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You will be my witnesses

Back to all sermons Acts of the Holy Spirit

Date: June 19, 2022

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit

Scripture: Acts 8:1–40

This morning we are continuing through the book of Acts, the story of the early church. It has been quite an exciting ride for the early disciples so far. They had been following Jesus, convinced that he was the Messiah, the one who would overthrow their Roman oppressors and restore Israel to its former glory. But Jesus was brutally crucified, nailed to a cross, crushing his followers. But Jesus rose from the dead, proclaiming to them that His mission was not to overthrow Rome but to destroy the power of a bigger enemy, the devil, to overthrow death, to make a way by His death for people around the world, whose sins had separated them from God, to be brought back into relationship with God, both now and beyond the grave.

 

After his resurrection, Jesus spends time over a period of 40 days with his disciples. He then ascends to heaven, and sends His Holy Spirit to be the presence and power of God inside each believer. Remember that before he ascended, Jesus said to his disciples in Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Since then, the transformed disciples have been boldly sharing about Jesus’ death for their sins and his resurrection and triumph over death, calling people to turn from their sin and self-centeredness to faith in Jesus, and thousands of people are coming to faith in Jesus. A multi-ethnic community has formed in Jerusalem that is growing like crazy, devoted to following Jesus and caring for everyone’s needs. But by the end of chapter 7, one thing has not yet happened – they have not yet left Jerusalem or Judea to follow Jesus’ commands to be his witnesses in Samaria and the ends of the earth. But in the beginning of chapter 8, a great persecution breaks out, and the disciples are scattered. It's a reminder that sometimes it takes an inciting incident to move us out of our comfort zone into the future God has called us to. This morning, chapter 8 will focus on the ministry of Philip, one of the men raised up in chapter 6 to be a servant in the church.

 

Acts 8 - 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.  2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.  4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.  5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.  6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.  7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.  8 So there was great joy in that city.  9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great,  10 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."  11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.  12 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.  13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.  14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,  16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.  18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money  19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."  20 Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!  21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."  24 Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."  25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. 26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road-- the desert road-- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."  27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,  28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.  29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."  30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.  31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth."  34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?"  35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.  36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"  37   38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.  39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. 

 

There is a great shift happening in this chapter, from a church in Jerusalem under the leadership of the apostles to a scattered church, where the apostles remain in Jerusalem and the members all become the ministers. Evangelism is the task of every follower of Jesus, not for professionals. So if it’s for all of us, then what do we learn from this passage about Jesus’ call on us to be His witness?

 

  • We are proclaiming good news, not good advice

 

4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (euangelio – to preach the good news)

 

5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. – Philip proclaimed the Christ there. (kerusso – to herald)

 

12 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.  – he preached the good news of the kingdom (euangelio – to preach the good news)

 

The gospel is the Greek word euangelion, which means good news or good message. News means that it is about what has happened already. It contains the word angelion – angels, heavenly messengers or heralds. Heralds come to proclaim a message, to tell what has happened. They can not change the message, but must deliver it faithfully. The gospel is good news about something that has happened, not good advice about what you must do.

 

As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 - Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,  8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

 

We are to proclaim who Jesus was and what he did. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. It’s not good advice about what you should do, like follow the eightfold path, or the five pillars, or the ten commandments, to find God and be right with Him. No – proclaim what Jesus has done. This is the news: Jesus Christ died for your sins, that you might be reconciled to God and have eternal life. That Jesus is the eternal King, and that you are invited into His kingdom, to live under His loving reign. Do you receive it? Do you believe it?

 

In fact, look at what Peter says to Simon the sorcerer when he tries to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit:

 

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money  19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."  20 Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 

 

The gospel is a gift, freely given, eternal life offered to all. A gift that can not be bought or earned, available to all.

 

As witnesses to Jesus, we are called to proclaim good news, not good advice. Notice that it can take various means. Mass evangelism in Samaria. One-on-one Bible study with an Ethiopian. But the calling on each believer is to proclaim the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ. Repent and believe the good news.

 

  • We invite people into an inclusive community without division

 

The word “inclusive” may strike you as an interesting choice, since often the church does not get the reputation of being inclusive. But let me explain what I mean. In chapter 8, Philip brings the gospel to the Samaritans and the Ethiopians. The Samaritans were enemies of Israel, seen as heretical outsiders because they had abandoned the Old Testament worship of God and were racially and religiously mixed. Ethiopians were as far off a civilization as they knew. But now, after the Spirit has come, the disciples are sent to not only Jerusalem and Judea but also to Samaria and the ends of the earth. We are called to form a community that cuts across every barrier that divides humans.

 

This has always been the mission. Remember Jesus’ great commission:

 

Matthew 28:18-20 - Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

 

All nations. And more specifically, as Jesus said to his disciples in Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Make disciples of all nations and baptize them into one family, one community. Is this just so Jesus can boast of having the biggest religion? NO! It is a rescue mission, because He is the answer to the separation between God and people, between people and each other, between people and nature. Heal the division of this world by reconciling people to God and to each other.

 

The gospel is radically inclusive, a free gift offered to every human being in every culture. The disciples are building a wonderful church in Jerusalem, but that is not the whole mission God has given them, so He allows for persecution to push them out until they bring the good news to all of Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 

Acts 8:14-17 - When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,  16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 

 

This passage has been used by some to argue that there is a separate “baptism of the Holy Spirit” in which people speak in tongues and gain more power for life and ministry. But I don’t think that is the point of this passage. The conversion of the Samaritans was such a momentous thing that Peter and John have to come down to authenticate, to see what the Spirit is doing. These are your brothers and sisters in Christ now. And then in the second half of the chapter, we find the Spirit sending Philip to minister to an Ethiopian eunuch – a sexually altered, racial outsider. The gospel is radically inclusive, open to everyone across all cultures and life situations.

 

One of the amazing things about Christianity is just how cross-cultural it is. Most religions are still for the most part existing where they were founded.

 

96% of Muslims live in the Middle East

88% Buddhists live in East Asia

98% Hindus live in India or South Asia

 

But the center of Christianity has moved, from the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe, to North America, and now to the global South: Latin America, Africa. And it growing exponentially now in Asia: Korea, China.

 

But look at Christianity: 631 million in Africa, 601 million in Latin America, Europe million in 571, Asia million in 388, 277 million in North America, and 29 million in Oceania. Christianity embraces yet challenges every culture. The gospel of sacrificial love is a story that transcends culture.

 

What does that tell you? Christianity is radically inclusive across cultures. Listen to how Paul put it:

 

Galatians 3:28-29 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

 

Colossians 3:11 - Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is how the world’s divisions will be healed and united. We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and we all need to be welcomed into an inclusive community without division. This is so vital in every generation, but certainly in today’s increasingly polarized society.

 

If you have not noticed, American culture is taking an increasingly disastrous approach to establishing a just and united community. The approach, commonly known as critical theory or critical race theory, is this: see everything through the lens of power and oppression. Divide people into groups based on categories such as race, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, and class. See one group as the privileged, oppressor group, and the other as the targeted or oppressed group. Instead of emphasizing our common humanity and striving for a world of love and justice for all, emphasize what divides us. Then try to elevate those who are historically targeted or oppressed while silencing or sidelining those who have historically been members of privileged groups. Change laws and policies to encourage equity – equality of outcome – as much as possible.

 

This is a dangerous thing. As the economist Milton Friedman wrote, “A society that puts equality – in the sense of equality of outcome – ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”

 

Think of the communist and socialist movements of the 20th century, that in the name of equality ended in mass murder and genocide and oppression. And if you have eyes to see it, look at how the way politicians and corporations and online mobs push for equality is slowly but surely destroying freedoms, especially freedom of speech, in the universities, in the workplaces, and one day possibly even in the church. There is a better way.

 

Notice that the Biblical vision is people from all different backgrounds receiving the gracious gift of God’s salvation, forgiveness, empowerment by His Spirit, learning to live together and love each other to the glory of God. Everything that might divide us in the world comes down in the family of God, so that our primary identity marker is that of Christian, one who belongs to Jesus. We are Christian first, Chinese or Peruvian second. We are Christian first, male or female second. We are Christian first before we are upper, middle or lower class. And lest you think this creates some kind of us vs. them dynamic between religions, remember that if we truly believe that we are saved by grace and that the doors stand open to all who would trust in Christ, then we have no grounds on which to look down on any other person in this world. We have nothing in ourselves to boast about; we are saved by God’s undeserved grace. We can love and not look down on everyone else who disagrees with us, all while inviting them into this inclusive community.

 

We invite people into an inclusive community without division. If everyone around you looks like you, go out and seek out believers who are different than you. The Spirit has to send Philip out of his comfort zone.

 

  • We invite people to Jesus as both Savior and Lord

 

There is one important distinction to how I am using the world “inclusive” vs. how the world uses it. We invite people to know Jesus not just as Savior, but Jesus as Lord. To know Jesus not just as the one who died on the cross for their sins, but as the eternal King to whom every knee should bow. Again, listen to Jesus’ great commission:

 

Matthew 28:18-20 - Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

 

The gospel is radically inclusive. All are welcome into God’s family. But the gospel is also transformative. No one who comes to Jesus will stay the same. His Holy Spirit will convict of sin and will work to transform us into the image of Jesus. He wants all of us. We are called to become disciples, following Jesus, imaging our master, learning to obey everything he has commanded because His commands bring life. Our hearts, Christ’s home. Our relationships, work life, family life, sexuality, free time.  In Acts 8, we have Simon coming to Jesus but still seeking His own glory. The gospel is not about us. It is about becoming a part of God’s mission to rescue people from sin and death.

 

The gospel is radically inclusive, yet also a call to radical obedience. God loves you just as you are, but loves you too much to let you stay the way you are. He wants you to be just like Jesus.

 

If you do not know Jesus but would like to, you can pray something like:

 

Jesus, I believe that you are Savior and Lord. I believe that you died for my sins, and that when I turn from my sinful, self-centered way of life to faith in you, I am saved from sin and death. I come to you this morning not only as Savior but as Lord, submitting every area of my life to your good and loving leadership. Amen.

 

And if you do know Jesus, let’s recommit ourselves this morning to the mission He has called us to:

 

Matthew 28:18-20 - Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."