In this passage Luke records how the church gets scattered by persecution (vv. 1 – 3), how Philip proclaims the gospel in Samaria (vv. 4 – 8), how Simon the magician tries to buy the Spirit’s power (vv. 9 – 24), and how the apostles continue preaching the gospel throughout Samaria (v. 25).
The gospel is literally being scattered – or being advanced – outside the boundaries of Jerusalem. The seeds of the gospel had been sown throughout the backyard of Jerusalem and now it was time for the fields in the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria to get planted with those very same gospel seedlings.
It can be difficult for us to appreciate the sovereign plans of God in advancing the message of the gospel because we are so inundated with strategic plans, fund raising schemes, targeted people groups, missionary organizations best practices, and truckloads of books explaining how to do missionary work.
God’s plan for spreading the seeds of the gospel to the ends of the earth rarely fits within the confines of our neat and tidy little spreadsheets. There are typically more than a few unforeseen curveballs and more than a few surprising hairpin – turns to navigate when we commit ourselves to obeying the Great Commission as we pursue the lost with the gospel.
You may remember that Jesus told his disciples, in Acts 1:8, that once they received the Holy Spirit, they would become his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” but I can imagine that the disciples never foresaw the way in which the Spirit would make this missions blueprint happen. Instead of using human ingenuity, God uses human suffering, enemy opposition, and violent persecution to advance the gospel into the regions beyond the walls of Jerusalem. Look at the text with me…
1And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
4Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed, or lame were healed. 8So there was much joy in that city.
9But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10They all paid attention to him, from the least, to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles hands, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23For I see that you are ion the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
25Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
#1: THE CHURCH IS SCATTERED BY PERSECUTION (VV. 1 – 3)
In verses 1 – 3, Luke tells us that immediately following Stephen’s murder at the hands of an angry religious mob, while the church is still mourning Stephen’s murder, a man named Saul who approved of Stephen’s execution, began “ravaging the church” by persecuting them heavily and as a result “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” who remained in Jerusalem.
What Luke wants us to understand is that the gospel spread beyond the walls of Jerusalem, not because of some human ingenuity or some well laid missionary plans, but on the contrary the gospel advanced because of some terrifying persecution at the hands of a man named Saul who in the very next chapter will become the object, not of God’s wrath (as many would wish) but as the object of God’s sovereign plan of redemption through the worldwide spread of the seeds of the gospel.
The very man who was used by Satan to execute the church’s first martyr, will be the very man that God saves and then uses for his own sovereign plan of worldwide evangelism. But before Luke tells us about how Saul the terrorist becomes Paul the evangelist, he wants us to see what it looks like when the gospel invades the darkness in the unreached regions of Judea and Samaria.
#2: PHILIP PROCLAIMS THE GOSPEL IN SAMARIA (VV. 4 – 8)
In verse 4, Luke tells us that even though the church was scattered because of persecution, the gospel could not be contained nor hindered because “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” People who have met the crucified, risen, and returning Christ will not shut up, put up, or give up on preaching the word of the gospel to everyone they meet, despite the circumstances they find themselves in. In the end, you cannot keep Spirit – filled people down.
This is why Luke tells us in verses 5 – 8 that when Philip scattered to Samaria he proclaimed Jesus to everyone he met and as he preached to the crowds they listened to him because his preaching was confirmed by powerful signs as people were being delivered from demonic possession, the lame were being healed and those who were paralyzed began to walk resulting in great joy throughout the city.
I have never met anyone who was genuinely set free by the message of the gospel who did not share the gospel with others and who were not filled with great joy. Anyone who has experienced the freedom that comes from believing the gospel is not only filled with supernatural joy but is also a ferocious evangelist.
When Jesus walked this earth, he said that he had come to “proclaim the good news… to proclaim liberty [freedom] to the captives… recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty [to set free] those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor [grace or unearned merit]” (Luke 4:18 – 19). When someone meets Jesus through the preaching of the gospel, the result is great joy and more gospel proclamation. When the Spirit moves authentically, people are attracted to Jesus. But some people are only attracted because they like to be entertained or worst yet, they like to possess the power to entertain others.
#3: SIMON THE MAGICIAN TRIES TO BUY THE SPIRIT’S POWER (VV. 9 – 24)
In verses 9 – 11 Luke tells us that there was an entertainer in Samaria by the name of Simon who loved to get the attention of the crowds with his circus act. The crowds were so enamored with him that they said, “This man is the power of God that is called Great”. In other words, Simon enjoyed the attention he got from the crowds because it made him feel like he was God in the flesh.
I cannot think of a more dangerous place to be than in Simon’s shoes! This should be a strong warning to anyone who desires the lights of the stage – especially preachers, teachers, and worship leaders. The desire for attention and adoration has led many to the same destruction that Simon is headed towards.
In verses 12 – 13 it seems as though Simon is counted among those who believed Philip’s preaching because he was amazed by the miracles that accompanied the message of the gospel, so he made a public profession of faith and sealed it with his public baptism. This is a solid reminder that everything that sparkles is not gold. Just because someone makes a public declaration of their faith in Christ does not mean that they have truly experienced genuine conversion. All that is needed is an authentic demonstration of the Spirit’s power to see who truly belongs to the Spirit!
This is the point of what happens in verses 14 – 17 when the apostles visit Samaria because they had received word of the Spirit led revival that was happening there. Upon their arrival, the apostles realize that the new believers had not yet received the Holy Spirit in full measure. So, they begin praying for people to receive the Holy Spirit, who was more than happy to oblige them with his outpouring in full confirmation of his desire and ability to save and to empower even those who are viewed as outcasts in this world. Jesus loves to save outcasts, especially, when in doing so, he reveals who the real imposters are.
This is exactly what happens in verses 18 – 24 as Simon, is amazed – or entertained – by the power that is manifested when the apostles laid their hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that Simon was so amazed that he offered money to the apostles to get the same power – most likely because he thought his financial investment would reap the momentary benefit of more attention in the limelight as “Simon the Great”.
Of course, we know that Peter sniffed him out immediately, rebuked him, and called him to repent and seek forgiveness for his wickedness. Simon’s only response was a lame response that further proved that he did not know Jesus, nor did he want to know Jesus, because instead of repenting, he asked Peter to pray for him so “that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (v. 24). Simon was not concerned with his wickedness. Simon loved putting on a show while pretending to be concerned.
Simon’s only concern was losing his opportunity to get the attention and love from the crowds that he loved to entertain. So infamous is this story of Simon in church history that the act of attempting to buy the favor of God is called the sale of indulgences which goes along with attempting to purchase spiritual authority, also known as “Simony”.2
I pray that this would never become the fate of anyone here but that we would embody what it looks like to engage in self – sacrificing, gospel proclaiming ministry wherever we go, and that the gospel would advance throughout the world as the Spirit enables us to be living witnesses to the power of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior. This is exactly what the apostles did as they left Samaria.
#4: THE APOSTLES CONTINUE PREACHING THE GOSPEL (V. 25)
In the final verse of our text (v. 25), Luke tells us that when the apostles “had testified and spoken the word of Lord” in the city where Philip ministered, “they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans”. What Luke wants us to see is that despite the persecution, despite being scattered to the regions where no self – respecting Jew would willingly travel, and despite the fact that there was at least one false convert, the advancement of the gospel could not be stopped.
God’s plan to advance the gospel “from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) was unfolding just as the Lord had pre – planned and there was absolutely nothing that any force of evil could do about it. In fact, as we will see, over and over again, God will use any and every means necessary – even unfortunate evil events and people – to advance the message of his crucified, risen, and returning Son to the ends of the earth!
In conclusion, we have seen how God used evil men, horrifying persecution, scattered believers, and even false conversions to advance the gospel into the unreached territories of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus had foretold in Acts 1:8.
I admit that my initial reaction to evil, wickedness, suffering, persecution, and especially false believers, is not usually a reaction that is marked by joy or hope or resounding steadfast faith. All too often, I witness the horrors of this world we live in – even the horrors that happen within the walls of the church – and I feel anger instead of joy, despair instead of hope, and anxiety instead of faith. Let me just ask, what is it that you have allowed to steal your joy? What have you allowed to diminish your hope? What has been happening in your life that has caused you to doubt the power of the gospel?
I just simply want to encourage you this morning. If you and I could catch a greater vision for how the gospel advanced despite the evil men who attempted to stop it, despite the suffering that the church experienced, despite the scattering of believers from the rest of their beloved church family, despite the many fake brothers and sisters that sprouted up in their midst – if you and I could catch a greater vision of how nothing, absolutely nothing could stop God’s redemptive plan of the worldwide spread of the gospel, maybe we would walk in greater joy, hope, and steadfast faith.
If you think about it, at the core of the gospel stands our crucified, risen, and returning Savior. The cross killed him but only so that we could die to our sin at the foot of that bloody cross. His lifeless body was laid in a cold borrowed tomb for three days but only so that we could receive the blessing of Christ’s victory over Satan, Sin, and Death when he left that tomb empty on the third day.
Jesus ascended into heaven leaving us with the mandate to share the gospel to the ends of the earth but in return he promised to be with us and in us as he works through us until he returns. When Jesus returns – as he has promised to do – we know that we look forward to the hope of eternity in heaven as people who were only passing through this hell hole called earth.
If the bloody cross, empty tomb, and return of Jesus is true than we above all others should be filled with immense joy, untold hope, and unfathomable faith despite the horror of persecution, despite the despair of fake/false brothers and sisters, and despite the evil atrocities in this world. When the gospel advances into the very depths of our souls – just as it advances to the furthest unreached portions of the world – we are then enabled to filled with joy that results from our salvation, hope that results from resurrection victory, and faith that results from the promise of eternity. – Amen!!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 Kent, Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1996), 113 – 115.
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