Today we are continuing our study of the book of Acts, giving you a preview of the TV series A.D. The prevailing theme, as it has been, is the persecution that the church experienced as they moved out fulfilling the great commission. But the interesting thing is that they only moved out of the upper room. In spite of Christ’s command, they never left Jerusalem, but they remained there in a holy huddle, at least until extreme persecution forced them to flee. And we find that historical biblical account, recorded in Acts chapter 8 at verse three where it says: “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
Now Stephen was stoned to death, we saw that last week, and now Saul was like a wild beast stalking its prey, he was not seeking God, but for the followers of God. In the blindness of his religiosity, clouded by his great knowledge, a raging fury obsessed him, and he began ravaging the homes of believers. Unwittingly he was serving God and he was actually furthering the cause of Christ. He was helping to fulfill the great commission, as he was the catalyst that caused the Christians to spread out “to all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
And you know, just like us, we too often find it hard to recognize it the moment it happens, but when we go through difficult situations and endure hardship, in hindsight, many times we can see God’s will at work. We often discover that through that momentary hardship it was simply part of God working out his perfect will in our life. And this morning, here in the book of Acts, we find a perfect example of that very thing. In the midst of extreme persecution a man, one like the martyr Stephen, rose up from the ministry of a deacon, of one who served, to that of an evangelist. And like Stephen, Philip proclaims the message of Christ boldly and powerfully through the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders following. Philip was one, like Stephen, who was responsive to the Holy Spirit and seized the moment; doing what God wanted him to do. And like the Old Testament prophet Samuel, he responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). You know, how easily could he have resisted and argued. I mean here he was in Jerusalem serving the church, having a fruitful ministry, when suddenly the Church was scattered like seeds scattered by a farmer, and the Church went out preaching the word and planting the Gospel wherever they went. Let’s read together from Acts 8 at verse 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.” (NIV)
Isn’t that incredible? You know, there’s this great move to wipe out the church from the face of the earth. The church scatters and we see Philip moves to Samaria picking up right where he left off. Immediately he starts talking about Jesus and in spite of those who attempted to silence the message of the resurrection, this all surpassing power from God, is so much greater than their efforts and more and more people are meeting Jesus anyway.
And you know what’s amazing is that the ministry of Phillip’s in Samaria looks just like the ministry of Jesus. It does, because it was through the power of the Spirit that “he proclaimed the Christ there.” That’s what it says. His message is that he preached the Christ and isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? He went from village to village proclaiming himself as the Christ who would usher in the kingdom of God and make things right with God and his people. And so here in Samaria, people are not only hearing about Jesus, but they’re seeing the power of Jesus manifested so that those who are possessed by evil spirits are freed, those who are sick and handicapped are healed, and in verse eight it says there’s great joy. Isn’t that awesome? I hope that encourages you, particularly as we look at the condition of our own world today.
You know we talked about this a little bit last Wednesday night in Bible study. Our culture today is growing increasingly hostile and intolerant towards Jesus and Christians. Have you noticed that? Just watch, read, or browse a few articles or shows and you’ll find open hostility against Christians and Christian beliefs. And honestly it’s easy to feel disheartened because things are getting worse and worse. Our culture today is becoming more and more resistant to Jesus and as I see laws that are being passed today that have the potential for great persecution. So far no one’s being imprisoned or executed for our belief in Jesus, but its looming on the horizon, because there’s resistance to the Gospel.
On the bright side, we don’t need to be fearful or discouraged because as the apostle John wrote, “You are from God and…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). So no matter how people try to quiet our message, to stop this movement, the Holy Spirit empowers us and works through us. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). And so the power of the Holy Spirit in us who believe is greater than any persecution. The Holy Spirit isn’t intimidated, and the Holy Spirit isn’t stopping, because the Holy Spirit is working to see the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
Number two, the Holy Spirit overcomes the darkness. Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read verses 9 through 11 and realize that the city of Samaria had been captivated by dark spiritual forces. The Bible teaches that we live in a supernatural world, with unseen forces around us, and things happen on a regular basis that challenge reason, confront science, and just don’t make sense from a human perspective. And the Bible tells us that some of these things originate from God as he does good things that draw our attention to his glory; but there are also dark spiritual forces, created beings that are demons, fallen angels, led by Satan in opposition to God, and capable of producing counterfeit miracles for the sake of drawing people away from God; as Jesus said, “to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10).
Now in verse 9, it says that there was a “man named Simon who had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria.” We don’t know exactly what he did, but we do know that he put on quite a show. He boasted that he was somebody great, he drew quite a crowd of people from all walks of life, the Bible says from “both high and low” and they exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." So these people had followed him for quite some time because he had “amazed” them with his magic.
That is until Philip comes. Philip comes in the power of the Holy Spirit, and now the whole community stopped paying attention to Simon, because the true light that gives light to every man has come into the world (John 1:9). Philip preaches Jesus, people are healed, evil spirits are cast out, and the Holy Spirit is working powerfully drawing those who were once in darkness into the light. Those who were once alienated from God and captivated by Simon’s false spirituality were set free.
Verse 12-13 says, “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. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”
Through the Holy Spirit there was a great awakening in Samaria and it was just as the apostle Paul wrote to the church of Ephesus… "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:14). They had been awakened from their spiritual slumber as the Holy Spirit overcame the darkness making it clear that Jesus Christ is Lord, that every created thing is under his authority, and that there is no power above his. So the Holy Spirit drew the attention of the people to the one who has all authority and all power. “They believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12).
And the Holy Spirit brought great joy. Verses 7-8 tell us, “With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” Those who were once far away were now brought near through the blood of Christ. Philip came and preached peace to those who were far away. He preached Christ to those who have been separate, divided, and alienated from the people of God. He preached that through Christ they may have access to God and peace with the Father by powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.
Look again at verse 14, “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John...” When the apostles heard they were shocked, because the Samaritans were people whom they considered to be the farthest from God. The idea that God would save them was beyond their wildest imagination. You see the Samaritans were mixed breeds, remnants of the 10 northern tribes of the nation of Israel that went into captivity in Assyria in 722 B.C. But the few that remained in northern Israel began to intermarry with other nations and races even though God warned them not to. So from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, the Samaritans were traitors and heretics; ascribing to a false religion that was doctrinally invalid. No one would ever believe that the Samaritans would respond to God and believe in Jesus.
So they sent Peter and John to check it out and verse 15-17 says, “When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Now this is an interesting passage, because it says “the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” Now the way it’s phrased is confusing, because the Bible says that “We are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus and all who were baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). That “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). And that, “No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). So the moment a person receives Jesus Christ they are spiritually baptized into Christ and the Holy Spirit comes into their lives. So what is it that Peter and John saw that they lacked? The Samaritans had believed, they were baptized in water, and yet the apostles prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit. They immediately recognized that they didn’t have power. They hadn’t had the empowering experience like the apostles experienced on the Day of Pentecost. As Jesus said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).
For the disciples in Samaria to be effective witnesses of the good news of the resurrected Christ and to perpetuate the joy they had experienced when Philip came and preached, they too needed to be baptized in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. They too needed to be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit, that empowering experience of the Holy Spirit falling upon them, subsequent to their salvation, where they are gifted with the power of God’s Holy Spirit. And so the apostles prayed and the Holy Spirit falls upon them, anointing them with power, to serve and worship God with great joy.
As we close this morning, I don’t want you to miss this, because what’s going on here speaks volumes about who God is and what he wants to do through us. You see, we have a God who created us and loves us so much, that he paid the highest price to save us so that he could live among us. Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again, so that he could send the Holy Spirit. And the Bible gives us these encouraging words in 2 Corinthians 6:16-17, “We are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.” So we know that God’s presence, God’s temple, is the people belonging to Jesus that are filled with the Holy Spirit.
What an amazing gift that is. To think that God couldn’t stand to be apart from us, to remain at a distance as an onlooker, just looking at things going on in our lives, but unable to enter into our world and to live among us. He couldn’t do that, he couldn’t stand that, he loved us too much, and so we get to enjoy his presence. We get to come together and enjoy the presence of the living God who loves us to the point that he would die… to live among us.
This morning, Peter and John came, the Spirit of God has fallen, and you need to know if you are aware of his presence? Have you experienced his power? You see, we need a power beyond ourselves for service and ministry in Christ’s Kingdom. We can serve God, we can make disciples, and we can have some degree of success without the power of the Holy Spirit; but when we do we are undertaking a supernatural task with limited power. And Jesus never wanted us to rely on our own ability to do the work of the ministry. He wants to do it through us.
God’s will is that we would be baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) and in the original language it means to be continually filled. And so as we allow God to work through us, yielding to his Spirit, encouraging the Holy Spirit to fill us more and more, we are empowered by the Spirit to reproduce the works of Jesus. We are empowered with his ability as gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifested in our lives.
So once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, having confessed all known sin, and made your heart ready for his infilling; you just have to ask God to fill you with the Spirit. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). And then secondly, this is important, you believe the promise of God, you believe that you have received this gift from God, as the apostle Paul asked, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2). Obviously the answer is by faith. You believe that if you ask like Jesus said you will receive. As we close would you do that? Would you be mindful of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us? Would you invite the Holy Spirit to make himself known?
I will close with this last Scripture as we begin to worship. The psalmist in Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence is the fullness of joy.” When we see the Holy Spirit being poured out in the book of Acts among the people of God, they respond with great joy. In the power of the Holy Spirit, as you and I move forward in these last days, let’s be far more aware of his presence as we’re filled with the fullness of joy.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
May 17, 2015