May 12, 2019
Dr. Ricky Smith
God’s mission is unstoppable!
If you have been part of this journey that the church has been going on now for several weeks through the book of Acts, the comments that I make will not be a surprise to you. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor later, go back and listen to those sermons, watch them online, or even read through on your own Acts chapters one through seven because there’s a lot that has set the stage. In my mind though the grand theme off the book of Acts is Jesus establishing his church here on earth and sending his people out to grow his church, moving from where they were locally in Jerusalem to all of the nations. It is this wonderful story that’s filled with twists and turns in the plot with villains and heroes all throughout the great story of Acts that we have been studying.
I think where we get today in Acts chapter eight, it’s really important that you rewind and remember a key verse in Acts 1:8. In fact, it is this key verse that we will see today. Here’s what Jesus said as he commissioned his church and sent them out. He sets the stage for the entire book of Acts here when he says this, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus started this mission. God’s mission is unstoppable. In fact, that’s a statement I would encourage you to write down in your notes because that will come up recurring over and over again with us. God has set his people on a mission after his death, burial and resurrection. We just read in Acts 1:8 that he sent his apostles out to advance and establish his church. You and I today are a part of that same mission. You and I are today all across the world, collectively, part of the body of Christ, sent to proclaim in advance his name. We have the joy and the privilege to be a part of that mission.
1. Committed Missionary
Acts 8:4-8 (CSB)
4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
There is a person that I think we need to pay attention to, and a place that we need to recognize. Let’s begin with the person Philip. If you remember a few weeks ago when we looked at Acts chapter six, Philip was one of these recognized laymen, people in the church that were called out by apostles to do service. It kind of established this idea of deacon lead ministry. This is that same Philip, that Hellenistic Jew, that Greek speaking Jew, that is now running for his life. I think it’s noteworthy that he didn’t run for his life running away from Saul and go hide in a cave. Instead, he ran to the mission of God. He ran straight into the mandate of God. What we see him doing is going to Samaria and proclaiming the good news. Proclaiming comes from the Greek word kerusso. It literally means to make a public proclamation.
This is what I think is important for all of us to note about Philip, because in reality he’s a lot like me and you. Philip was just an ordinary man sent away from a place that he loved on a mission for God. That one mission was to proclaim the truth of God publicly. That’s who he was. That’s what he did. But where did he go? He went to Samaria. Again, connected back to Acts 1:8. This is part of God’s unstoppable plan.
As we look at Samaria, I think what we have to pay attention to is both a place and a person. Do you mind if we kind of Mister Rogers neighborhood style go on a quick history lesson here? We need to pay attention to this place called Samaria. It will go all the way back to First Kings chapters 11-14. What happens is the nation of Israel is torn in two. Two of the twelve tribes established Judah. Ten of the twelve tribes move north to set up their capital in Samaria and they’re the northern tribes of Israel. As a group of people, all throughout the books of First Kings and even in Second Kings, we read that repeatedly they chose to forsake the faith of David and they choose to follow the idols of the land. They were an idolatrous people who had turned their back on God in this place of Samaria.
I think it’s important that God sent him to Samaria for the purpose of reclaiming all of the nation of Israel back together into this great swelling move of the Holy Spirit. I think this place is important. In fact, it was the nation of Assyria in 722 B.C. that came into Samaria and took them captive. Now what the Assyrians would often do in one of their military tactics, is they would claim captive a group of people, take them out of their homeland, and plant them into another place. They would force them to be refugees. For them that was a tactical move, because their thought was, “If we force the people that we’ve conquered to move out of their homeland, we reduce the likelihood that they’re going to rise up and rebel to reclaim what was theirs. We’re going to force them to live in a different place.” So, if you look in Second Kings chapter sixteen, we see this story of where the Assyrians had conquered the northern tribe of Israel in Samaria and brought in all of these other people they had conquered. What then begins to happen is the Israelite people begin to intermarry with the Canaanite people. So, this place that was once the northern tribe of Israel now becomes a group of people that are rejected because they had forsaken their faith and they were racially discriminated against because they had intermarried and were no longer the pure Jewish faith. Do you see where this is a problem?
Now we have the people and the place in Samaria that God has intentionally sent Philip to proclaim the good news of the gospel for a few reasons, in my opinion. One, to reclaim these ten tribes of Israel to be experiencing of this Pentecost. In fact, we’ll see in a minute, kind of a second Pentecost comes to usher them into this great movement of God. The second reason I think is for you and I to understand regardless of your past, regardless of your history, regardless of how you may feel as though you have been rejected or mistreated, you are invited into God’s family and you are invited into God’s mission. That is a cause for celebration.
The unstoppable mission of God takes you to hard places.
2. Confusing Message
This is important for us to understand because the unstoppable mission of God will oftentimes take us to hard places and it will even ask us to do some hard things. Let’s look at this confusing message.
9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and amazed the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God.” 11 They were attentive to him because he had amazed them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.
In my current role as a state missionary in Georgia we do a lot of youth events. A lot of times we will contract out with illusionists to come to an event for students. A lot of times we use a magic trick that has an object lesson to it to point back into the story or the Gospel truth of that day. I’ve been able to hang out with a lot of musicians over the last year or two. Here’s what’s interesting. Regardless of the flash, the lights, the smoke and the mirrors, all of them work on this basic principle – I’m going to distract your focus over here so that I’m free to make this move over here and voila we’ve got a trick. It’s consistently all about distracting my focus so that I can make a move. There is so much here that I think the casual observer would be fascinated to understand. They may think, “Well, let me learn about sorcery. Let me learn about magicians and wizardry in ancient times.” In my opinion, we have to be careful not to allow that flash to cause us to get distracted from what I believe is the main point of these verses together.
The Samaritan people who were receiving this message of the Gospel through the voice of Philip were actually a very religious and spiritualized group of people but they were distracted. See, there was a remnant, a sect of Samaritans that there, even to this day, who would say they were the true remnant and following the line of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two of the tribes of Israel. Even to this day, there is a small sect of these people that still rigidly and religiously practice their faith according to their scripture. That’s where it gets a little interesting. The Samaritan people had their own translation of Scripture, their own version of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. It was similar, but it was different. They were religiously following this faith but unfortunately, they were not worshipping the one true God. They were led astray by their best of intentions, of pursuing some level of faith. That’s important for us to note.
In fact, even in the Samaritan language, their words would use the great and powerful God. You see that here when we read of Simon, he’s even given that title. What I think we can deduce from that pretty carefully without reading into the text a whole lot is that the people of the Samaritan community looked at Simon, and whether they attributed to him that he was God, they at least attributed to him that he had the power of a god. They had elevated this person to a point that they began to follow a man rather than follow the one true God. That is the point of a warning for us here. That’s the message. There is great danger for you and I. This happens really easily, if we begin to follow a man rather than following the one true God. It’s really easy for us to get captivated. Maybe in your home, in your work, in your community, or even in Jesus’s church, it’s a dangerous for us to elevate a man over the person of God.
What I think was beautiful for the people of Samaria to see was this person, Simon, that they’ve viewed at least have some power of God or be an angel of God or possess the power of God, is they watched him bow and submit to the one true God and to follow in baptism. Some scholars will debate whether or not Simon’s conversion was real and true. But at least on the surface, what we see was that he believed, he was baptized, and he followed Philip in some type of an apparent discipleship journey. So, there’s some question there. The point here is that we have to be careful what we’re tied to. The unstoppable mission of God will take you hard places. It will cause you to do hard things. And, the unstoppable mission of God requires that we walk in teamwork.
The unstoppable mission of God requires teamwork.
3. Confirmed Mission
You see this mission that Phillip started where he took the good news and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God to the people of Samaria. The apostles back in Jerusalem started to hear wind of this and they sent Peter and John to go check this out. Peter and John were two of the guys that were around the table that had commissioned Philip to do service and ministry for God. Here they come to confirm what had happened.
14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit because he had not yet come down on any of them. 16 (They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
If you’re using a paper Bible, circle the word Jerusalem, circle the word Samaria, and draw an arrow from one to the other. This is what’s important. What God is doing here, in his unstoppable and great mission, is he is moving the church from being exclusive to the Jewish faith in Jerusalem to be inclusive of all the nations. We begin to see Acts 1:8 be lived out.
Now I don’t know about you. When I first read this passage, it’s a little confusing on the surface, is it not? Because when I read, especially when I pay attention verse sixteen, this parenthetical. They went because they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Well, the last time I checked and the last time I read Romans, that seems to be enough, doesn’t it? Like what is missing here? It’s important that you pause and recognize Acts in its grand story, is transitional in nature. It is really dangerous for anybody to look at the early chapters in Acts and develop any doctrine of salvation. In fact, there have been many denominations that have split in the Protestant church because of that. We say, “Oh, well, there’s kind of two baptisms now that happened in our faith.” That’s not what this is teaching. Be careful that you don’t let your mind go there. This is not a statement of how or what is required for salvation, because we believe and we practice it here religiously as a Baptist church, that the waters of baptism are for making a public declaration to the world that Jesus is my Lord. Romans tells us clearly that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you are saved. Amen to that. We believe that. We profess that. We lived that out. When we apply that truth that’s unchanging here to Acts 8:16, we can easily get confused.
Let’s go back to what we said a minute ago about the people and the place of Samaria. God is moving his church from being perceived to be exclusive to one that is inclusive. He’s moving his church to be Jewish in Jerusalem, to all of the nations. We read the power of Acts chapter two where God had brought these scattered Jews together. We see now there’s this northern tribe in Samaria and these people that have been rejected. God is trying to make a broad statement here of unity. I want to bring my church together. I want to bring my church all under the power and the authority to be led by the Holy Spirit. That is something to celebrate. As we’re unified together in this common pursuit of Jesus, there’s a lot that we should pause and celebrate. I mean, let’s reflect on your life for a minute while I reflect on mine. I encourage you to think in your own life. What’s God done for you? How has he blessed you? Do you remember what life was like without him? Are you thankful that he’s forgiven you? Are you thankful that he saved you? Are you thankful that he is slow to anger, patient and abounding in love? Are you grateful that he gives you second, third, fourth, twenty-fifth and fifty-fifth chances because we continue to fail over and over again? Are you thankful where he has restored broken relationships in your life? Are you thankful that he gives you a reason to get up every day? Are you thankful that he even allowed you to wake up this morning and the very life and breath that you have is a gift from him? That’s something to celebrate, folks.
In fact, I would invite you to share something that you celebrate that Jesus has done for you today. It could be one word or one sentence. That may have felt awkward, but it really didn’t need to because we’re bragging on Jesus. We’re celebrating what he’s done in our life. Church, recognize that he’s deserving of our praise. He’s worthy of our accolades. He has given you life and breath. If you follow him, he has taken you as a dead person and brought you back to life. That is something to celebrate every single day and every single moment. He is a good, good God, and he has invited us to be in an unstoppable mission.
Sometimes that unstoppable mission that will lead us to hard places, forces us to do hard things that will require teamwork, and will require us to have some hard conversations. This is painful. I mean, if you’re a manager or a small business owner, have you ever had to have those hard conversations with an employee where you had to sit across the table maybe because of an economic downturn and, you had to say, “Sorry, we’ve got to terminate this relationship.”? Or even harder than that, you’re a parent and you’re trying to disciple your kid, and you’re watching them begin to make choices that you have the intuition and foresight to know that it’s going to lead them in a path of darkness and ungodliness. You try with grace to have that conversation with him. That’s hard, because the depth of your love is connected to that conversation, and it’s really, really difficult. Even harder than that. Have you ever had those moments where you loved a brother and sister in Christ so much that you had to sit down with him man to man, woman to woman and confront them about sin in their life? That’s hard. Yes, it is a part of proclaiming the Gospel in our home, in our workplace, or in the marketplace, but sometimes it even requires us to have hard conversations when we see those around us living in a way that displeases God. That’s what we see here as we continue to learn, and we recognize a condemned man.
The unstoppable mission of God requires hard conversations.
4. Condemned Man
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.” 24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” 25 So, after they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
These hard conversations were difficult. We see Peter and John who came to Jerusalem and had this great moment of celebration. Then there’s a hard turn where that celebration turns into a conversation of condemnation. Their words were stern. Their words were forceful. Their words were necessary. We see Simon asking a question in verse nineteen, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” Ricky’s translation of that question is he said, “Hey, guys, what’s in this for me?” That’s in essence, what he said. He has taken the powerful move of God and beginning to see, “How can I turn this for my own personal gain?” His selfish ambition and his pride begin to get in the way. He begins to look out for himself.
If you read commentaries, you’re going to find many scholars debate whether Simon was truly converted to Christ. Some would say this was a point of auto correct. Others would say this is evidence that Simon was never really saved. I think regardless of where you land on that issue, the principle is still true. Here we have a person who was clearly walking in sin, who had clearly allowed his own selfish ambition to take precedence over the mission of God, and the one answer that applied was repent. Now that’s not a word that we use in our common language every day, maybe we should use it more. It simply means you’re wrong and you didn’t make some changes. You have steered off course from the mission of God, and you’ve got to get things right between you and him because this is dangerous to you. It’s a threat to the mission of God. There was a clear indictment here that he must be repentant.
I would want you notice two things. In verse twenty-two I want you to underline or circle the word repent. In verse twenty-four, I want you to pay attention to when Simon says, “Pray to the Lord for me.” Here are two truths that I think are important for us to recognize. One, repentance is required to be obedient to God. We have to be careful when we allow our own agenda to be bigger than God’s agenda. That’s a dangerous place. For even those of us in the room who faithfully follow God, I’m just telling you because we’re wired as a sinner that is an easy path for us to begin to follow and to get sucked into this drive for selfish ambition and drive for agenda. The reality of the church in the pursuit of Jesus is it is not about you. It is not about what it’s in for you, it’s about him. It’s about constantly redirecting glory to him. So, if that’s you, repent.
Second, notice in verse twenty-four what Simon’s request to Peter and John was. He said, “Hey, will you pray for me?” Folks, that is a powerless prayer. I cannot pray on your behalf for your repentance. I cannot pray you into the kingdom of God. That is a personal conversation, a personal decision that you must have. Yes, as God’s people we can pray and intercede to God on behalf of those that we love. We can pray for each other, but I can’t pray on your behalf for repentance. That is an honest, real decision that you have to make personally. That is an honest and open conversation that only you can have with God, to recognize your sin, to make a conscious decision to turn from it, and to follow Jesus. Otherwise, it’s a powerless prayer.
Pay attention to what we see here in verse twenty-five. After this, condemning hard conversation happens it doesn’t say much more about Simon. In fact, it doesn’t say anything more about Simon. But what it does say is that God’s unstoppable mission continues on. Peter and John, on their way back to Jerusalem, began to stop in one village after another throughout the region of Samaria to proclaim the message of God. That is a message that you and I have been invited to as well. We share in that mission today. It roots all the way back to Acts 1:8. Now it’s a different place. We’re now into the ends of the earth. Columbus, Georgia. You and I are people a lot like Phillip, just ordinary people with hands, feet, and a mouth, willing to proclaim the message of who Jesus is. How and when are we to do that? Everywhere and all the time, proclaiming the message of who he is.
I would say this America and Columbus, Georgia are not that different than Samaria. Samaria was a confused, rejected religious place. So is Columbus, Georgia. So is the United States of America. Rejected, confused and even a bit religious. I could argue today to you that especially in this younger generation by and large, very open to having spiritually conversations but clueless about who Jesus is and why he has them here on this earth. So, it’s a great opportunity for you. Here are some sad statistics. Last year in Georgia, seventy percent of Georgians did not go to church even one time, and that includes for a wedding and a funeral. That means seven out of ten people last year in your great state of Georgia didn’t even walk in the doors of the church for any reason. Not even one time. Recent demographic research from Columbus, Georgia, this city that you and I call home. Seventy three percent of Columbus, Georgians are unchurched people. Let’s translate that to Jesus language. Seventy three percent of Columbus, Georgia are on their way to hell. Sadly, collectively, our churches only impact one half of one percent of that unreached population in Columbus.
Does that sound discouraging? I get really excited. Here’s why. Because you and I are alive and well. We’re here in this place. The Spirit of God is in us. We have a mouth, we have hands, we have feet. The only thing it takes is for you and I to be willing to proclaim the good news of God all the time in our home, in our work and in the marketplace. We are his message of hope, peace, and purpose that everybody in this community who is not a part of church is desperately looking for meaning, desperately looking for purpose, desperately looking for peace, desperately looking for hope, and you and I have that message. It is in the person of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit we can proclaim that good news every day, everywhere, and all the time. I’m excited. I believe with all my heart we’re on the doorstep of revival. But for us to get there, it will require me and you living it out every single day. We’re invited into this great mission. So, we must preach it, we must go, and we must live now.
• Today I commit to follow Jesus wherever He wants me to go.
+ Today, I choose to celebrate in the unifying mission of God.
– Today, I repent of following a person for selfish gain and choose to follow Jesus.
- Have you ever participate in a local or foreign mission experience? How did it impact you?
- Compare Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8 with Philip’s actions in Acts 8:5. Discuss how they relate.
- How does following Jesus require us to go hard places and have difficult conversations?
- Who was more important in Acts 8:4-15? Philip, or Peter and John? If the unstoppable mission of God requires teamwork, how do we ensure that Jesus’ mission remains the focus instead of our own agenda?