing as much as possible.
By the way – this also does not mean pastors, teachers and apostles and even prophets should not evangelize just because we have evangelists around. Peter and John were both more pastor/apostles than they were evangelists, and yet when they started back on their journey to Jerusalem, vs. 25 says “they were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”
In closing – I just want to point out that while some watching this amazing ministry of Philip in Samaria probably thought it was a great success and was complete- – King Jesus saw it differently. He saw that these new believers didn’t have a shot at truly following Jesus unless they were baptized and filled and empowered and anointed with the Holy Spirit. Thus He sent Peter and John down to get them further established in their faith and in their experience of the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit.
1. need for evangelists in our region who are not one dimensional = they by the power of the H.S. do whatever needs to be done. All the biblical models of evangelists are such.
2. while most of us are not evangelists we are still called to evangelize just like the folks in vs. 4
3. when we evangelize, we must expect God to show up in power – whether through healing, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, casting out demons,
4. Only one time in N.T. is witness used as a verb – – something we are, not something we do
5. Philip easily could have deducted from his assignment to care for the widows and his enjoyment and skill at such that this was his gifting (service – Rom. 12) and thus that’s all He was expected to do. But Phillip’s relationship with the Holy Spirit and love for Jesus wouldn’t allow him to just serve tables – – he had to be about the mission Jesus left us with.