Sunday, November 13, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Philip"

From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
November 13, 2011
Acts 8:1-40

I’m going to continue in our series on the book of Acts, that I’m calling “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania.”

But I almost didn’t.

This was such a tumultuous week for our community because of the events in Happy Valley, and I thought long and hard about a message entitled “The Bible and the Scandal at Penn State.”

I decided not to preach that message because I think we’re all fatigued from hearing and talking about it all week long. But I am concerned, as a pastor, that no one assume from my silence that God has nothing to say about these events.

In actuality, the Bible has the most important things to say about everything. And it gives us categories that help us to make sense out of life. The Bible’s teaching on sin, on responsibility, on justice, on suffering, on love. The Bible’s teaching on how the world is not as it should be but one day will be. The Bible’s teaching about the preciousness of the blood of Christ–able to make the foulest clean. The Bible’s teaching on idolatry anything that takes the place of God in our lives. The Bible’s teaching on the coming judgment when God will settle all outstanding accounts perfectly. Those teachings and more can give us the categories we need to understand our often confusing world.

If you want to talk more about that with me, that’s why I’m here.

I do want to give one more word of pastoral counsel about the whole thing–and that is, as Christians, we need to act and speak as Christians.

Very simple. My point is that we are not, first of all, Penn State. We are...Jesus’ people. That doesn’t mean that we can’t love Penn State or, if we are on the other side, despise Penn State. But our ultimate and most important allegiance is to Jesus.

And Jesus has a certain code of conduct and a code of speech that should rule the way we talk to others. And we can’t forget it as we vigorously debate or champion any cause.

What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus say?
What would Jesus have me do or say?

The answer may not always be obvious, but we need to ask those questions of ourselves and represent our Lord well–at work, at school, on Facebook, or wherever.

We don’t just speak for ourselves. We speak for Christ. And that’s huge.

Let’s turn now to the book of Acts. Chapter 8.

Last week, we studied chapter 7 and the title was simply, “Stephen.”

Stephen was chosen in chapter 6 as one of “the Seven,” administrative leaders who helped the church through an ethnic crisis. He was also a preacher who got in trouble for preaching about Jesus and then was killed for preaching about Jesus.

Today, our title will simply be “Philip.”

Philip was also one of the Seven.

And chapter 8 is about his ministry. It’s almost everything we know about him.

In chapter 21, we’ll find out that he had four unmarried daughters.

Poor fella probably never saw the inside of the bathroom at his house!

But other than that, everything we know about Philip comes from this chapter. Like Stephen, Philip is an important bridge character–he helps to bridge the story from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Remember what Jesus said in chapter 1? “You will be my witnesses in  Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And how far have we gotten up to this point in the book of Acts?

Well, pretty much we’re still in Jerusalem.

Big crowds, some opposition. Some warnings, some floggings, and now Stephen has become a martyr. He died for preaching about Jesus.

And that seems to open the floodgates of persecution.

Acts chapter 8, verse 1.

“And Saul was there, giving approval to his [that is, Stephen’s] death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Stephen died and a great persecution broke out.

Those big crowds of new believers got scattered. Only the apostles were left in Jerusalem to brave it out.

Stephen was barely in his grave and Saul was monstrously attacking the church, dragging people men and women to prison.

The bad times had come.

It is fitting that today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

We aren’t doing anything special for it that today, but here it is our text.

A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem.

The dam broke and big wave of trouble poured out over the church.

And one of the chief trouble-pourers was a young man who had just witnessed the stoning of Stephen and was nodding his head in approval.

Yes! Let’s stomp out these Jesus freaks!

Now, just for a second, pretend you don’t know the rest of the story.

Is all of this good or bad?

Verses 1 through 4. Good or bad?

Yes, that’s a trick question.

Of course, there are bad things in those verses. People are going to prison for believing in Jesus. People are dying for believing in Jesus.


Here’s lesson #1 of 4 this morning.


This persecution doesn’t take God by surprise.

“Oh, no. What am I going to do now?!”

No, God has a plan for all of the bad stuff.

Remember, again, what Jesus said was going to happen in chapter 1.
“You will be my witnesses in  Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

They hadn’t made it very far yet.

But now they did.

Look at verse 1 again.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

And what did they do there? V.4

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

One of my old professors used to say that they “gossiped the gospel” wherever they went.

Stephen’s death and the great persecution didn’t slow down the progress of the gospel–it accelerated it!

God is sovereign. He uses even the bad stuff to work out His plan.

Did you need to hear that today?

It’s the truth of Romans 8:28.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

That doesn’t make the persecution good or the martyrdom.

But it does mean that all of the badness of it will ultimately be drained and it will be worked to our good and God’s glory.

Are you going through a bad time right now?

Take heart. God uses even the bad things to work out His plan.

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Including a man named Philip. V.5

“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”

Wow. This is cool.

Notice that it isn’t an apostle who is bringing the gospel and whom God is using. It’s just a guy named Philip. One of the Seven, sure, but not one of the Twelve (that’s a different Philip...).

He’s gospelizing....where?


Home of the Samaritans.  The despised. The half-breeds. The beloved of God.

God is obviously at work through Philip. The town is hopping. Satan is on the run.

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, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

Do you get the picture?

There is this guy named Simon (not Simon Peter) who is a magician in this Samaritan city. And he’s convinced the people that he is someone great. They have even called him, “The Great Power.”

How would you like that title?

Here comes “The Great Power.”

That’s a hard one to live up to!

I don’t how much demonically-sourced power he really had or if he was just a deceiver.

Either way, he thought he was something and so did the people until Philip came along.

And Philip has real power but he doesn’t preach Philipism!

He preaches Jesus and the good news of the kingdom of God.


“Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”

Now, we don’t know if that “believing” in verse 13 is saving faith or just professing faith, but Simon jumps in line, too. And he goes through the motions. Even gets baptized.

Now, we’re all interested in Simon because he was “The Great Power.”

But the apostles are interested because these are Samaritans.

The gospel is moving outward from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria.

Or is it? V.14

“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.”

We’ve got check this out. This is a new development. And something strange has happened. V.15

“When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Now, I have a bunch of unanswered questions on this text.

In the first place, how did they know that the Spirit had not come upon any of them?

And in the second place, why not? 

This is very unusual. Not the way it happens everywhere else or in our lives today.

When you and I believe in Jesus, we get the Holy Spirit. One step.

But here, there was demonstrably, no Spirit yet, even though they had Son.

And then, with Peter and John placing their hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit.

How did they know?

Some people think that they spoke in tongues. Maybe. It doesn’t say.

I can’t answer the question of how, but I think I have an idea of why.

I think it’s to demonstrate that this is the genuine spread of the genuine gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s the real deal. Peter and John have witnessed it.

God held back the Spirit in Samaria and then gave Him to the Samaritans in the witnessing of Peter and John, the two apostles who were closest to Jesus.

And, more than that, John was one who wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans.

Remember that from Luke 9?

Well, now, he’s calling down the Spirit on them.

And, somehow, it’s obvious. The Spirit comes in power. And that is interesting to Simon the Magician. V.18

“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Cool!  What does that cost?

“Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’”

Lesson #2.


We actually have a word for it in English. The word “simony” means to try to buy religious authority.

Like becoming a bishop because you pay for it.

But the Spirit is not for sale.

He comes a free gift to believers in Jesus. Not as magic incantation that you must buy the secret for.  V.20

“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!”

The Spirit is the gift God. And He’s not for sale.

Of course, we try to bribe God in lots of different ways than money.

“I’ll be good, God, I promise. Just give me that.”
“I’ll give my time, Lord, if you’ll bless me.”
“How about we work a little deal?”

But that won’t work.

Don’t try it.

The Spirit is the gift of God.

Again, I don’t know if Simon was a true believer or not. He seems to have some repentance in him. V.24

“Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’”

Maybe he’s just afraid of the consequences, with a worldly sorrow, I don’t know.

Either way, the message is delivered. You can’t buy the Spirit.

And the gospel has truly come to Samaria!  V.25

“When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.”

But again, it is not just Peter and John who gospelize.

It is a regular old guy like Philip. And like you and me.

In verse 26, the story shifts. It’s still Philip, and he’s still preaching the gospel.

I love this story. V.26

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.”

This is a great story.

It’s told in contrast to good old “Simon the Great Power.”

This guy has some real power in politics.

He is the Treasurer of Ethiopia. Which in this time was actually a kingdom where central Sudan is now.

Probably a black man and a very powerful one in government though because he was a eunuch, he was unable to enter into the temple.

But he obviously believes in the God of the Jews. Perhaps he is a covert to Judaism.

He’s been to Jerusalem to worship and he’s on his way back.

And he has a divine appointment with Philip.

This government official is reading the book of Isaiah. Apparently, he is rich enough to his own personal copy.

And he’s reading, apparently, out loud.  V.29

“The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

You can see what’s going to happen, can’t you?  V.32

“The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: ‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.’”

Where is that from?

That’s Isaiah 53. It’s describing the suffering servant of the LORD.

How many here have memorized some portion of Isaiah 53?

I know that our older Kids for Christ classes have been memorizing Isaiah 53 this year. I hear it repeated again and again and again in our home.

“We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity (the sin) of us all.”


Who is the him in Isaiah 53?

That’s the question the Candice’s cabinet member asks Philip. V.34

“The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”

Lesson #3 from Philip:


Jesus is the “him” in Isaiah 53.

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

That’s Jesus.

That’s Jesus 800 years before Jesus was born!

Jesus is the suffering servant who rose again.

And the eunuch believed!

And more than that, he obeyed the command to be baptized. V.36

“As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.”


Then eunuch believed, and he understood that he should signal his faith by go forward with water baptism.

Philip was happy to oblige.

There was some kind of body of water, and they stopped the chariot. Whoa!

And they went down into the water, and Philip baptized this man. V.39

“When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”


Because he believed the gospel.

He believed that the Lord had laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all.

And that made all of the difference.

Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, as the Suffering Servant who was numbered with the transgressors for you?

Have you been baptized to tell the world that you believe the gospel?

I think that many people think that baptism is either something we do to children–which there are no explicit child baptisms in the Bible or something that mature Christians do when they get spiritual enough.

But water baptism is for ordinary Christians to do soon after they believe–at least if they are adults.

Like this guy. He believes. He says, “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

And hearing no reason why not, he is.

Have you been baptized?

What are you waiting for?

Tell the world that you believe the gospel.

By getting dunked...and with your mouth. That’s what Philip did.

He was active in sharing his faith wherever he ended up. V.40

“Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.”

That was one busy gospel guy.

A great model for you and me.

He kept going and going like the Energizer Bunny of the gospel.

Let’s end with that question we’ve been asking ourselves the last few weeks.

What’s stopping you?

Nothing stopped Philip. He was always ready to share about Jesus.

He knew that God uses even the bad things to work out His plan.
He knew that the Spirit was not for sale but freely given.
He knew and was bold to tell others that Jesus is the suffering servant.
And he knew that water baptism was outward sign that you inwardly believe the gospel.

And he never stopped sharing it with those who need to hear.

What is stopping you and me?

Let’s be like Philip.