Last week, we heard about how the Apostle Peter brought the Gospel to the Jews that lived in Lydda and Joppa. Today we’re going to hear about the first time that Peter brought the Gospel to people that weren’t Jews at all. As we study God’s Word, we’re going to delve into some very important and timely truths about the Gospel and Race. Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The lesson picks up right where we left off last week. Peter is still in Joppa. He’s still ministering to Tabitha. He’s still sharing the message of Jesus with people who were quite interested in hearing him, since he just brought a dead woman back to life.
But eventually, Peter needs a break. Acts 10:9 says, “About noon...Peter went up on the roof to pray.”
Now, you don’t need to picture Peter trying to balance on a 45-pitch roof. (OSHA is not involved with this story). At that time, roofs were mostly flat. Since homes were commonly built in close proximity to each other to maximize space – it was used like a porch. It was relaxing and quiet, a good place for uninterrupted prayer.
And there must have been a lot of exciting things on Peter’s mind:
He’s thankful the Outreach initiatives that have taken place in Lydda and Joppa.
He’s starting to brainstorm for a new group – a Jews for Jesus – outreach group for Jews about Jesus.
He’s thinking it might be wise to plan a church outing to the local Jewish Carpenter’s Baseball game.
He’s brainstorming how to take my favorite Jewish songs and melodies – and transform them into songs about Jesus.
In short, Peter is excited.
He’s happy to see God work on the hearts of his Jewish compatriots.
And he heads to the roof for guidance from God!
While he’s up there, praying and praying and praying, he starts to get hungry.
But before he can head downstairs to the kitchen, he sees some food….
…Coming down from the sky.
Peter saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners…. like a picnic cloth… It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (10:12-13)
And Peter looks at the animals on the sheet.
And Peter’s tummy rumbled.
And Peter was hungry.
And Peter said:
“Surely not Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (v.14)
A bit of an explanation.
In the Old Testament, God revealed himself through the people of Israel. He chose to interact with them, do miracles on their behalf when they followed him, and against them when they didn’t. God did this – not because he loved the people of Israel more than other people – but because…He needed to choose some group of people to reveal Himself as the true God, lest all worship the sun, the moon, the stars, a pile of rocks, some dead scorpion, or some really bad abstract art.
It's essentially the Krispy Kreme Principle. Krispy Kreme lights up its sign to let you know when there are fresh, hot donuts available. The point of the sign is to get you to pay attention to the doughy goodness’ availability.
To get the attention of the other nations, God did miracles among the nation of Israel. (He split the Red Sea. He sent bread from heaven. He made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down).
God did miracles in the Israelite nation so that people of any nation might see that he is the true God of all nations.
When God has the attention of the other nations, what does he want to teach them? Key truth #1: God is HOLY. He is a God who hated sin. A God who loved purity.
Why is this God’s number one truth? Because if we don’t realize that truth, we’ll just remain in our sin, blissfully unaware of how far short from perfection we have fallen. When we realize that God is HOLY and he demands HOLINESS and we aren’t HOLY and have zero HOLINESS, we fall to the ground and ask God for mercy – and he granted that mercy in sending a Savior – Jesus Christ.
Knowing God is HOLY is important in understanding the need for the Gospel.
One way God taught his HOLINESS to other nations was through the Israelite diet.
Leviticus 11. It’s probably not a section of Scripture that any of you have memorized. It isn’t a part of Scripture that makes its way to Social Media posts. It doesn’t make for very good Scripture art around your home. But within Leviticus 11, God reveals strict dietary restrictions for the people of Israel. His goal? Make their diet so drastically different from that of other nations that people take notice, ask about the diet, and learn that God is HOLY.
Some of the restrictions were as follows:
Only finned sea creatures. This allowed for fish. But it meant that you couldn’t have lobster, crab or any kind of sushi.
Only domestic birds. Chicken and turkey were cool; pheasant, owl, vulture? Not so much.
Only animals that have a divided hoof and chew the cud. Again, beef and lamb are fine, but not camels and (the biggest tragedy of all) pigs. (Understand: NO BACON!)
When Peter looked at the picnic blanket from heaven, there were some animals there that would make fine cuisine: Oysters Rockefeller. Buttered crab. Stuffed Pheasant. Bacon Wrapped Bacon! He was hungry, but every animal on the blanket was one of the Old Testament forbidden animals and Peter didn’t want to disobey God’s Old Testament laws, so he replied to God: Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!
And Peter must have felt pretty good about his answer.
He had just listened to God’s voice in the Old Testament;
He just ignored God’s voice that had just spoken to him in order to do so…but…
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v.15)
At the end of the vision, while Peter was standing there – a bit dumbfounded– and deeply pondering the meaning: Is bacon OK now? Should I stop by the local BBQ shop? A knock came from the downstairs door. Being on the roof, Peter scooted to the ridgeline and peeked over at the visitors. From the third floor he could make out the unmistakable insignia of Roman soldiers. Gentiles. Non-Jews. Non-Jews that currently were enforcing an unwanted rule on their kingdom.
Peter’s first thought was to hide.
His second thought was “those lousy good for nothing Romans.”
His third thought was “I want nothing to do with their kind.”
Then, God spoke again:
“Simon…Get up. Go downstairs. Go with these men.” (v.19)
Remember I mentioned the Old Testament dietary law? It was one of the ways that God impressed his holiness upon Old Testament Israel. There were other ways. They wore certain clothing. They made certain altars. They sacrificed certain sacrifices. And – they worshipped with certain people.
To impress His holiness on all people – Old Testament Israelites circumcised their male children. That was different in ancient times. No other nation did it. God had Israel do it, as a symbol of cutting off the sinful nature and being made new in God’s mercy.
Since the Jews were circumcised and every other race of people wasn’t, this meant that oftentimes the Israelites did things by themselves.
In fact, over time Jewish leadership developed rules that helped to keep people obeying God. They made a rule that you could not eat with anyone who wasn’t a Jew. That you could not have someone who wasn’t a Jew enter your home; that you could not enter the house of someone who wasn’t Jewish, because you dare not spend time with people who were “impure.”
All Israel knew that.
All Israel practiced that.
Peter knew that.
Peter practiced that.
But God just said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
And God had just told him to follow these men to their home so…
Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. (v.23)
Peter started out with them the next day (v.23b)
Peter arrived at the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius and he entered the home. (v.25)
Did you hear that? Peter just broke hundreds of years of Jewish tradition to follow the voice of God.
Then, Peter gets to talking with Cornelius and it turns out Cornelius had a vision, too. God had come to Cornelius and given him specific instructions to send a group of men to Joppa to the exact house that Peter was at and to ask for a guy named Peter.
This was no coincidence.
So… Peter says this:
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.” (v.34-35)
And Peter went on to tell these non-Jews people about Jesus.
He told them about how Jesus died for them.
He told them about how Jesus rose for them.
He told them about how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan to save them.
He told them about how anyone who believes in Jesus – any Jew – and even any non-Jew – receives forgiveness of sins in His name. (v.36-43)
He told them this because Peter now understood this important (and still relevant) truth:
God does not have a favorite “race” of people.
In God’s eyes, people are people.
There’s not a racist bone in God’s body.
There’s not a racist tweet in the Bible.
There’s not an ounce of racism in His way of thinking.
God created every race of people.
God loved every race of people.
God saw that every race of people had fallen into sin.
God sent a Savior for every race of people.
God’s blood covered the sins of every person of every race of people.
In short, no matter who you are; no matter what race you are; no matter what culture you are:
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
And no matter who your neighbor is, no matter what race they are, no matter what culture they are:
Jesus loved them.
Jesus died for them.
II. What Now?
The point of all this is still relevant today. It means not feeling guilty about a BLT sandwich. Guilty about bacon-wrapped, deep fried, pork chops? Maybe – but the guilt is for other reasons!
The deeper truth isn’t about food; but people.
(1) Identify Your Own Prejudice (and Fight Against it)
Granted. You might be saying:
“But pastor! I don’t have any prejudice. I love all people. I love all cultures. I love all races of people.”
I would hope that none of you openly confess to hating a certain race of people.
If you do openly confess that certain races of people are better than others, repent! That’s sinful.
But even if you don’t openly confess it, be careful:
Our prejudices can be trickier than that.
For example, what if I had started preaching today in a turban?
Or what if I had planned for worship only Gospel songs? The ones with lots of clapping and plenty of “Amens.”
Or what if the snacks afterwards were nothing but sushi?
You might not love it.
You might complain about it.
You might say, “That’s not what we do.”
Friends, that’s prejudice.
And we shouldn’t be surprised that all of us suffer from prejudice, because that’s what sin does.
Sin selfishly, egotistically focuses inward and says, “I am the best. My culture is the best. My people are the best. God loves how we do it best.”
Repent. This is not Godly.
Thankfully God doesn’t have prejudice. (not even against people who are prejudiced – aka – all of us).
Jesus battled those sins of prejudice for us.
Jesus took them to the cross.
Jesus died for us and our subtle racism and all of our prejudices.
Thanks be to Jesus.
Now he asks us to lay them at his go out to fight against them.
And we do that by #2:
(2) Obey God’s Call
The voice from heaven was not the first time Peter learned the less that God doesn’t play favorites. Jesus had taught that, too! He spent time with Samaritans. He spoke to a woman at the well who was a Samaritan. He healed the servant of a Roman soldier. Jesus even ordered Peter directly: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Up to this point, Peter had been thinking that “Go and make disciples of all nations” meant, “Go and make disciples of the Jews living in all nations.”
He was wrong.
And to his credit, when he realizes this, he obeys God right away. He takes the men into his home. He follows them to their home. He enters and shares the Gospel with them.
Do the same thing.
God didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the white people in Raleigh.”
He didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all the Midwestern transplants in Raleigh.”
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Here’s the thing – when we do that – that kind of love reaches out past racial lines and unites people.
Honestly, it’s just like those Old Testament dietary restrictions. Only instead of watching what we eat, we watch how we act towards those who are different.
Because the truth is that America is divided by race. Racist pride is touted as desirable trait that leads to more and more divisiveness.
The Cross of Jesus is different.
The Cross of Jesus unites.
The blood of Jesus covers us all.
The church (our church) is to be a place where God has brought people of all languages, cultures and backgrounds – together. That’s different. If done correctly, it will stick out like an Old Testament Jew ordering the lamb at a Pork BBQ place.
It’ll stick out in a good way.
How do we do this?
We love one another.
We reach out to those that are different from us.
We are willing to say, “My desires and my culture are different than yours. And that’s ok. In fact, my desires and culture will take a back seat for the sake of you, my friend, and your culture.”
When you do this…
When we go to work on the sharing of God’s Gospel with all nations…
God blesses it.
Look what happened with Peter. In the middle of his speech, The Holy Spirit came upon all who heard his message. (v.44) It was God’s way of saying: “Yes! I approved. I don’t show favoritism. I love all people. And I am bringing this people into my kingdom at the same level as – and at the same equality as – you Jews who are also a part of my kingdom.”
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message.
God is behind the sharing of his Gospel message to all people.
Let’s go to work.
Let’s share the Gospel with all people.
We’re picking up right where we left off last week in the book of ACTS. If you remember, last week we heard about a guy named Saul. Saul was the Commander-in-Chief of Destroying the Gospel and murdering any Christian he came across. He hated Jesus. He hated Christians. He persecuted Christians to death.
Then, something happened.
Jesus appeared to him.
Jesus spoke to him.
Jesus brought him to repentance.
Jesus forgave him.
And Saul came to faith. He was baptized. He learned from other Christians and soon began preaching the very message he had been persecuting.
Jesus visibly appeared to Saul.
And empowered Saul to turn his life around.
Do you ever wish Jesus would do that to you?
Do you ever wish he would appear to you in the flesh, holes in hands, a reassuring pat on the back and a few magic tricks to prove that your faith is the truth?
Today we’re going to follow the Gospel as it makes its way to a few different cities filled with people who didn’t get to personally see Jesus and who hadn’t gotten to witness His miracles. Our goal is to discover, along with those people, that the Gospel is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. It’s powerful. It’s public. It’s proven.
But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Stories of the Gospel’s Power
The true stories we want to look at start in Acts 9:32. Both these stories center around the Apostle Peter. He is one of the original 12 disciples. He lived with Jesus, worked with Jesus, and learned from Jesus. He saw Jesus die. He saw Jesus rise from the dead. He was personally commissioned by Jesus to “go and preach the good news of forgiveness in Jesus.”
At this point – Peter had done that. He had preached a sermon to over 3000 people at Pentecost. He had stood up for the Gospel in front of the enemies of Jesus. He had taught, commissioned and sent out newer disciples to share the Gospel.
Peter is kinda like District President (DP) Don Tollefson.
Who’s Don Tollefson? He’s a pastor. But a Pastor of a lot of people. Pastor Tollefson is the President of the North Atlantic District of our group of Lutheran churches. He encourages all the churches in the district. He helps facilitate ministry ideas. He shares resources. He travels from city to city to city, up and down the North Atlantic Coast uplifting congregations with the Gospel. Over the past couple of weeks, I know he’s been to Harrisburg, PA to help a mission congregation ready to get a pastor; he went up to Orleans, Ontario, Canada to commission a new pastor for our congregation up there; he made his way to Milwaukee, WI to meet with other District Presidents and develop plans for continuing to share the Gospel throughout the U.S In short, district presidents rack up quite the good number of frequent flier miles.
Peter was doing something very similar – without the frequent flier miles. He was travelling about the country. And he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. (v.32) Lydda was 27 miles to the Northwest of Jerusalem. Christians from Jerusalem had fled there during Saul’s persecution in Jerusalem and a tiny congregation had formed. Peter went to that small congregation at Lydda to encourage them.
While he was there, Peter did what pastors sometimes do when they visit other pastors. He went with local leadership into the community. Maybe grabbed some local fare, stopped by the local coffee shop and went by the park. It’s good to get to know the leaders of the local church and their community so that you can offer the proper advice and encouragement.
While Peter was doing this, he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for 8 years. (v.33)
He hasn’t been able to walk.
He lays on the side of the street.
He never leaves the bed-like mat that his friends set up.
And the local congregation leaders must have been like: “Oh him!?! He’s there all the time. It’s a sad story really. He can’t get a job. He doesn’t have a lot of money. Sometimes we stop and give him bits of leftover sandwich from our last potluck, but…he’s kind of a lost cause. Anyways Peter, have you ever tried Potato Rounds before…eh…What are you doing?”
Peter moved away from the other leaders.
Peter moved towards the bedridden man.
Peter said to him:
“Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.”
And immediately Aeneas got up. (v.34)
Let that sink in.
No physical therapy.
No knee braces.
Not even an Essential Oil treatment.
Just words spoken in the name of Jesus.
And immediate, incredible, complete healing.
Meanwhile – 11 miles Northwest of this miracle – another congregation is having a tough time. In the town of Joppa, a very important member of the congregation had just passed away. Her name is Tabitha. According to Scripture, Tabitha was always doing good and helping the poor. (v.36)
It appears she made clothes for them.
She made food for them.
She delivered food to them.
She helped a lot of people.
But she had gotten sick and died.
When the disciples in Joppa heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” (v.37)
Because this was a hard one.
Tabitha was such a blessing to the church and the community. Why would God take her? Why would she die?
Her death was confusing, maddening and saddening!
They needed answers. They needed comfort. They needed someone with a connection to Jesus like Peter had to uplift them with Godly words.
And Peter quickly realized this. He hurried up to Lydda. He went to Tabitha’s home.
When he arrived, it was filled with people.
Holding up shawls and dresses that Tabitha had made for them.
Handing him a piece of cake – in the style of which Tabitha used to make.
Falling to their knees and asking Peter, “Why?”
Eventually, they led him upstairs.
They showed him to the room where there lay Tabitha’s body.
Her cold, dead body.
Peter fought back tears.
If only he had gotten here earlier. He could have asked Jesus to do what he did for Aeneas.
He could have helped her.
He could have healed her just like Jesus had done.
There was something else Jesus had done, too…
Peter asked everyone to leave the room.
They obliged because – “Peter probably needs a moment or two to process…”
When he was alone, he fell to his knees.
Then, he looked up.
He turned to Tabitha’s cold, lifeless body and said:
“Tabitha, get up!”
She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up. (v.40)
II. Three Truths about the Gospel
There are a lot of interesting themes to explore in these two stories. We could talk about the importance of working for the Lord like Tabitha. We could talk about the value of getting into the community how Peter found Aeneas. We could discuss the value in sending Synod Leadership to encourage congregations in faith.
But the heart of these stories – is the heart of the entire Bible – Jesus.
And Jesus is directly tied to the Gospel.
Here are three truths about the Gospel from these lessons:
(1) Jesus is Powerful
Look closely. Peter didn’t do the healing by himself.
Peter said to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you.” (v.34)
Peter got down on his knees and prayed. Then Tabitha was healed. (v.40)
Notice Peter didn’t say: “I heal you,” nor did he get down on his knees and pray: “Dear Me, Please help Me and Heal this lady for me.”
Peter turns to God.
Peter turns to his Savior.
Peter turns to Jesus.
Jesus heals Aeneas and Tabitha!
To be fair – we shouldn’t be surprised! Jesus did the same thing while he physically walked the earth. He made the blind to see; the deaf to hear; the lame to walk; the sick to be well; the water to become a walking surface; the storms to become quiet; the bread to multiply; the water to become wine; the dead to come back to life.
But – I guess the only incredible caveat with these miracles, is that Jesus does them while he’s not even physically, visibly, tangibly there!
I’ve got some power. Sometimes the Office Supply company we work with delivers boxes of paper. Each box holds about 10 packages of 500 sheets of paper. They’re pretty heavy. About 50 pounds.
If I am around, I can lift it and put it away.
If I’m not around, I can’t do squat.
Jesus wasn’t even physically around, yet his power was able to:
(1) Instantly heal a man who had not been able to walk for the last 8 years.
(2) Bring to life a woman who had died!
Jesus is still Powerful.
He removes all your sins.
He destroys all your guilt.
He busts through the gates of hell itself.
He powerfully penetrates the preventive walls of unbelief and brings believers into his family.
(2) Jesus is Public
But you might say:
Yeah, right! Peter is in on it! It’s all a big scam. Aeneas pretended to be unable to walk for 8 years just so that Peter could appear to be the hero with the message of Jesus – even though Peter probably wasn’t even a follower of Jesus when Aeneas began his ruse?
And Tabitha pretended to be dead – she held her breath (for days?) and got the hundreds of people mourning at the house to believe that she was dead just so that Jesus would “appear” powerful.
Here’s the deal. Both of these miracles are extremely public.
They aren’t done in private.
In regard to Aeneas it says: All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas and turned to the Lord. (v.35)
Notice it doesn’t say “All of Aeneas’ friends who were in on the 8-year ruse.” Nope. All the city. Everyone. Even the people who were kind of annoyed with Aeneas being bedridden, asking for money, day after day after day. Peter meets Aeneas. Many are watching. Aeneas stands up. They don’t think: “Faker.” They think: “Savior.”
And with Tabitha it’s just as public. Remember – She died. The people washed her body and cleaned it. They sent for Peter. Peter arrived when they were in the middle of the Ancient version of the “wake.” They are throwing Tabitha’s blankets in Peter’s face and everyone is talking about how she is dead and how sad it is.
No one is saying; “I think she’s faking it, Peter.”
After Jesus raises her through Peter: Peter called for the believers, especially the widows and presented Tabitha to them alive. This became known all over Joppa and many people believed in the Lord. (v.41-42)
Because…She was dead and now. She was alive.
This is key for you and me. Because what Luke wrote down for us in Acts; he wrote down only a maximum of 10 years later. And this book of Acts was circulated throughout the churches. The people in Lydda read it and said, “Yep. That’s right. I remember when he healed Aeneas.” And the people in Joppa read it and said, “Yes. They got it right. I remember when Tabitha came back to life.”
The point? This stuff is public. It’s real.
It’s not that way in other religion.
It’s not like…
The Prophet Mohammed who went up on a mountain by himself.
Or Joseph Smith, found of Mormonism, who went into the forest by himself.
Or some scientist who hypothesizes this world must have started this way – even though I wasn’t even there.
Jesus’ power is public. Real, visible, viewed by many.
Even at the highlight of his story…
Jesus died before hundreds.
He hung on a cross before hundreds.
He was confirmed dead by hundreds.
Then, he rose.
He appeared before hundreds.
He showed himself before hundreds.
He spoke again with hundreds.
Jesus is public!
(3) Jesus is Proven
This leads to our third “P” word.
If Jesus is powerful and public. Then, Jesus, is also proven.
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus offers visual proof of invisible truth.
Public visual proof of private invisible truth.
Aeneas visibly gets to his feet before hundreds.
Tabitha comes back to life before hundreds.
Jesus visibly dies and visibly is buried and visibly comes back to life.
Proof that the Jesus is truth.
Proof of the invisible miracles that Jesus claims for us:
Proof that your sins are forgiven.
Proof that you have peace with God.
Proof that Jesus is the Savior.
Proof that by believing in him you will enter eternal life.
If you doubt!?! You’re doubting the power of a Savior that has done countless visible miracles in the face of tens of thousands of witnesses.
If you doubt!?! You’re doubting God. You’re doubting the Holy Spirit. You’re doubting Jesus.
Don’t doubt. Believe.
III. What Now?
I don’t mean do a physical turn right here, right now. This isn’t P90x.
The Bible tells us to “turn” spiritually.
That’s what the people in Lydda did. They saw the power of Jesus in healing Aeneas. They turned to the Lord. (v.35)
They stopped trusting themselves.
They stopped trusting their own abilities.
They stopped trusting some statue god.
They trusted their Savior.
Do the same. Even if you are a longtime Christian! Turn. Because the devil has a way of getting us to turn to ourselves, to money, to things and stuff and to trust them rather than Jesus.
Examine your heart.
See where you’re wrong.
Turn back to Jesus.
And if you’ve never trusted in Jesus, hear God’s plea:
Stop trusting yourself.
Stop trusting your money.
Stop trusting your abilities.
Stop trusting your own modern fake gods and start trusting the real, only true God, Jesus Christ, who died to save you.
And he did so.
Because when Peter was faced with a dire situation. When he came face to face with death in the face of Tabitha. When he said to himself, there is literally nothing I can do to help – he got on his knees and prayed.
Do the same thing.
Too often when things get out of hand; when things are out of our control; when things are beyond our control we keep thinking:
I can do this. I can figure this out. I can stand.
Jesus doesn’t want us standing.
He wants us kneeling.
Humbly in prayer before our God.
This isn’t necessarily physically; but a ‘kneeling’ in your heart. Humbly agreeing that you are a sinner and the situation is beyond your control and you need your almighty, all powerful, paralyzed man healing, dead widow raising, out of the grave conquering God.
Turn to your God.
Fall on your knees.
Trust in your powerful, public, and proven Savior.
Today we are taking a look at a guy with some really, really bad sins who is confronted by the Risen Lord Jesus himself. Our goal is to apply what he learns about his really, really bad sins and apply it to our own really, really bad sins. But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The guy we want to talk about has already made a few cameo appearances in the book of Acts. Maybe you noticed? Maybe you didn’t.
First, flash back to the end of Acts 7. That’s the section about Stephen, the bread delivery guy who told widows about Jesus -- and got killed because he delivered bread to widows and told people about Jesus. At the end of his trial, as the religious leaders are angry and picking up stones to hurl them at Stephen, Acts 7:58 says this: “Members of the Sanhedrin laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul and he approved of their killing him.”
Have you ever tried throwing a baseball in a sports coat? Or toss the pigskin in a three-piece suit? It’s not very easy. Usually, you take off the coat, so your arms are a bit freer.
These guys? They took off their coats because they wanted as little friction as possible for throwing stones at the “Jesus lover’s” head.
And Saul – he’s not in the game – but on the sidelines – holding onto the non-violent-stone-hurling-clothing and nodding and approving.
Essentially, this Saul guy got his start as the equipment manager for Stephen’s murderers.
In fact, this spurs Saul on to action. He didn’t want to be a benchwarmer forever. Look at 8:3 “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” He’s motivated. He sees a bunch of religious leaders kill an Ordinary Christian church member and he says, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” He goes on an assault as the main guy in charge of destroying the church.
He doesn’t just throw Apostles in jail.
He pursues ordinary church members.
And not just the guys either….
Saul crosses over into the field of throwing Christian women – usually untouchable because we should treat women with respect and take good care of them – but Saul brings his special form of violence against Christian women.
In short, if you are a Christian, you would have been a target for Saul.
Flashforward. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread. Christians scattered to the north south and west. As they spread, God’s Word spread.
The Unstoppable Gospel remained unstoppable. It’s what we talked about the last two weeks.
About how Philip shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with Simon the dark arts magician and a town under his dark magic.
About how Philip dirty, rugged and sweaty shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with the Ethiopian royalty in the middle of nowhere and he believed.
Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem.
The church spread out and started growing outside of Jerusalem.
And Saul couldn’t stand it.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belong to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (9:1-2)
It’s kinda like crabgrass. Any of you have crab grass? I’ve been trying to get rid of it by pulling the stuff that pops up or spraying on some crab grass killer. But then what happens is, I kill it in one spot and then it pops up in another spot. I’m thinking about torching the whole lawn, but the crab grass would probably be all that survived.
Saul viewed Christianity like crab grass.
He viewed it as a weed that needed to be destroyed.
He was willing to travel hundreds of miles to put a stop to it.
So, he asked the priests for letters – official recommendation letters stamped with the Pharisaical seal of approval – that he could take to synagogues in other towns. Letters he could give to his fellows Jews in the synagogue that read, “This is Saul. He’s cool. Let him kill off all the Christians in the area. It’s for the best.”
Saul asked for letters like that.
Saul received letters like that.
And Saul was empowered to kill because of letters like that.
II. The Confrontation
One particular eradication journey was to a place called Damascus. It was about 150 miles to the North East of Jerusalem.
That’s not an easy trip. But Saul goes – cause his hatred for all-things-Jesus is that much.
It was hot.
It was sweaty.
It was long.
But Saul kept himself occupied. As he travelled, surrounded by a group of vicious henchmen, he practiced swinging his sword, picturing it plunging into the heart of “a mouthy Christian” and he whistled. He was so happy to be doing God’s work and totally eradicating the message of Jesus.
He was carefree.
He was happy.
He was right.
A bright flash. (v.3)
Not the sun.
A brilliant, otherworldly like flash that filled the entirety of Saul’s vision.
Saul fell down.
He heard a voice:
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (v.4)
Who was it?
Was it Peter?
Was it John?
Was it one his friends playing a prank?
The voice spoke again:
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (v.5)
Jesus? As in the guy that I’m persecuting?
As in the guy that my associates killed?
As in the guy that was dead?
As in the guy that supposedly came back to life, but that’s impossible so I have been dedicating my life to completely and absolutely eradicating all of his followers?
Saul looked and believed the man.
And it wasn’t just the subtle glow of the light.
It wasn’t just the confidence in his voice.
It was the nail marks in his hands.
And a lump grew in Saul’s throat the size of a Passover matzo ball.
Jesus was real.
He had thought it was all a sham…
He had thought it was all phony…
He had thought it was all a demon inspired threat to the truth about God…
He was wrong.
Jesus wasn’t the demon inspired threat.
And Jesus? He must have come for revenge.
To zap him.
To destroy him.
To breathe murderous threats against him and take him as a prisoner to the tortures of hell.
Just not yet.
Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. (v.6)
Then, Jesus disappeared.
Thank God – he had a few more moments to live.
But…Saul blinked. He couldn’t see. The light was gone and there was only darkness. It was a chilling reminder of how he had been in darkness and completely wrong about Jesus.
He heard his companions voices:
Saul, are you alright?
Saul, we heard the voice?
Saul, what should we do next?
“Drop your swords.
Take my hand.
Get me to Damascus.”
III. The Change
Upon getting to Damascus, Saul changed his itinerary.
Instead of fighting Christians, he was fighting his own demons.
I was so wrong.
I am so guilty.
I persecuted God’s Son!
I killed his people.
I am a liar.
I am a murderer.
I am a sinner – guilty – and in danger of the fires of hell.
Saul didn’t eat.
Saul didn’t drink.
He allowed his physical body to go through the torture that his soul was going through. (v.9)
And then, on the third day…
A man named Ananias.
He was a disciple of Jesus.
He would have been one of the men that Saul came to kill.
Now he was blind.
He was weak.
Surely, Ananias had come to kill him.
“Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.17) You are his chosen instrument. He will work through you. He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you.
It was hard to believe!
He was such a sinner.
He was so guilty.
He had done so much wrong!
But …as soon as Ananias finished his message…God did something to emphatically prove Ananias’ point:
Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. (v. 18a)
Visual proof of the invisible truth.
God had forgiven Saul.
But seeing spiritually that Jesus was his Savior.
Saul got up.
He got up and immediately was baptized. (v.18b)
He was loved.
He was accepted.
He was forgiven.
IV. The Truth
This true story is a true story about Saul.
It’s a true story about God’s grace to Saul.
But it’s also a true story with one very important truth for you.
Jesus died even for the really, really bad sins.
We shouldn’t rank sins. God doesn’t do that.
But humanly speaking, we rank sins all of the time.
There are certain sins that just stick with us. Certain sins we feel extra guilty for. Certain sins that we become convinced Jesus would never have died for.
Is that actually true?
Jesus died for all sins.
Jesus died for the small sins.
Jesus died for even the really, really bad sins.
For that arrest.
For cheating on your spouse.
For practicing homosexuality.
For those awful words you said.
For that violent thing you did.
For that racist blow-up at work.
Even the “worst” and most awful sins find their relief in Jesus.
Want proof? Saul later wrote this:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)
Saul gets it.
He knows what it’s like to feel guilt.
Humanly speaking he did a great deal of sins.
Humanly speaking his sins rank up at the worst!
Yet he was forgiven.
If he was forgiven, you are forgiven too.
There is no sin too big.
No sin too bad.
No sin too “sin” for Jesus our Savior.
So…what now? Two things:
1) Lay Your Really, Really Big Sins at the Feet of Jesus
If Jesus removes even your really, really big sins, then stop carrying their guilt around.
You need to drop them.
You need to leave them at the foot of the cross.
At the gym, sometimes they make us carry Kettle Balls. Kettle Balls can be a lot of different weights. Sometimes, if you want to do the prescribed workout, the Kettle Ball can be up to about 70 lbs. You have to carry it in a lot of different ways. At your side. In a front rack. Even over your head. It can be tiring. Especially after walking a couple 100 meters.
Then, when you get to the end, you set them down at the rack and you stop carrying them. Like I never pick it up and go: “I wish we could carry these for another couple of hundred feet.” NEVER.
Why do the same thing with guilt?
Jesus died for your sin.
Jesus removed all your sin.
Jesus removed all your guilt.
There is no reason for you to pick it up and carry it with you.
God is strong enough.
God carried it to the cross.
Leave it at the cross.
2) Be Ananias for Others
Because Ananias had every reason to not share forgiveness with Saul! In fact, if we back up in the story – Ananias is a bit frightened to bring the message of Jesus to Saul, a known Christian persecutor, as he is a Christian.
I bet Ananias felt like saying: “Hi Saul! Ya big jerkface! I hope that God punishes you with hell.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he denies his own personal feelings and shares God’s forgiveness.
You do the same.
When someone has sinned greatly – against you – against someone else – share the Gospel.
Don’t do the thing where someone comes up to you and says, “I’m sorry,” and you’re like, “That was really, terrible and awful, what you did to me.”
And they say, “I know. I’m sorry.”
And you say, “Yes! It was awful! The worst!”
And they say, “I do regret it. I am terribly sorry.”
And you say, “You were so wrong. So very, very, very, very, very wrong.”
That’s not helpful.
That’s not God’s message to the repentant heart.
God’s message to the repentant heart is “Forgiven.”
That’s the message we share with the repentant heart. The message of “Forgiven in Jesus.”
This is not the end of Saul’s story. It’s only the page turn. Just wait – stick with it – you are going to watch Saul’s life totally transform in devotion to Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus was totally devoted to Saul.
That same Jesus was devoted to you.
That same Jesus devoted his life to you.
That same Jesus gave up his life for you.
In him, even the really, really bad sins are really, really forgiven. Amen.
Review of last week’s lesson. Philip and Simon.
The Unstoppable Gospel does not make its way only to cities. Sometimes it heads to much less populated areas.
Today we are going to be following the Unstoppable Gospel on its next stop. But this time, it doesn’t head to a big, populated area like Samaria, but somewhere a little less so. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Account starts in Acts 8:26: An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
A couple of notes:
“An angel of the Lord.” Incredible messenger! Angels glow. Angels are bathed in clean white. Angels shine like the sun. When an angel appears, it is obvious. Obvious it’s an angel and obvious it is from God. The appearance of an angel teaches us that this is not a feeling. Not a hunch. Not some weird dream. It’s a very clear directive from the angel of the Lord.
Go South…towards Gaza. Remember Philip was in Samaria. That was to the North of Judea. Gaza is south of Judea. This is a long journey. 150-mile foot journey to be exact. There would have to be a very impressive destination if I was going to walk 150 miles. (Doritos factory? Super Bowl? Something like that…)
Go…to the desert road. A few things make this request a bit strange. The last place Philip went was a city in Samaria. Cities have lots of people. Cities have a lot of opportunities to share the Gospel. Here? The Spirit wants Philip to head to “some desert road.”
Isn’t this a strange request? The Holy Spirit wants Philip to walk hundreds of miles in order to get to some unnamed desert road where very few people are traveling.
Who would follow such a request?
He trusts God.
He trusts God’s plan.
He trusts that if God wants him to walk 150 miles to some unnamed desert road, he should walk 150 miles to some unnamed desert road.
As Philip gets to walking. It becomes clear to him why God wanted him to on that unnamed desert road:
As he’s walking.
As he’s thinking.
As he wiping the sweat away from his brow.
As he stops to rub his feet – 70 plus miles completed.
He hears some noise in the distance.
It’s a low rumbling. Maybe it’s thunder.
Philip looks and sees a cloud of dust coming his way with a silvery, glistening metal in front.
It’s a chariot.
The kind of ride ridden by only the wealthiest.
As the chariot approaches, Philip notices the insignia on the side of the chariot.
It’s a royal chariot.
It’s a royal chariot from the country of Ethiopia.
The man sitting in the chariot – not the driver – but the passenger in back – looks very impressive.
He has royal insignia on his clothing.
He has royal insignia on his headgear.
He has royal insignia on his jewelry.
Philip steps out of the way.
It’s nice to see some other signs of life on this road, but…he’s royalty. I’m not. He won’t want anything to do with me.
And…right about the time Philip is ready to let him pass by without so much as a head nod…
The Holy Spirit speaks:
“Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (v.29)
Really? I’m just me. Just Philip. I’m dirty. I’m dusty. I’m a commoner. I am hardly dressed for a meeting with nobility.
You are the Holy Spirit so…
Philip approaches the chariot. And as he does so, he notices that the man is reading something.
He squints at the back of the scroll and notices a title on the seal – to help identify the scroll --
It says, “Isaias.”
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” the Ethiopian ruler said, “Unless someone explains it to me.” (v.30)
And the Ethiopian ruler commands the driver to slow down.
He swings open the door to the chariot.
He holds out his jewel studded hand to Philip.
“Join me. Teach me. Please.”
And Philip did.
He taught him about the Scripture in question.
He taught him that Jesus was the man the Scripture was talking about.
He told him how Jesus was like a lamb who was sent to slaughter.
About how Jesus was silent and willingly went.
About how he had his glory cut off.
About how he was shaved of his joy.
About how he was deprived of justice.
And about how Jesus did this for the Ethiopian eunuch.
About how Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood for his sins.
About how the Scriptures prophesied and predicted this.
About how the Scripture from Isaiah isn’t the end.
About how three days later…Jesus came back to life!
About how God loved that Ethiopian Eunuch very much.
About how the wealth and jewels and status of this world would mean nothing compared to the incredible riches of God’s forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God that lasts forever.
About how royalty on earth does not translate to royalty in God’s kingdom.
About how…faith in Jesus does.
And the ruler?
He believes. And he says:
Look! There is some water. What can stand in the way of me getting baptized? (v.36)
And they stopped the chariot.
And they got into the water.
And Philip poured water into his head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And the Ethiopian smiled.
He had been a part of nobility.
He had been a part of royalty.
He had been a part of the Ethiopian government.
Now he was a part of God’s kingdom.
II. The Gospel is Status-Less
This lesson is very important to our understanding of the Gospel, because it teaches us a very important lesson about status and the Gospel.
If you are successful by this world’s standards,
If you think you got there by yourself,
If you think you’re super impressive,
Do not forget:
You still need Jesus.
Because all the money in the world,
All the accolades at a company,
All the trophies from your peers will not stop God from judging your sins.
Here’s the truth then:
The Gospel is Status-less. No one is above the Gospel
Not your boss.
Not being cool.
Not being popular.
Not the president.
Not the guy with 2,000 Facebook friends.
Everyone needs the Gospel.
Everyone needs a Savior.
And if you aren’t the boss,
If you don’t feel cool,
If you aren’t popular,
And barely have 50 Facebook friends…
You need the same Savior.
And have the same Savior.
The Gospel is Status-less. No one is below the Gospel
When you realize that.
When you humble yourself.
When you seek God’s mercy, the Gospel bestows on you a status higher than anything you could imagine:
You are given the status of God’s eternal child.
The Ethiopian eunuch was high ranking. He was used to people doing whatever he told them to do. But…when he hears what God did for him. And what God wants him to do. He listens. He gets out of the chariot. He goes into the mucky, dirty, ‘’some water.” To be baptized.
He doesn’t wait for a big celebration.
Some impressive looking river.
A chance to make a royal show of it.
He knows he’s a sinner.
He knows he needs a Savior.
He humbles himself, believes and is baptized.
As a believer, you have that same status.
As an unbeliever, God wants to give that status to you.
Believe that the status God gives is the only status that matters!
III. What Now?
1. Avoid Same Status Sharing
Because our world is very status oriented.
Ever play apps like Bejeweled? Or Words with Friends? Or Subway Surfers? They’re just fun little games on your phone – but they have been enabled with the ability to share your status! The ability to put your ranking on Facebook. The ability to let everyone know that – HEY! You might be a C.E.O. at Lenovo, but I just added 12 chickens to my farm on Farmville!
Status is so important to this world.
And the devil will use this to play tricks on the way we perceive status that will affect the way we share the Gospel. He’ll make us think that person is too far above us or too far below us.
Especially in a few areas:
Financial Status. This was an issue at Jesus time, before Jesus’ time and it’s still an issue today!
It leads people to think things like: It looks like they have a lot of money, don’t bother them. There must be a rich church they can go to.
It looks like they are too poor, don’t bother them – they wouldn’t fit in here. UGH!
Financial status has nothing to do with whom we share the Gospel with.
Jesus told a story about a wedding banquet and how the one who threw the party invited rich and poor alike to his party. The point? Jesus invites all to his party.
There is no cover charge.
There is no required dress.
There is no down payment necessary.
Jesus paid our way in.
Jesus paid for others too.
Jesus wants us to share the Gospel with them regardless of status.
Age Status. Sometimes we think: “My kid doesn’t have the status of adult. They don’t have the status of ready. They don’t have the status of old enough to hear God’s Word.”
Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations.”
Notice there aren’t status qualifications.
Are your kids a part of all nations?
Then share the Gospel with them.
Tell them of their Savior.
Bring them to church.
Teach them to be in church.
Have them baptized.
Give them Jesus and give them the status of being a member in God’s kingdom.
Christian Status. This is the most foolish of all. But I think it’s way too real.
Because we tend to think about adding to this church – and I know it, I’ve heard it.
It’s as if we have this checklist:
Are they WELS? I’ll totally invite them to church. Are they Christian? I’ll consider inviting them to church.
Are they unbelieving? No way am I inviting them to church.
Aren’t we missing the POINT when we think like that?
Jesus didn’t say go and hang out with the people that are already my disciples.
He said, “Go and make disciples…”
The implications? Make disciples of non-disciples.
Share the Gospel with those who don’t know the Gospel. The Status of Gospel believer is not a requirement for hearing the Gospel.
In fact, the status of unbeliever is all the more reason for sharing the Gospel.
2. Be Confident in Your Status
Because you might say, “I’m not impressive like Philip. I don’t have a high paying job. I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t have fancy clothes. I don’t own a 3-piece suit with one of those skinny ties and fancy scarves that you put in the right breast pocket. I can’t share the Gospel!”
But you’d be wrong.
What qualifies you for sharing the Gospel is not some kind of outward status.
It’s the inward promise of status as God’s child.
You have that. You have that status as God’s child. You are qualified to share the Gospel.
Your status is not what brings people into God’s kingdom.
God’s Word does.
God’s Word is God’s Word – there is no higher status.
You’ve got God’s Word? Then you are qualified to share in the work of the Gospel.
That’s what Philip did. He unleashed the Unstoppable Gospel and the Holy Spirit brought the Rich, Ethiopian Ruler to faith.
That same Gospel works for you. Amen.
This lesson picks up right after Stephen gets killed. If you remember from last week, Stephen was an ‘ordinary’ church member whose job was to deliver bread to widows and tell people about Jesus. And that’s what he did. And that’s what got him in trouble. In fact, that’s what got him killed – sharing about Jesus.
Unfortunately, the message of Stephen’s death empowered the enemies of the church. In fact, the Bible tells us – A great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (v.2) They were afraid that what happened to Stephen might happen to them; so, they packed up and left. I suppose you might picture it kinda like a hurricane evacuation – they left to stay with relatives, friends and Motel 6’s in other cities and towns.
But…here’s what interesting. Look at verse 4: Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Wouldn’t you expect them to be quiet about their faith? Stephen had just died because of his faith. I would have expected them to not mention they are Christians, remove it from their Facebook profiles, and peel the fish stickers off their bumpers.
But they don’t.
Here’s the truth that’s going to become very evident over the remaining lessons in Acts: The Gospel is unstoppable.
You can kill one person. You can shut off the Christian radio. You can burn some bibles. You can suspend Gethsemane’s YouTube page from the internet.
But you cannot stop the Gospel.
The Gospel is unstoppable.
God always has a way of bringing his Gospel to the people that he wants to bring the Gospel to.
Namely – the world.
Today we are going to be following the Unstoppable Gospel as it is proclaimed by a young man named Philip (nice name). He was also one of the bread delivery men like Stephen. Through Philip we are going to learn some wonderful lessons about the power of the Gospel. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Unstoppable Power
Take a look 8:5. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed, or lame were healed. So there was great joy in the city.
A couple of notes:
In Samaria. Samaria was just to the North of Judea and Jerusalem. It was formerly a part of the Old Testament Israelite kingdom, but was currently inhabited by the Samaritans…a group that claimed Israelite ancestry from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The point is that they weren’t Jewish. This was a different city with a different culture. A city that would have been very intimidating for Philip to go and share the Gospel.
But he does anyways. Confident that the Gospel is unstoppable.
Signs performed. This probably gave Philip confidence that the Gospel was unstoppable. The Apostles – who had been given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – had the ability to pass on the ability to do miracles to others by laying their hands on them. (It’s kinda like Galactus from the Marvel Universe. Google it.)
That’s exactly what they had done with the 7 bread delivery men. Stephen, Philip and their 5 other comrades had been given the power to do miracles by the 12 Apostles and God worked through all 19 of these men (12 + 7) to make all who heard the Gospel certain that God was behind this movement and this message.
It caused people to pay attention. Look at the result.
There was great joy in the city. Because that’s what the Gospel brings – joy.
It brings joy to know that your sins are forgiven.
It brings joy to know that you are at peace with God.
It brings joy to know that Jesus conquered death.
It brings joy to know that you will conquer death, too.
The Gospel brings joy – Sometimes we forget about that. Sometimes we get too concerned about financial difficulties, problems in our family life or things we don’t like at church that we miss the JOY of the Gospel! Could you listen in and hear it again: Jesus is your Savior!
That’s a message that will bring joy to anyone!
To me. To you.
To your mom. To your dad.
To your son. To your daughter.
To your mailman. To your next-door neighbor. To the swim team teacher.
In fact, the Gospel even brings joy to unexpected people.
Cue verse 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, and all the people…exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God. (v.9-10)
A few notes about Simon.
Simon, the Sorcerer. That words could refer to two things. (1) Simon was an illusionist. Something like David Copperfield of Bobo the Clown. He used trickery and misdirection in order to impress the crow or (2) He made use of the dark arts. He was somehow getting very real, very scary power from Satan or some other demon.
If that’s true, then Simon is the Voldemort of Ancient Samaria.
It’s not certain, but scholars (and I) tend to believe the second definition. Simon had very real power from some evil spirit. Why? Because earlier in the text, it mentions how Philip was repeatedly driving out demons. Could it be that these demons were so heavily present in that area because of Simon? – because of his dealings with the devil? More than likely. Dealing with the devil and devilish stuff – always has a price.
(Brief side note – because we don’t want to get too far off track. The same thing is true today. Stay away from psychics and palm readings, books about the occult and horror films. When you delve into that stuff, there is always a price to pay. Whether it is the actual appearance of evil spirits or just the heebie jeebies, there’s always a price to pay).
And if all you get is the heebie jeebies. If you get nervous and frightened and think, “God can’t protect me.” The devil wins when he gets you to think that.
Be careful. Back to the text.
Simon had ahold on the people’s imaginations. They viewed him as super important. They called him “The Great Power of God.” And Simon, WHO IS DEFINITELY NOT GETTING HIS POWER FROM GOD, allows the nickname! In fact, he embraces it. Like some Early NT Version of PT Barnum, he tells every one “I am the Greatest Showman!”
That’s a key difference between Simon and Philip isn’t it?
Philip did miracles to get people to praise Jesus.
Simon does miracles to get people to praise Himself.
And now that Philip has entered the area. Now that Philip is there too. Suddenly, there are two dueling attractions in Samaria!
Philip and the Gospel of Jesus.
Simon and the Gospel of Simon.
Who’s going to win?
Don’t be surprised:
The people believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ and they were baptized, both men and women. (v.12)
There it is.
In a head to head battle against a message that is pure evil – the Gospel is victorious!
The message of Jesus as the Savior wins a victory.
Because the Gospel is unstoppable.
People are baptized.
People become a part of God’s kingdom.
In fact, look at the next verse.
Simon himself believed and was baptized.
The dark arts magician.
The Greatest Show in Samaria.
The Guy who had given himself over to demonic power for fame…
Hears the Gospel
That’s Amazing. The Gospel is that powerful.
Which leads to the first application:
(1) Unleash the Gospel
That’s what Philip did. He wasn’t an Apostle. He wasn’t highly trained. He had simply heard the Gospel and yet through his faithful proclamation an entire town under the influence of a dark magician comes to faith!
You do the same thing.
You don’t have to own an Evangelism Degree.
You don’t have to have read Gospel Sharers 101.
You don’t have to have a fancy religious license for sharing the Gospel.
You just tell what you know.
That Jesus is the Savior.
That Jesus died on the cross to save us.
That because Jesus died on the cross we have forgiveness.
That whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
That’s the Gospel.
That’s the powerful Gospel.
That’s the Gospel that brought an entire town under the influence of a dark magician to faith.
That’s the Gospel that brought said dark magician to faith!
(2) Don’t Overlook the Sorcerers
Because too often I think we just aim to share the Gospel with polite looking people.
With people in a nice pastel colored polo and a clean pair of Tommy Hilfiger khakis.
With people who already are Christians.
But Jesus wants his message to make it to the people that look a bit intimidating.
The high ranking, atheist college professor.
The tattooed biker.
The turbaned Muslim.
The gang member.
Even the Satanist!
Maybe you don’t know anyone like that.
But maybe you know someone who puts their hatred for Christianity all over their Social media profile.
Maybe you have a coworker who is always ridiculing Christians at work.
Maybe you have a family member who has told you that he thinks God is stupid.
Those are the people we need to tell about Jesus.
And we can tell confidently, because the Gospel is powerful.
The Gospel is Unstoppable!
II. Not for Sale
Word of what happened in Samaria reached its way back to Jerusalem. The few Christian that were left there – namely the Apostles – were thrilled at what God’s Word had done in Samaria. They sent Peter and John to Samaria to visit the new church in Samaria, to encourage and uplift them.
When they arrived, they prayed for the news believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (v.16-17)
A couple of notes that are really important to understand what is meant by “They didn’t have the Holy Spirit.”
(1) Believers. These people were believers. If they were believers, they already had the Holy Spirit in their heart. The Bible tells us that “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) Since these people were believers and believers are only believers because the Holy Spirit is in their heart, they had the Holy Spirit in a certain sense. in their heart creating faith.
What is meant then by not receiving the Holy Spirit? It’s a reference to the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts to do miracles – like casting out demons, healing people, and speaking in tongues – which is a divine, angelic language that was very prominent in the Early Christian Church. Remember – the Apostles had been given these abilities at Pentecost. They passed on that ability to others in the church through the laying on of hands. Still they hadn’t passed it on to the people in Samaria yet, because they hadn’t been to Samaria yet.
But…when they get there?
Peter and John prayed for them, placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, people in the congregation at Samaria were able to speak in tongues, a few had the ability to heal, maybe even one or two could cast out demons.
It was amazing.
And that’s how our friend Simon thought!
That’s amazing! They can pass out the Holy Spirit simply by laying on their hands!?!
That’s a new kind of trick.
That’s a new kind of magic.
I want it.
I want that power.
I want that ability.
I no longer want to be a magician.
I want to be an apostle.
So he took a deep breath.
He power-walked up to Peter.
He held out a bag of money and said.
“I’d like to buy God’s magic powers. Will a fifty do?”
Peter answered, “May your money perish with you. You thought you could buy the gift of God with money! Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord that he may forgive you…for I see that you are captive to sin.” (v.20-22)
Now…I haven’t had anyone recently ask me to give them miraculous powers in exchange for a $100 bill. The application of this section isn’t that obvious.
But this is in the Bible for us to read and to contemplate so…
What was Simon after? Power. Influence. He thought he could give some money and get the position of Apostleship.
Question. Think about this. Why do you give?
I’m not just talking about money. But why do you give your time, your talents, your service to this church?
Do you want to GET a spot on the leadership team?
Do you want people to GET accolades for your work on the new building?
Do you want GET the respect of your neighbors because “he’s a church man”?
Or maybe it happens at home. Why do you give your time, talents and treasures there?
Do you want to GET your friends approval as a good, Christian mom?
Do you want to GET your wife’s approval as a good, Christian dad?
Do you want to GET a warm fuzzy feeling because “I’m a pretty good Christian”?
If you are giving in order to get, then your heart is captive to sin.
And that’s wrong.
And…God’s Word says this to you: May your gift perish with you! Repent of this wickedness and pray for God to forgive you.
And as you hear that, I pray that you react as Simon did. Because after Simon hears that call to repentance, his request to the Apostles changes dramatically. He no longer asks for the abilities of an apostle. He simply asks for God’s mercy.
Simon realized what that he hadn’t earned any of that power or prestige from God.
In fact, with his sin, Simon realized that he had only earned God’s punishment.
He needed God’s mercy.
That’s what we need, too, God’s mercy. The only thing we have earned from God is punishment. Not power. Not influence. Not some kind of special title at the church.
So, we ask for God’s mercy.
And God grants it.
He doesn’t just place your name on a church bulletin, but in the annals of heaven.
He doesn’t give you the title of Apostle, but forgiven child of God.
He doesn’t give you a temporary position in his church leadership, but an eternal position in his kingdom.
That’s way better!
And it leads to the final WHAT NOW. Instead of GIVING in order to GET, God wants us to
(3) Give because You’ve already Got!
We’ve got forgiveness.
We’ve got a place in God’s kingdom.
We’ve got eternal life.
We’ve got the status of child of God. Princes and princesses of the King of the Universe!
(Is there any higher status? I’m sorry, but church president, pastor, elder – they aren’t higher than that!)
We don’t need to worry about having some kind of special position in the church or some type of recognition.
We’ve already got the title that lasts.
And to be fair – this keeps all of us on the same page. It keeps us focused on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh, not 200 individual missions to Plant the Message that I’m Awesome in the Hearts of everyone else in the Church.
Instead, we focus together and singularly drive toward our goal of sharing God’s message in North Raleigh.
Giving money to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving time to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving talents to plant the message of Jesus,
And when that is our purpose…
And we’re simply focused on sharing the Gospel…
Think back to our first big truth:
The Gospel is UNSTOPPABLE!
It will be preached.
It will be proclaimed.
It will affect hearts.
It will be planted in the hearts of North Raleigh.
It will work.
Praise God for his powerful Gospel. Praise God for being a part of this kingdom work. Amen.