The Kingdom Expands
Summary: The Kingdom Expands as the Gospel calls outsiders in with joy.
Before Jesus ascended into Heaven He told his followers,
Acts 1:8 … “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
We saw that power come in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit fell on Pentecost, and from chapter 2 to 7 we saw the first disciples witness to Jesus in Jerusalem. Thousands of people responded positively to the gospel, confessed their sin and their need for salvation, and received Jesus. But there was also strong opposition, which we saw last week when the religious and political elite finally snapped in a surge of mob violence resulting in the death of one of the early church leaders and a wave of persecution that drove people out Jerusalem.
On one level that’s bad – being suddenly uprooted and forced from your home is horrible; we look at refugees in Syria and other places driven from their home by war, or people fleeing suddenly due to a fire or storm and we feel empathy for them, and we should – none of us would want to trade places with them.
And yet, in this case, God used their suffering for good because, as they fled, they shared the gospel, the Kingdom of God expanded, and new people found joy. Look with me at
Acts 8:4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip [remember, he’s one of the seven people chosen to join the growing leadership team in the early church] went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.
So, you have to see this, one of the marks of true faith is great joy. You should have joy as a Christian. God wants you to have it. Joy is mentioned more than 60 times in the New Testament and that’s separate from ‘rejoice’ and ‘rejoicing’ which are mentioned more than 70 times. It’s a popular topic. If you’re feeling a little short-changed here, I encourage you to dig into Scripture and see what’s going on. Pray and ask God. Talk to others, because regardless of your circumstances, you should be able to know joy, if you know God.
Let’s talk for a minute though about who is experiencing joy, because it’s important. We see that Philip went down, from Jerusalem, to the city of Samaria. Now, that’s a change in elevation, not direction. Jerusalem is up on a hill, so you go up to it, or you come down from it.
Samaria is actually located to the geographic north of Jerusalem, and that’s important for you to know because it ties into some important history.
You might know that the nation of Israel began as a family. Abraham had Isaac, and Isaac had Jacob, and God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and he had twelve sons that had families of their own and those families formed the nation. And so, at times the Bible speaks about the twelve tribes of Israel. Going back in history, the twelve tribes had three kings as a united nation: Saul, then David, then Solomon, and then things kind of fell apart.
There was a fight about who would take over when Solomon died and the ten tribes to the north of Israel rallied around a man named Jeroboam who eventually established a new capital for his kingdom in Samaria. Meanwhile the two tribes down south – Judah – where Jerusalem is, and Benjamin, stayed loyal to Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.
The North and the South were never reunited. In fact, the North was conquered by Assyria, from the region of modern Syria, in 722 BC. And the Assyrians had this policy of trying to integrate with the people they conquered, so they worked to assimilate the Jews who eventually lost some of their ethnic and religious distinctiveness.
The Southern tribes were also eventually conquered, by the Babylonians – from modern day Iraq – in 586 BC, but they preserved their distinctiveness and culture without integrating. Seventy years later, some of the Jews from the Southern Kingdom were allowed to return to their land and begin rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple of God that had been there. When this happened, people from the northern tribes, ‘Samaritans’ as they were now known, offered to help but the offer was refused by their Southern kinsmen who felt the Northerners had compromised their identity and faith.
As a result the Samaritans established their own Temple on Mount Gerazim and rejected all Scripture except the first five books of the Bible.
By the time Jesus came on the scene, the division between the Jews who traced their ancestry to the Southern Tribes and the Samaritans who traced their ancestry to the Northern Tribes was so deep that the two groups had almost no interactions with each other. Jews would even go out of their way, adding miles to their trip, simply to avoid traveling through Samaritan territory. The prejudice was bad.
But now a Jew shows up preaching Jesus as the Christ, the Savior, the one Moses had promised and the Samaritans receive the news, with joy. The gospel draws them in, not back to the kingdom of a united Israel, but to a new kingdom – the Kingdom of God.
There’s no reunification of flags and capitals or politicians and palaces, but there’s reunification in Christ who crosses borders no-one and no-thing else could cross. Jesus binds people together in love who once hated each other. Friends, there is nothing that will heal your relationships like Jesus. He takes hatred and hurt and bitterness out of our hearts, washes us clean, and teaches us to love people we once wanted nothing to do with, or people we were tired of. He teaches us how to love people we would go out of our way to avoid.
But, there’s a trend we’ve noticed in Acts – as the Kingdom advances it always faces the danger of resistance from the outside or distraction from within. We’ve seen cycle after cycle of this. We just left a wave of external opposition, the persecution that drove Philip to Samaria, so now it’s time for what? The threat of internal division. Watch what happens in the midst of all this excitement and joy as people are being saved.
9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
All throughout history and all over the world today, there have been men and women like this in most communities – people who claim to have some sort of supernatural powers. You can go down to Haiti and meet voodoo priests, you can travel all over Asia and find shamans, you can go to Africa and meet the village witch doctor.
In fact, I remember on our first trip to Africa, Madeleine was working in a medical clinic and one of the most horrific cases she dealt with involved a girl whose parents were so distraught that they were trying anything they could. They would bring her in for Western medicine during the day and then run off with her at night for ‘treatment’ by the witch doctor as well. I won’t even describe he did to her, but it’s one of those things that you just can’t unsee.
And why did her parents let it happen? Because they believed the witchdoctor had power. These men and women are able to do things. Supernatural things. You even see it in Scripture – you see Moses battling with the magicians of Pharaoh’s court and they were able to make things happen. I know this seems weird, because you have a smartphone, but if you don’t believe in angels and demons, if you don’t believe in supernatural, paranormal, powers and activities you are in one of the smallest minorities in human history. Most people alive today and throughout history believe this kind of stuff and many people have experienced it.
So, this guy practiced sorcery and astonished people, and it wasn’t a one-time thing – he had been around for a while. But now, Philip shows up and claims there’s a greater power – the power of God, and the good news of Jesus. And people hear the message, they respond, they believe – even Simon who everyone said was the great power of God, met the one, true, living God, read with me:
12 But when [the people of Samaria] believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,
Word gets out that there’s a revival happening down in Samaria and the apostles come down to see what’s happening.
And I think it’s important to note who comes: Peter and John. That’s important because Peter is already seen as the ‘first among equals’ of the apostles. He’s a recognized leader and that’s important for reasons we’ll see in a moment. But it’s interesting who comes with him – John. The same John who only a few months ago had been traveling with Jesus when He took them through Samaria instead of going around. But the Samaritans they ran into weren’t very friendly, as would be expected – so John and his brother James asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven as judgment on these hard-hearted, ungrateful, heathens who didn’t recognize the Messiah had come.
Luke, the same man who wrote the book of Acts, tells us all about it in his gospel at the end of chapter 9. Basically, the brothers said, Lord, they don’t like You or respect You, can we cook ‘em? And Jesus “turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you’re reflecting right now. I didn’t come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’”
And so now you have this man who, less than a year ago, thought it would be a good idea to pray down fiery judgment on people, praying down the consuming fire of the Holy Spirit as a blessing on them instead. Do you think Jesus was chuckling over the irony of it all? ‘Oh you want to pray something down John, I’ll let you pray.’
Friends, God can change your heart toward people. When you repent of your sins and are filled with the Spirit, He can make you care about people you once despised. He can use you to pray for people you once swore about, people you once gossiped about, people you once slandered. Look at what He does with John:
15 who, when they [Peter and John] had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
This is the kind of change that can happen when people see other people with the eyes of Christ. Enemies are reconciled and even work for the good of one another.
Now, that’s on the personal, individual level, but something else very important in the history of the Church is happening here too – the kingdom of God is expanding, the gospel is crossing borders, making a jump, spreading like a virtuous virus from one host to another in a encouraging epidemic.
And to prove that, something interesting happens – Peter and John pray for these people and they receive the Holy Spirit. This has caused a lot of confusion through the years as people try to understand what’s going on.
Some people see here a two-stage Christian experience – they say you need to repent of your sins but then you also need someone to lay hands on you and seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They’ll point to this passage as proof.
I would argue that’s not so. As we have said many times in our study of the book of Acts, when you receive salvation through Jesus Christ, when you repent of your sins, you are born-again. The Spirit comes and lives inside you – you don’t have to seek that or ask for it – it happens automatically, you are sealed for salvation.
But there is also another experience seen throughout Scripture, from the Old Testament to the New, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you giving you supernatural, extraordinary strength or skill for ministry and worship. This happens sometimes, for some people. Being sealed for salvation happens always, for all people.
So, when I read about Peter and John coming down and praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit, I believe it is this second experience they receive, the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and it is quite likely they spoke in tongues, just like the first Christians did at Pentecost. Because, God was doing something extremely important here. He was working to prevent division.
Remember, these were two separate groups with two separate, though vaguely similar religious practices. If God didn’t do something profound to demonstrate they were both part of the same thing now, there would be a temptation to separate again at some point, to de-legitimize each other. So God sent Peter and John, obvious, undeniable leaders of the church in Jerusalem to endorse and validate what was happening in Samaria, and we’ll see something similar happen again in Acts 10 when the gospel goes to the house of Cornelius.
But in the meantime, we’re going to have a problem – which should kind of be expected by now, right?
18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Wow, that’s kind of harsh, isn’t it Peter? Well, maybe, maybe not. The bigger question everything turns on is: was Simon really saved, or not?
There are two main camps here – one says Simon is proof that that Satan tries to come after us like a roaring lion and when that doesn’t work, he comes at us like a crafty snake. They say Simon was an insider threat, he looked like he was saved, acted like he was saved, but he never really was. They point out that he never really changed, there’s no evidence of repentance. And, this, they say, is why we need to be aware of false conversions today.
Personally, I find myself in the second camp – the camp that says it’s entirely possible he was saved, and he blew it. He messed up. He was brand new to the faith and didn’t know what he was asking – Peter rebuked him, but he saw what he had done and asked Peter to pray for him and everything was sorted out. Look at how it ends:
24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
Personally, I think it’s ironic that John, who wanted to call down judgment was now calling down blessing, and I think it’s just as ironic that Peter who was always putting his foot in his mouth is now dealing with someone just like himself.
Whether he was really saved or not, Simon’s big mistake was in thinking the gift of God could be purchased with money – and that should be a major warning to us because we’ve been taught that money solves most problems.
But there are things in this world, really great, really valuable things, that can’t be bought with money. They’re a gift. And there has to be some changes inside of you before you’re ready to receive them or before you’re in a place to receive them.
It’s hard for us to say what happened with Simon – was he saved or not? But here’s what we can say – real gospel encounters change us from the inside out – our desires and affections begin to change, our goals, priorities, and values change. Can you point to that in your own life?
Conversion is more than just praying a prayer and getting dunked. There must be change – it might be instant and easy, or it might long and hard, fighting dragons daily, but you do it, because something has changed, there’s a new life in Christ. And speaking of change, we’re about to see more of it:
Acts 8:26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.
27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.
This man is the equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury for Ethiopia, which was a generic term for a region much larger than our modern country – this was basically everything from Southern Egypt down through Sudan and on – it was a large empire that lasted for hundreds of years. Philip runs, literally, into an official from that empire that had come to Jerusalem to worship and now he’s on his way home reading Isaiah.
29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
You might feel the same way when you read Scripture, but that’s why we’re here together, to help each other understand. If you have questions about the Bible – ask, like this man did – in fact, next Sunday, during the potluck we’ll be answering questions you send in.
And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”
34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
The man was reading from Isaiah 53, a passage that speaks of someone suffering, a sacrificial lamb, that seems to be a man, giving his life for others.
The entire Jewish religious system is based on shedding blood, including a re-enactment of the Passover each year communicating to people that sin brings judgment including the ultimate judgment of death. This is why Jesus went to the cross and died as a substitute for us.
We have done wrong, the Bible calls it sin, we have offended God, we have resisted Him, we have rebelled against Him either on purpose or in ignorance. And some people want God to say, “eh, no big deal, it’s all forgiven.”
But some of those same people will lose their mind over the call of a referee in a sporting match. “Hey Ref, what are you blind!?! That was a foul! That touchdown, goal, basket, run whatever shouldn’t count! There should be a penalty!”
Now, I’ve been known to get a little heated myself during a game, especially one my kids are playing in. But tell me, why do you want a referee to issue a penalty in a game and expect God to just let sin go with a wink and a nod?
Even the library fines you for breaking their rules about how long you can keep a book.
God is perfectly within His rights to punish us for breaking His rules. That’s justice. But, He is also merciful, and since He knows we could never pay all our fines on our own, He offers to pay them for us. And so, though we deserve to suffer, though we deserve to have God turn His back on us, Jesus takes our place.
He is completely innocent but suffers and dies on the cross, God turns His back on Him, and He cries out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” He dies, and is buried – just as we would be, but then, God raises Him to new life and looks at us and says – everyone who’s with Him, your fines are paid, all of them. You’re done.
Philip explains this and the man immediately identifies with his own need for salvation.
36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
We’ve seen quite a bit this morning already, but may I draw a few things out for you quickly before we close?
First, notice that the gospel continues to spread. What was centered in Jerusalem has spread up north to Samaria and down south toward Ethiopia. And in the process, the Kingdom of God is crossing barriers. It has brought in the Samaritans who were considered half-breeds with half-the-truth, and a complete foreigner who had the full truth but didn’t know what it meant.
And notice that in both cases, the gospel spread to include “great” men. In Simon you had a man everyone called great, in the eunuch you had a man of great authority, and both of these men saw their need for Christ. My friend, it doesn’t matter how high you climb on the ladder of success, you still need Christ. He doesn’t need you; you need Him. That message is preached to leaders and officials throughout the New Testament and it needs to preached across our city – even great men and women need Christ.
Second, notice that God calls all people, great and small to repentance – in fact, that’s the big question with Simon – was there true repentance or not?
So, is there true repentance in your life, does Jesus make a difference, is there any change? You know the Bible stories, you pray, you came to church, yes, but do you repent – is there real change in your life?
Third, notice there was public identification with Jesus. Both of the these ‘great’ men were baptized as an outward, visible, identification with Christ who commanded His disciples to go make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). Have you been baptized as Jesus commanded? Have you publicly identified with Christ?
Fourth, notice that everything we see here depends on the Holy Spirit. Yes, we see the Spirit poured out in Samaria, but it was also the Spirit who sent Philip to Samaria and later to the Ethiopian. God is at work; we just get to join Him. And here we see what God does through a man, Phillip, who had originally been recruited to help with distributing food aid to widows. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see this coming. So tell me this: what does God want to do with you if you make yourself available to Him?
Fifth, and finally, being in tune with God produced joy. Look at verse 8, what was the result of the gospel coming to Samaria? “There was great joy in that city.”
And look at verse 39 – what was the result of the gospel coming to the Ethiopian? “He went on his way rejoicing.”
It doesn’t matter if you think you’re something great like Simon, or if you’re searching for truth like the Ethiopian – you need Jesus, you need to repent and be baptized, you need to depend on the power, guidance, and presence of the Holy Spirit, and you need a life that is marked by joy. All of these are free gifts of God to you, you can’t buy them or earn them – don’t make Simon’s mistake. But no matter who you are, the Kingdom is open, if only you will worship the King.