When The Crowds Heard Philip
BY TIMOTHY LOPEZ
Key Verse 8:4
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
When Stephen was martyred at the hands of his accusers, it seemed looked like they were winning. They had resolved to silence the whole church. But contrary to their intention, they actually sparked a new stage in church history. Contrary to what they had hoped, Stephen’s martyrdom did not mark the end of the gospel work. On the contrary, their zeal to bring an end to these people was the cause of the next phase of world mission. Yet this would not be easy for the church. In fact, it would seem utterly horrible. The children of God would seem to have been abandoned, deserted, and destroyed. They would be tempted to avenge themselves. This young Jerusalem church doesn’t seem to be ready for such an occasion. But when persecution comes, when is anyone ready for it anyway? Even our Lord Jesus did not feel ready at first. But it was going to be okay! Why? Because as we’ll see in this passage, God uses even a gloomy situation like this to bring life for his precious children.
Somehow, persecution always brings life. It always seems to touch someone around who is steeped in the iron grips of sin, like Saul who stood there while Stephen was being stoned. It seems to free the heart of a witness or two as they watch or take part in this terrible act, like the soldiers at a crucifixion. The truth is that persecution gives life. To some it may wake them up in a moment, like a giant wake-up call across the face, like the Roman centurion who stood at the foot of the cross, looked at Jesus and said, “This truly is the Son of God.” And to others, like the Apostle Paul, it plants a mustard seed of the kingdom deep within the heart, and wrestles its way out slowly, and then hits them like a giant mallet across the face.
In spite of Stephen’s persecutors’ passionate hate for him and for God’s people, God used their passion as the vehicle to transition the church from exclusively ministering in Jerusalem to begin ministering to the other nations of the world, and to spread outside of Jerusalem. Though this event has a terrible side to it, we also see a wonderful thing happening. We see a young man who was willing to give his life completely for what he believed in. And his faith in Christ and his Gospel was So much so that his dying words were a plea for the forgiveness of his persecutors. As he died he was overwhelmed with concern for his persecutors. Sin is no joke. It is the sole problem of our world. It destroys this world it makes it guilty before the Holy Creator. When the heavens opened and Stephen saw the glory of God, he was terribly troubled of the reality of their having to stand before Him some day to account for their sins. And so, he prayed for their forgiveness. How wonderful it would be if apostle Paul’s conversion was an answer especially in honor to Stephen’s dying prayer.
There used to be a popular saying that if a person is not willing to die for what they believe in, then what they believe in is not worthy to live for. And what Stephen believed in was not some empty cause. But it was something that really made a difference, since what he believed in was full of life giving power. Stephen gave his life for something that gives life, and which in the end gave life to many lost souls. He gave his life as a testimony to the spiritually dead, proclaiming that the Messiah lives. He loves sinners and wants them to come to him in repentance. For a young man full of faith, a man who loved people’s souls more than his own. It seems like a terrible event. The sad thing about it is persecution is the sad effort of the world trying to rid itself of God and anything that is for him. When persecuting people, we are persecuting Christ. But if we are really shinning the light of God, our Enemy/Accuser will no doubt come after us. He will not just sit and watch while his kingdom become utterly obliterated. For the believer who is comfortable in their day to day routine, the enemy isn’t worried about you. He has the greater efforts on trying to stop those from spreading the message and love of Christ.
But here we are, with a great persecution in this passage. While the church was passionately serving God’s flock with the gospel, we see that the Holy Spirit began to stir up some hearts to begin share the gospel. Through the ministry of the apostles, hearts could not hold in the love and power of God. Members of the body shared it boldly.
After this story, Luke tells us of one of those who was scattered. Let’s read verse 5 together. “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.” Throughout all this time we haven’t heard much of Samaria since Jesus’ last visit there. The Samaritans were really a neglected people. They had a past that would make it especially challenging to bring them the gospel. Those of us who don’t know much of the history between the Samaritans and Jews can perhaps recall the passage of the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. When Jesus asked her for a drink of water she was almost in shock. Her exact words were “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” She would have never thought that a Jewish person would talk to a Samaritan. Even if they were dying of thirst, it was more acceptable by both sides for one to sit and agonize than to cross the cultural barriers and have a discussion. That says a lot about their relationship. But in spite of their uneasy past, Philip could look at Samaria and see that their fields were ripe for harvest. Laying aside their history, he does what hasn’t been done since the Christ walked the earth. He crosses over to give them the gospel.
Please don’t take this as an easy thing. It took the death of Stephen and a severe persecution for the church to bring the gospel to Samaria. Although Jesus commissioned the apostles to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, it was hard for them to leave Jerusalem. I’d like us to recall something else about Samaria. The Lord Jesus had left many believers there. Many of whom saw him and spoke with him for days. In their confession in John chapter 4:42 they say “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’” That was their confession, and yet until now no one has gone down to them. No one was willing to see the work of God there and to be a part of it until now. We can be very clever when it comes to avoiding what God would have us do. But the gospel work is too precious to be left to according to our own time table.
When Philip came to Samaria what happened? Let’s verses 6,7 “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.7For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.” When Philip came to Samaria, there no strife or conflict. He was warmly received and they had great joy in what Philip was saying and doing. God had honored his faith and poured out an abundance of blessing on Samaria. Before the persecution, Philip a great man full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom serving in a different capacity. We see a direct contrast in the way Philip was used in Jerusalem in chapter 6 verses Samaria. Not that we should despise what Philip was doing previously, as it was a very serious issue, and needed men of godly character to handle it. But God had used Philip much more in Samaria.
With this in view, let us ask ourselves a very important question. Where is Samaria? More personally, where is your Samaria? Turn to your neighbor and ask them “Where is your Samaria?” Many believers today are fearful or indifferent in regards to going somewhere else for the work of God. The fear of another environment has them stuck. The desire is to go is there. There is rejoicing when they hear of others going to follow God’s call. But we ourselves can be paralyzed by the fear of leaving home. But look at what made Philip change. It seemed like he was almost forced to obey God’s command. He was literally faced with two choices, stay and be persecuted, or go and serve God elsewhere. It really is the will of God to confront our fears and go and do what is miraculous and blessed in our lives. Samaria may be our campus, it may be our neighborhood, or a family member, or another nation. In Philips case, it may be other believers elsewhere who have already accepted the gospel. Some may already be in their Samaria by staying here at Triton. Wherever your Samaria is, before you decide to go or not go, remember that God is faithful. He is faithful to his promise, and he has promised to be with you until the end. If we obey his will and follow his leading, we are bound to see miracles and great joy.
Let’s read verses 9-13. The gospel message had touched all different kinds of people. Even someone like Simon, a magician/sorcerer, wanted to be baptized when he heard the gospel. When he heart it, his heart was deeply moved by the mercy of God. Simon had just come from a life of having many followers. He didn’t seem like someone who had hit rock bottom before he came to Christ. He was excellent at what he did. No one could out do him. His confidence was through the roof, and his performances always seemed to light up the faces of his audience. Scripture says that many people followed him for a long time. They were placed in such an awe of Simon that they called him the “The Great Power of God!” What a title. But when Philip came everyone was so moved by the love of God that they wanted to see and learn more. So they followed Philip to see more of Christ. What does this teach us? Turn to your neighbor and say “What does this teach us?” It teaches us that people’s hearts are never really satisfied by the power and wonders of the world. Whatever doesn’t point to our hearts to God, usually leaves the soul running dry. People amaze people everyday with knowledge, skills, accomplishments, things that look almost like magical feats. But all things of this world can never satisfy a person’s heart. People in their heart of hearts really want Christ. Even Simon followed Philip once his heart was warmed by the love of Christ.
But Simon began to struggle with a different motive in his heart. At first, when he heard the gospel of love, he saw his sin. He realized that he was receiving the glory that is due God. He realized that he suffered with an empty heart despite all the attention he was getting. Though he had received the gospel, he fell into the temptation of self-glory after watching Philip. It isn’t easy, especially for the believer who’s been high on the attention of others to turn and be content with God’s love alone. In this state, Simon was paralyzed and in agony. His eyes could not see the wonderful work of God that had been going on. He couldn’t see the love of God manifesting itself high and low throughout the land. Though he pledged to follow Christ all his days, he allowed his heart to be amazed by all the things that Philip did. Sometimes it seemed like all he could see was the missed opportunity taken by the new young talent in town. While the whole city was filled with joy, Simon was filled with bitter jealousy.
Let’s read verses 14-17. Turning our attention to the Apostles, the Jerusalem church sent Peter and John. As the church was growing outside of Jerusalem, the Apostles also had to be a part of it. They too needed to obey Jesus command and participate in this work. When the persecution came, they stayed in Jerusalem with a good heart. They most likely stayed back with the heart of a martyr. Thinking, “The church here needs us. We’ll die here too if it’s the Lord’s will.” But there was something great that had taken place outside of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem church had to accept the Samaritans believers as their brothers in the Lord. In the same way the Samaritan church had to accept the Jerusalem church and the Apostles for who they were. Such a big resolution had to be done by the leaders of the church. Therefore, on this special occasion, God withheld the impartation of the Holy Spirit until the Apostles came down. It was done by the laying on of hands. The Apostles had to lay brotherly hands on all the Samaritans so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. And thus, centuries-long strife between the Jews and Samaritans had ended, and the church was no longer divided. God never wants to see his church divided. It is important that all divisions within the body are swiftly dealt or else it would be the utter demise of the church. As Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Members of the body that choose to remain in quarrels or conflict hinder the work and fellowship of God. What a wonderful work of God that happened as both sides humbly came together. Servants of God eventually always reach the right decision, even if at first they don’t like what they have to do. Afterwards, I’m sure a still peaceful heavenly fellowship was enjoyed. At least by most of the people.
Let’s read verses 18-23. If our heart is not right before God, we have no part or share in the ministry of the gospel. If our motives are not pure, then we are kept from participating in the fellowship of gospel ministry. Not just anyone can have the honor of serving the work of God. One must examine if their heart is right first. It is not something that we do when we feel like it or don’t, and certainly not to our own profit, or just because we have an opinion. Those who do it for their own gain are not doing the work of God but their own work. But still, sometimes even genuine believers become distracted or unguarded. We are tempted to compare ministries. We are tempted to be competitive. To have most followers, or to deliver best messages. All to receive honor from people. Simon was so desperate for this honor that he thought he’d offer Peter money to get it. He probably thought that Simon was just another person like him. He thought people can do what you ask of them if the price is right. But the perishable cannot buy what’s imperishable. The currency of heavenly treasures is faith and humility. Sometimes our prayers for gifts are never answered because we approach the gates of heaven with the wrong currency, the wrong heart, the wrong motives. Sometimes we have the motives of Simon. Simon’s heart was bitter. And his life would come to shambles if kept seeking human recognition, especially while trying to serve God. So Peter, in love for Simon sharply rebuked him. It was sweet medicine that Simon needed. Simon repented right away as he asked Peter for help and prayer. Only a genuine believer with a sincere desire to honor and serve God can ask a mature servant of God for help and prayer.
Look at verse 24 & 25. The Apostles effort to come and bless the Samaritans opened up many other doors to further the work of God in Samaria. The work of God must always go on until our Lord Jesus returns.