The In-Between Years - Part 44
Series: The In-Between Years
August 01, 2021
The In-Between Years — Part 44
So much has happened in our study I’ve called “The In-Between Years: A Look at the church in the book of Acts.” As we move on into chapter 8 it’s hard to recap but I’ll try. Stephen, one of the seven men chosen to wait on tables in chapter 6 stands accused of blasphemy in chapter 7 for powerfully preaching a risen Christ. Instead of defending himself he boldly preached the truth before the powerful council of Jewish elders who held his fate in their hands. They were so offended by his message and enraged by the vision of Jesus he saw, they stoned him to death.
This sparked a wave of intense persecution, with the Jewish leaders, and particularly a Pharisee named Saul, hunting down Christians, both men and women, throwing them into prison. God used his power of providential override to turn this evil back on the forces of darkness and use it for good. This forced those first Christians camped out in Jerusalem to branch out and begin the next phase of God’s witness projection program…
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)
Let’s pick up in Acts 8 verse 4..
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. Acts 8:4–8 (ESV)
Let’s hang out at verse 4 a bit. There’s so much in those few words…
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Acts 8:4 (ESV)
Those who were scattered.
That’s the Christ-followers making up the church in Jerusalem who scattered because of the persecution. They fled the city and made their way into the areas of Judea and Samaria, the regions surrounding Jerusalem. What did they do? Just settle down and be quiet? Nope. They…
…went about preaching the word.
“Those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” In the Greek preaching comes from a word literally meaning “to deliver good news.” They went about telling people the good news of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Preaching isn’t reserved for preachers.
If you do a little digging here, you see what might be a link Luke makes for us to something in his gospel.
“Those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” The Greek word for scatter comes from a root word meaning seed. In ancient times a farmer would grab seeds from a bag on his side and scatter them everywhere.
“Those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” Have we come across a connection between the scattering of seeds and the word before? Yes, Luke — as well as Mark and Matthew — record the parable of the sower.
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 8:4–8 (ESV)
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Luke 8:11 (ESV)
The word, the gospel, is like seeds. You plant them and wait for it to bear fruit.
There’s even more here if you look deeper. We have to get a little technical to do it. I’m not trying to show off I promise. The noun form of the Greek word for scatter is diaspora. The diaspora originally referred to Jewish people scattered like seeds throughout the Gentile lands in exile (going back to their rebellion in the OT). Today it’s come to mean any people group dispersed or scattered from their homeland into other lands. Peter uses this word to describe Christ-followers in the beginning of his first letter…
1 From Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God’s people who are scattered like foreigners in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 1 Peter 1:1 (CEV)
Those scattered, the diaspora, Peter refers to can’t be the Jewish diaspora because he wrote to believers living in Roman provinces, and they would have most certainly been Gentiles, or at least most of them would have been. The Gentiles he wrote to were from those places. In other words they grew up in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. So how could they be diaspora, scattered like foreigners or exiles in the land they were raised in?
Listen to what Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi…
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20 (ESV)
And to the Christians at Ephesus…
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, Ephesians 2:19 (ESV)
And to the Christians at Colossae…
13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13–14 (ESV)
Being a Christian makes us foreigners, exiles even in the places we are raised in. Tim Keller says this…
… in the beginning of 1 Peter 1:1, it calls Christians exiles. Colossians 1, says, “You have been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son.” In Philippians it says, “We are now citizens of heaven.” What does it mean?
The minute you become a Christian, you’re not from where you’re from anymore. You say, “Well, I’m from Ohio.” The minute you become a Christian you’re not from Ohio anymore. You’re not a citizen of Ohio anymore. You say, “I’m from Alabama.” The minute you become a Christian, you’re not a citizen of Alabama anymore. There’s been a transfer. Something has happened.
This is not just an abstraction. If you really have understood the gospel, if it has really changed your life, this is what you’re going to see. Your wealth in Christ, your adoption in Christ, and your standing in Christ become more important than your membership in any other family, in any other cultural or political system. What happens to Christians is they find their taproot to their old class, their taproot to their old ethnic group, their taproot to their old place is cut, and the new taproot goes to what? You’re a citizen of heaven.
This is a word for us today. If I understand what the Scripture teaches us here it’s that Christians make for great citizens but terrible patriots because at the end of the day and above all else we are exiles living in a foreign land, we are people of God’s kingdom, with our allegiance and loyalty to him coming first.
Luke moves from the broad to the specific in our next verse…
5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. Acts 8:5 (ESV)
Philip was one of those scattered who went about preaching the word. We’ve already heard of him. Like Stephen, he was one of seven men chosen to serve the widows in Acts 6.
Those seven guys were most likely the forerunners of what would become the office of deacon in the church. From those seven we have Stephen the martyr and Philip the evangelist, as he’ll later be referred to in Acts 21. If that’s what deacons were like, imagine the pastors!
Okay, so Philip went about telling the good news of Jesus in “the city of Samaria” or possibly a city in the region of Samaria, depending on which translation you have. The reason for that has to do with the Greek manuscripts and such. There is a difference between it being the city of Samaria and a city in the region of Samaria. But either way it’s incredibly significant that Philip went about sharing the gospel there. Here’s why.
The region of Samaria was populated by people known to their Jewish neighbors in Jerusalem as Samaritans. Samaritans and Jews have a history, and it ain’t pretty. It’s complicated to explain, but Samaritans were halfbreed Jews ethnically and even religiously in the eyes of Jerusalem Jews. Samaritans had kind of branched off into their own sect many, many years prior holding to a form of Judaism but changing a number of things. They even built their own temple to rival the temple in Jerusalem. To say the two groups did not get along would be a massive understatement. To say that they hated each other would also probably be an understatement. If you’ve read the gospels you know this.
The city of Samaria we know was a very ancient place also called Sebaste, a town with a very dark history.
One scholar explains…
It was home to some of the most disreputable people in the Old Testament. King Omri was among the worst of the kings who ruled Israel. He purchased a hill from a man named Shemer and founded a new capital for the northern kingdom on that hill, calling it Samaria (1 Kgs 16:23–24). His son, Ahab, ruled from that city along with Jezebel, a Phoenician princess who brought her infamous passion for Baal into the promised land. This couple added to their [scandal] by building a temple for Baal in their capital city (1 Kgs 16:30–32). The negative perception of Samaria was cemented into place by this unholy trinity—Ahab, Jezebel, and Baal.
… In a subsequent era, Herod the Great reestablished it (27 bc), naming it Sebaste.12 But the name change did nothing to improve our perception of the place. Herod built a massive temple, 115 feet by 79 feet (35 × 24 m), with a 90-foot-wide (27.5 m) staircase at the highpoint of the city (likely on the same spot that Ahab and Jezebel built the earlier temple to Baal). This temple was meant to honor his patron Caesar Augustus, a nod to the growing pagan tradition of emperor worship.13 So whether we are looking far back into the Old Testament or examining the evidence from the time of Herod, Samaria/Sebaste was a thoroughly pagan city.
Surely, Philip, being a Jew would bypass either place, right? That’s why this is so significant. Philip was a follower of Jesus, and Jesus known as the friend of sinners and tax collectors. Jesus, during his earthly ministry reached out to the last people you’d think he would, being the holy God of the universe come in human flesh and all. In fact, If I recall there is even a story in the gospels about Jesus going out of his way to reach a Samaritan woman. And in one of his most famous parables, the hero of the story is a Samaritan man. This is why Jesus is so often called a revolutionary. It’s also why it’s very presumptuous to think if he showed up today he’d want to have coffee with you or me.
Philip was carrying on what Jesus started. Taking the gospel to the last place you’d expect. Do you see why I often say one of the biggest wonders of the new heaven and earth will be discovering who’s there?
The gospel, the good news of Jesus, surely divides in that it reveals there are only two sides to take. You either accept the good news or reject it. There’s no middle ground. If you’re not with Jesus you’re against him by default. A lot of Christians, or at least people who call themselves Christians, are into that. Especially these days.
But it as much as it divides maybe even more so it unites in that all people are invited to receive the good news REGARDLESS of their background, their ethnicity, their heritage, their past, their sin and when they do they are fully accepted, adopted, into the great big house of God. Paul wrote something revolutionary himself…
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (ESV)
In a time when I hear a lot of Christians, at least people who call themselves Christians, talking about putting up walls and when I see those who claim to be Christ-followers fighting against those who don’t match their political views and such, let’s remember that the love of God is so big even Samaritans are welcome. It won’t be long until we see in Acts that even Gentiles are too. That’s us. In Jesus, all walls are torn down and we are all brought together as one…
13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV)
So Philip preached the gospel to the most unlikely bunch and look what happened…
6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. Acts 8:6–8 (ESV)
Often it’s the most unlikely who are the most receptive to the good news.
Conclusion: There was much joy in that city. I love that. It wasn’t just because many were healed. It says they paid attention to what Philip said partly because what he said was so life changing and partly because what he did was so miraculous. The joy came from being forgiven, being transformed, becoming part of God’s forever family, a citizen of his kingdom, where Jews and samaritans and Gentiles are one.
Do you know God wants you to become part of his forever family? That’s why he gave this promise in Romans 10:13…
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
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