- Sermon Notes
Let’s look at what has recently been happening here in the book of Acts. A complaint arose in the church that the widows of the Hellenistic Jews were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Remember that at this point the church was living communally and sharing everything in common.
The disciples asked that seven men be chosen to oversee the distribution of food and to lead in these kinds of things while they focused on prayer and the ministry of God’s word.
These seven were to be men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and filled with wisdom. One of those men was Stephen. Then a certain group of Jews decided to confront Stephen, but they couldn’t cope with his wisdom or the Spirit with which he was speaking. They stirred up a crowd against him who then dragged him before the Sanhedrin.
Stephen accused them of being stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears; always resisting the Holy Spirit and that they were the betrayers and murderers of the Messiah.
The Jewish leaders erupted in anger, and gnashing their teeth at him, they dragged him out of the city and stoned him. While he was dying he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
This event touched off a firestorm of persecution against the church. Saul, amongst others, was given authority from the Jewish leaders to go after the church, entering house after house and dragging off men and women to put them in prison.
As a result of this persecution the church in Jerusalem was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Only the apostles stayed in Jerusalem.
What do we make of all of this? Everything was going so well in the church. They were being well fed from the word of God, they were breaking bread together, enjoying fellowship, they were praying together; everyone kept feeling a sense of awe and many wonders and signs were taking place.
But wait. Were they fulfilling what Jesus wanted them to do? Did God just want the church to be a Jerusalem thing; a large Kibbutz of Christians just hanging out together and enjoying the communal life? No, in Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
It reminds me a bit of the early Calvary Chapel days. Did God want all these hippies that were coming to faith in Jesus Christ just to hang out together in some kind of hippie communal living arrangement, just continuing on, learning the word of God and worshiping together? No, those same hippies went out and started Bible studies all over California, up here in Oregon, and throughout the world.
This chapter in the book of Acts is about taking the gospel and leading others to Christ. But it’s also about what it means to have authentic faith in responding to the gospel.
In this chapter we follow the story of Philip, one of the seven men chosen to help in distributing the food. After the persecution, he leaves Jerusalem. He shares the gospel with two men, one in Samaria and another on the road to Gaza.
These two men have very different responses to the gospel, and here we learn about having authentic faith.
I. Be Moved by God
- The church is being turned upside down, their peaceful, worshipful community is being broken apart. But God will use this for His glory.
- But as we saw last week, authentic faith trusts God even through trouble. In fact, one of the principles of God’s word is that God often uses trouble to accomplish His purposes in our lives.
- But faith is the key. Many times when people get into great difficulty they want to know why these things are happening.
- God does not often give an explanation. But faith trusts God’s heart for you and faith trusts God’s hand to lead you.
- When difficulties, persecution, challenges arise, that’s when you need to watch for what God is doing.
- In fact, it’s times of ease and complacency when the church becomes ineffective.
Illus - I remember hearing about a fish company that wanted to send fresh cod to the Midwest by train. It didn’t work; that is, until they added one thing…
- However, if your faith is shipwrecked and you’re angry with God because you’re going through the trouble, then your lack of faith and bitter heart will cause you to miss what God is doing.
Illus – When I was going through bible college we came to a point when we were out of food and out of money. I actually became excited because I knew this meant that God was about to do something.
- Last week we read about Joseph being betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. Many years later, after God worked through Joseph to become a governor in Egypt and save his entire family from a terrible famine, he said to his brothers…
Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
- Here in the book of Acts, God uses this persecution, this attack against the church to disperse them throughout Judea and Samaria. The gospel will soon begin to spread throughout the cities of the known world.
- Notice in verse 4 that those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. They weren’t discouraged or their faith shipwrecked, they went around telling people great things God had done.
- Philip even went to the Samaritans and shared the gospel. These were people most Jews didn’t like, but he had a heart for nonbelievers. There’s an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
- God is on the move and Philip wants to be moved by God. He has “taken hold of hope.”
Hebrews 6:18-19, “…we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…”
B. Get yourself out of the way
- As Philip is sharing the gospel in Samaria, God was also doing signs through him as unclean spirits were being cast out and the lame were healed.
- But then a man named Simon comes onto the scene. What an interesting story that unfolds next.
- Simon was quite famous in this city. He was astonishing the people with his magic arts. The whole city, from smallest to greatest, was giving attention to him saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.”
- In verse 9 it says that he claimed to be someone great. The problem was that he was a fake. He was most certainly not the Great Power of God.
- God can take someone from any background and transform him and use his life for His glory, but you have to let go of the old things, otherwise, they will still have a grip on you.
2 Corinthians 5:17, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
- Simon made a profession of faith and was even baptized. However, is it possible to believe and yet not be saved?
James 2:19, You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
John 2:23-25, Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men.
- Simon had enough experience in the occult to discern that this was real, but didn’t give his heart over to God, but this is what God is asking for.
Romans 10:10, For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Illus - But confessing with the mouth without believing with the heart is of no value. For example, my former business partner was a new believer and I came in to work one day only to find him pressuring someone to “just say the words.” This is not good.
Deuteronomy 10:12, “What does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
- So here is the problem, when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed to the laying on of hands, he offered them money so he could do the same thing. Today, if someone pays for position or influence, it’s called simony, after this man Simon.
- What’s interesting is that he could have had this for free. But Peter said to him, “Your heart is not right before God.” Simon is in the way of God moving in his life. What a great lesson.
- Peter told him to repent of this wickedness and pray for forgiveness. But Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves.”
- That’s not going to work either.
II. Let God Move through You
- After these things, they started back to Jerusalem and were preaching the gospel along the way.
- But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
- There were two main roads to Gaza and this was the worst one because it went through the desert.
- God is directing his steps and he is just on an adventure, ready to let God move through him.
- On this road he meets a man from Ethiopia. This man will come to faith, but with a good and honest heart.
A. Be ready to give an answer
- Philip is being led by the Holy Spirit and comes upon an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. He was in charge of her treasure and had to come to worship.
- The Ethiopian doesn’t know it yet, but he is also being led by the Holy Spirit. He’s sitting in his chariot reading a scroll of Isaiah and just happens to be reading Isaiah 53, probably the most powerful Old Testament chapter that speaks of Jesus Christ.
- Side note: there is only one other place in the Bible that speaks about an Ethiopian eunuch; Jeremiah 38, which interestingly enough, we were just studying at the Wednesday service.
- Don’t you wonder if he knew about that passage in Jeremiah 38? In that story also, the Ethiopian is a good man, with a good heart and God blesses him.
- The gospel has been taken to the Samaritans and now, through this Ethiopian, the gospel will be taken to Africa and the church will take hold there.
- When the Ethiopian has a question, Philip is ready.
1 Peter 3:15, Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
- From verse 35 we get the idea that Philip taught him many things in the Scriptures. No doubt because he himself had been taught well by the disciples in Jerusalem.
- As they were going along the road they came to some water and the eunuch said, “What prevents me from being baptized?”
- Philip answered, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
- This is what God desires, He wants us to believe with all our heart, to love Him, and to trust Him with all our lives. That’s what he also said to the Ethiopian eunuch in Jeremiah 39…
Jeremiah 39:17-18, “I will deliver you on that day,” declares the Lord, “I will certainly rescue you… because you have trusted in Me.”
Illus - This story always reminds me of when we were in Russia on our first trip there and baptized those that came to faith in the Amur River. Sergei is now pastor.
Acts 8:1-40 NASB
25 So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages
of the Samaritans. 26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, "Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This
is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge
of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.
29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot." 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, "Do you understand
what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: