A Healthy Church is on a Gospel-Centered Mission (Acts 8:1-25)
As we have been looking at the early church, one of the themes that have emerged is that the early church is a church on a mission. It wasn’t a church that had a mission in the world, but it was God’s mission that had this church. When the Spirit of God descended on these disciples, they all became missionaries. This is not surprising. Henry Martyn, missionary to India, once said, “The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.”
God is a missional God. It takes just a few verses after Adam and Eve’s fall when He shows up as the first missionary, looking for the lost (Gen. 3:9). Tim Keller in his book Center Church says,
“The Trinity is, by nature, ‘sending.’ The Father sends the Son into the world to save it, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit into the world. And now…the Spirit is sending the church. In short, God does not merely send the church in mission. God already is in mission, and the church must join him. This also means, then, that the church does not simply have a missions department; it should wholly exist to be a mission.”
As Jiju said last week, the Gospel pulls you in only to push you out, because you can’t get near to God and not become missional. I believe God has brought Living Hope here for a reason and I know the reason is not so we have a nice little clubhouse here. He has here on a gospel-centered mission. But what does that mean? Let’s start with this. Being on a gospel-centered mission means:
I. We are pushed out with a missional purpose (v.4)
Persecution pushes out many of these believers. The hitting of the believers results in the scattering of the Gospel further. I love the word “scattering.” The word “Diaspora” comes from this word “scattering” and is used to describe people who have left their homeland and have scattered themselves in many other places.
Pastor Warren Wiersbe says, “Persecution does to the church what wind does to seed: it scatters it and only produces a greater harvest.” Nothing will stop God’s mission, not even persecution. The wind just increases the flame, not smother it. Persecution does not hinder, but helps God to accomplish His plans. If you remember, just as the church father Tertullian, the church father, said, “The more you mow us down, the more we grow. The blood of the martyrs is seed.”
John Stott notes, “An instructive modern parallel [to Acts 8] is what happened in 1949 in China when the National Government was defeated by the Communists. Six hundred and thirty-seven China Inland Mission missionaries were obliged to leave. It seemed a total disaster. Yet within four years 286 of them had been redeployed in South-East Asia and Japan, while the national Christians in China, even under severe persecution, began to multiply and now total thirty or forty times the number they were when the missionaries left (the exact figures are not known).”
In Acts 8:1, it sounds like everyone leaves by Luke’s use of the word “all,” but he’s exaggerating, to let us know that a significant portion of the believers had to leave. But notice wherever these people went, mission followed. “Preaching the word” will give the impression that they “gave sermons,” but they did more than that. I like how Jiju called it “Gospelizing.” And it wasn’t just the apostles, it was the lay people on a mission with the gospel.
It would have been easy to cower in fear, get together and hide somewhere in Samaria. It is hard to pick up and leave. They had a growing, booming church in Jerusalem. It would have been easy to complain. Instead, they saw that their pushing out was for a missional purpose. Every Christian became a ministry provider and not a ministry consumer, despite the pain they were facing.
I look at most of you here and I see that you have been pushed out from somewhere, including myself. Perhaps you are here because there were problems in another church or you are looking for a smaller community or for whatever reason, you are here now. Some of you are still hurt from past church experiences where you were burnt out, misunderstood, felt betrayed or faced conflict or left because of the church’s unwillingness to change.
Let this encourage you. You didn’t actually leave that church. God pushed you out for a purpose. What is that purpose? He wants you on His mission for the lost. I heard someone who left an Indian church say in looking for another church, “I want to be around other Indians.” That’s fine, but be with other Indians on a mission. Recently someone called us “the Indian Church.” That’s a first. We have been called the Vietnamese, the Thai church and “aren’t you with the Koreans” Church (never Taiwanese), but never Indian before. Listen, I don’t care what people call us. I don’t care who’s coming here: brown, yellow, black, white, purple, green, whatever. It is out of our control. It doesn’t matter what led you here or why you came or where you came from. It only matters where we are going from here. God pushed many of us out for a missional purpose. Jesus did not say, “Follow me and I will make you keepers of an aquarium.” He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Luke 5:10). So yes, thanks for coming here. Eat some rice with us. Join our small group. Play some softball. But in the end, get ready to be a person of mission.
Also, some of you will be pushed out of Living Hope, though hopefully for good reasons. We would love to push people out to do more for the Gospel. But some of you might be pushed out of here for work or family or school or other reasons. If that’s the case, put the mission of God first. Find a Bible-preaching, Gospel-centered church that is on a mission as #1 on your to-do list. If God’s pushing you out, it’s with a missional purpose. Think of being a ministry provider and not a ministry consumer. Secondly to be a church on a Gospel-centered mission means that:
II. We are poured out with holistic compassion (vv.5-8)
Now we meet Philip. This is not Philip the disciple and apostle, but Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8) who was one of the seven called by God to help the Greek-speaking widows in need (Acts 6:1ff). Like Stephen, his faithfulness to that task led God to use him in a wider ministry (cf. Matt. 25:23). He travels 40 miles north to Samaria. Samaria was literally their neighbor (remember the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10). It says he went “down” because leaving Jerusalem to go anywhere is going down, because you would be coming from a high elevation in Jerusalem.
Let me give you a little history of Samaritans. They were mixed breeds of half-Jews and half-Gentiles. When the Assyrians came and invaded the Northern Kingdom of Israel, some of the Jews intermarried with the Assyrians. Over time, the Jews and Samaritans became increasing hostile toward one another. The Samaritans were despised for being unfaithful and of mixed ancestry. Jews were not to eat with them, associate with them or use their cups for drinking, which is fascinating when you remember Jesus, doing the unthinkable in asking the woman of Samaria for a drink in John 4. The Samaritans also believed in a Messiah to come, though they only believe in the first five books of the Old Testament. A popular prayer in those days said, “… and, Lord, do not remember the Samaritans in the resurrection.” You can be sure the Samaritans felt the same way about the Jews.
So Philip uses that information to proclaim to them “the Christ,” meaning the Messiah they have been waiting for as well. And just like that, people start to listen to him, not only because he was preaching, but through his actions as well. There was truth of the gospel. He preached “the good news,” (Acts 8:12), which means the Gospel.
However, that “Word” was fleshed out in three ways and these other ways have to go with the Word or people will not listen to the Word. One was by meeting spiritual needs, second by physical needs and third by racial reconciliation. See that in the text. In Acts 8:7 don’t get distracted by the miraculous nature of things here. Look at the careful nuancing here. There were some with spiritual problems like demonic oppression. But there were also with physical problems like paralysis and lameness. Notice that Luke, the doctor, does not offer a simplistic and reductionistic approach to human problems and misery.
Some have a superstitious reductionistic view toward problems. It doesn’t say all of the problems are of the devil. These groups are trying to cast of demons from every problem from backaches to tornados. Philip does not look at someone paralyzed and say that it was of the devil. He sees some problems as physical and some problems as spiritual.
Today, we go the other way. We are reductionistic in the other extreme. We think every problem is physical or scientific. No matter what your problem is, it is something science can answer. It is also naïve to think in this extreme. Jenny was at a conference once where the preacher suddenly lost his voice. Everyone at the conference prayed and he got his voice back. Someone wrote a book about spiritual warfare and used that story as an illustration. But when I heard the story, the first thing that came to mind was, “Well, I know that preacher and he’s always screaming when he preaches. No wonder he lost his voice.” There is my Western scientific reductionism coming into play as I dismiss everything that is supernatural with a scientific explanation. The Enemy comes as an angel of light. Paul says don’t be ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). Be on guard, especially when you are about to go to Bible Study, church or some event.
The Gospel says our problems are both physical and spiritual and the church are called be on mission to help everyone. There are so many needs and so many things to do and we must pray for discernment on where to pour out our energy and resources. But the point is that we cannot reach a community without caring for them in a holistic way. Notice here the words are backed up by the deeds.
Why should anyone listen to us if we as a church aren’t pouring ourselves out to the needs of our community and showing changed lives? If we are just getting more people and becoming a big church, the city will only see us as doing this for us, wanting to be a big church. But when they see ourselves pouring ourselves out with holistic compassion, they will listen.
And ministry is messy. It will take sacrifice and time and energy and resources. Not only that. Philip was a Jew! Racial reconciliation was going on here as well for him, a former Jew, to be ministering here with the hated Samaritans. What a powerful witness!
We have come a long way of integrating as one body here at Living Hope with our racial diversity. I am thankful for the Gospel and to Sriracha sauce. But let’s allow the Gospel to continue to encourage us to give up our rights to eat with or talk to only people we are comfortable with. Many of us South Indian Christians are known to not even associate with other South Indian Christians from certain denominations, so I am thankful that is broken down in Jesus name here at Living Hope! The Gospel breaks down barriers that make people friends who would otherwise hate each other. But we need to continue to work at it!
Gospel ministry is holistic ministry and it’s messy. Imagine being there with Philip. There are people shrieking! Philip, poor guy, had a nice quiet ministry giving food the poor widows and now he doesn’t a moment here to rest. He’s pouring himself out in messy ministry. And look what happens: joy in the city. This is not just joy with the believers. It is joy in the city. What would it be like if there joy like never before in Glendale Heights and Bloomingdale because God was using a small church called Living Hope? Lastly, to be a church on a gospel-centered mission means:
III. We are proclaiming God’s greatness and not our own (vv.9-25)
I love Philip. He’s not an apostle. He’s not a hotshot celebrity. He’s just a refugee in a hostile environment driven there by persecution, carrying the name of Jesus with him. He was a powerful tool in God’s hands. Little is much if God is in it. Philip came to preach Christ and notice, sometimes with that comes with fame. Sometimes it is not so much how we handle adversity that counts, but with prosperity.
Before he knew it, this fame attacked the idol of another man’s “work” in the city, of a man named Simon. Luke tells us of the Samaritans to invite us into mission, but stops here to tell us about Simon to warn us into motives for ministry. This guy was a celebrity, a famous magician. The people had given him the title “The Great Power of God.” And he loved it. He basked in his reputation and fed off the admiration and respect he received. When we think of magician we might think of rabbits coming out of hats and card tricks, and he may very well have done “tricks,” but what he did was more like witchcraft and occult practices. Do you picture Gandalf? He probably looked like an average Samaritan though. But he claimed that he was God and had a hold on the city’s admiration for him.
But people start leaving his Satanic shows to go hear the Gospel. Simon’s not the greatest anymore. His star was fading fast. So, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em right? He himself goes and stands in line and calls himself a believer. Even Philip believes him and baptizes him. But what’s really driving him? Look at v.13: “and seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.” He is like the little toddler who is sitting on your lap and you point out the window of a bird perched on a tree and the child can’t seem to look past your finger. The child might even try to imitate you pointing, but he is amazed by the finger and misses the bird. That is Simon. He never saw the ugliness of his own sin, the need for repentance, and the glory of Christ in the gospel who forgives and makes new and clean.
We have an interesting situation in Acts 8:14-17. Peter and John are called to come, like an accreditation board, to verify what was happening in Samaria. Some groups have used this to prove that believers are to have a second experience of the Holy Spirit following salvation. The same thing happens in Acts 2, 10 and 19. However, remember the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Wayne Grudem explains, “A better understanding of this event would be that God, in his providence, sovereignly waited to give the new covenant empowering of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans directly through the hands of the apostles (Acts 8:14–17) so that it might be evident to the highest leadership in the Jerusalem church that the Samaritans were not second-class citizens but full members of the church.” The apostles do not run around confirming every single salvation in Acts. But why here? John Stott adds, “The gospel had been welcomed by the Samaritans, but would the Samaritans be welcomed by the Jews? Or would there be separate factions of Jewish Christians and Samaritan Christians in the church of Jesus Christ? There was a real ‘danger … of their Christ apart, or at least of forming a new and separate church for themselves’.”  This was, as a result, a Samaritan Pentecost. Later, the same thing will happen to the Gentiles in a Gentile Pentecost. In sum, this is descriptive and not prescriptive and in the transition between the old covenant and new of the Gospel spreading from Jerusalem to the outer most parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).
We don’t know exactly how they knew they received the Spirit. Perhaps they spoke in other languages as in Acts 2, but the text does not say. Evidently, whatever it was, Simon was impressed. He wanted to use the Gospel to make much of himself. That doesn’t happen anymore does it?
We are like Simon when we want the external benefits of the gospel without surrendering internally. Being amazed at the power of the Gospel is not saving faith. Wanting what others have is not saving faith. But this is a warning for us as believers too that we cannot use ministry to make ourselves great. We see later that he wanted to buy the Holy Spirit’s power (Acts 8:18). Jon Bloom says, “And like many who have once experienced the euphoric drug of other people’s adoration, he wanted that rush again. If he could somehow get this Jesus power, then once again he could be great. Once again people would hold him in awe. He was willing to pay a high price for that drug.”
Peter, very sternly, calls him to repentance here. But Church tradition says that Simon never repented, continued to say he was God and became a heretic. This is the danger of being on mission for God, only to use God to make others see ourselves as great. Kevin DeYoung says, “Sometimes we just want God were nothing more than a magician, a genie in a lamp. Give him a rub and watch him do his thing. Some of us are syncretistic like Simon. We’ll ladle up a little bit of Jesus as long as he fulfills our plans. Anything for a little more power or a little more improvement in our circumstances. [But] the walk of genuine faith is the walk of Calvary. It carries a cross, and it takes a lifetime.
When we have “faith” like Simon we come to Christ to make our dreams come true. When we come to Christ with saving faith we come to him to call him Lord… Do you want to know the most impressive thing about Phillip? It wasn’t the power he had that was greater than Simon’s power. It was the name he proclaimed that was greater than Simon’s name. Phillip had the attention of the crowds. He had power from on high. He was seeing great success. And yet the only name he came to proclaim was the name of Jesus.” See, when God measures the greatness of an individual, He puts the tape measure around the heart not the head.
Richard Foster observes, “Whenever there is trouble over who is the greatest, there is trouble over who is the least. That is the crux of the matter for us, isn’t it? Most of us know we will never be the greatest; just don’t let us be the least. Gathered at the Passover feast, the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the others’ feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat, feet caked with dirt. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least. Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and redefined greatness.”
In God’s providence, I got to sit down with the father of urban ministry, Ray Bakke, this past week. It wasn’t planned, but in looking back, I felt the Lord divinely orchestrated that meeting. He needed a ride to his hotel from the Mission on our Doorsteps conference. I was nervous to talk to him, though I wanted to ask him some questions. Thankfully he asked me about Living Hope and I asked him how to mobilize a commuter church for local mission. He then talked for about 20 minutes about what it means to be missional. He shared his life experience and challenged me to be poured out for this community around uI realized that it is going to have to start with me willing to be scattered with my reputation, my time and my resources. Only if we are willing to be scattered, will there be joy in the city. If you give, your wealth will be scattered. If you give your time and emotions to get to know people, your happiness will be scattered. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army said, “The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of His surrender.” Let us surrender our right to have the American dream, our rights to our happiness, the rights to use our energy, time and resources. Let’s surrender it at the feet of Jesus.
The truth is, I am Simon the sorcerer. When God puts the tape measure around my head, it is big and around my heart, it is small. I want a God I can use rather than a God I want to obey. A God who will fulfill my needs for a fulfilling ministry rather than a God before whom I must surrender my rights to myself. But the Good News is we have One who has come for us glory thieves. Jesus was sent on a mission for us. He wasn’t pushed out of His comfort zone, He willingly left it not to be at the top of the ladder on the earth, but became nothing, called the Suffering Servant, eventually dying on the cross. He was poured out for us giving up everything, so joy would fill our hearts. He was the greatest person in the world, yet was stripped of it. By giving up his power and serving, he became the most influential man who ever lived. He didn’t try to buy greatness, but shed His blood to buy us, so we can receive the free gift of grace. Do you see a God who went on a mission for you? Only by admitting that we are Simon-like glory thieves confessing our sin, our need and powerlessness, casting ourselves on his mercy can we be finally secure in His love and empowered to live lives on mission for others.
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