The Church Progresses

Acts 8:4 – 9:43

Having been scattered from Jerusalem, Christ has expectations for his church which do not include becoming complacent again. Remember the declaration he made to his disciples: Act_1:8 “… you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In fact, there are obstacles to overcome and opportunities to expand.

A. Obstacles to overcome

1. Discrimination 8:5, 14

· inhabitants brought by Esarhaddon (677 BC) to repopulate the area after Sargon deported the original citizens into captivity (721 BC). Partly adopted Judaism, accepted the Pentateuch as God’s Word; were not allowed to help rebuild the temple, so constructed their own on Mt. Gerizim, later destroyed by a Jewish king in 130 BC; then built another at Shechem.

· contempt on the part of the Jews – “they have no dealings with us” Joh_4:9 enough so that they would cross the Jordan twice to avoid going through Samaria; enmity on the part of the Samaritans – remember Nehemiah’s nemesis, Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, who tried to stop work on rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.

· Jews viewed their worship (along with their genealogy) as defective, little more than idolatry; because of their Gentile connection, they were not worth evangelizing.

· Jesus had a different view – the Samaritan woman, his return through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem; see James and John’s response to Jesus’ rejection – “shall we call down fire from heaven?” Luk_9:51-56

· Philip, a good deacon and others-minded, went and proclaimed the fulfillment of their Messianic hope; Peter and John came along later ( Act_8:14-25 ) Jesus had paved the way but much confusion still prevailed.

“God’s purposes and God’s plans are very far-reaching. We see now why the Samaritans were raised up more than six hundred years before and why they had been preserved in their half and half character for centuries. They were neither Jews nor Gentiles. They were midway between these distant moral extremes. …And now God uses them as a sort of half-way house from those in the covenant to those who were outside of it. They were the ladder without which even the believing Jew, hampered as he was by his scruples, could not have got down to the uncircumcised Gentile. The leap was too great. The gulf between the two extremes was social, religious, political – and the Samaritan bridged it.” J. M. Stifler, Acts of the Apostles

· It required the power of the Gospel of Christ propelled by persecution to overcome cultural and social barriers

2. Demons 8:7, 9, 11

· unclean spirits, highly indignant at their eviction

· Simon Magus, later an archenemy of the church; viewed by the Samaritans as a god ( Act_8:10 ), leader of the Gnostic sect (salvation comes by special knowledge about God) and major source of Gnostic heresies – called “the father of all heretics” by Irenaeus (120-202 AD) in Against Heresies III.

Used supernatural powers – ?????? ; ??????, ?? f: to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers – ‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’ Louw-Nida Lexicon – to hold people in thrall, ???????? ????????: ’cause someone to be so astounded as to be practically overwhelmed’ Louw-Nida Lexicon – strong word that can mean “to lose one’s senses” Liddell-Scott Lexicon – so overwhelming the people with his power that they could no longer think clearly and rationally.

· It required the power of the Gospel of Christ propelled by persecution and confirmed by divine miracles to overcome spiritual barriers, for the light of the truth to break through the fog of demonic darkness; Simon could wow the people but he couldn’t bring them joy! ( Act_8:7-8 )

3. Distance

· cultural, social and geographic 8:27

Ethiopia, south of Egypt was at the extreme of the known world; eunuch was Secretary of the Treasury, traveled to Jerusalem to worship, probably restricted from entering the temple and limited to the status of God-fearer and not full proselyte.

A deacon in the Christian church would likely not have encountered a court official from a foreign nation in his daily travels. He certainly would not have approached him as a peer and a counselor. It is also unlikely that Philip would have traveled to Ethiopia unless he were compelled to do so by the Spirit.

“He openly admits his ignorance and his inability to grasp the meaning of the text he is reading. Differences in rank, race, and nationality disappear when the Ethiopian acknowledges his need for an interpreter. Neither pride nor shame mars the relationship that is developing between these two men.” Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary

· Here we see in plain view Philip’s evangelistic (???????????? euaggelizo?) methods in verse 35 – “beginning with this scripture proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him”. NET He began with the foundation of understanding the eunuch had and built on it; he did not expect the eunuch to follow along with a one-size-fits-all formulaic presentation of the Gospel – four spiritual laws, wordless book, etc.

· It required the power of the Gospel of Christ propelled by persecution and directed by a messenger of God to overcome the great distance between a semi-proselyte and true faith, between the fertile crescent and the dark continent.

4. Danger

i. from Saul 9:1

There is no question as to Saul’s role in the persecution that broke out after Stephen’s death—he was its mastermind and ringleader. …Saul was terrifyingly adept at persecuting believers. The Jerusalem fellowship broke up under the force of his attacks. Many of the Hellenist believers, who apparently bore the brunt of the persecution, fled Jerusalem. As the events of this chapter unfold, Saul is hot on the trail of those who fled to Damascus. In his [address to the Jerusalem mob (Acts 22:4-5) and his] testimony to Agrippa (Acts 26:9–11) he articulated the fierceness of his assault: MacArthur, Commentary on Acts

 

Acts 22:4-5 NET

Acts 26:9-11 NET

I persecuted this Way even to the point of death, tying up both men and women and putting them in prison, as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I was on my way to make arrests there and bring the prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

Of course, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. And that is what I did in Jerusalem: Not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons by the authority I received from the chief priests, but I also cast my vote against them when they were sentenced to death. I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to force them to blaspheme. Because I was so furiously enraged at them, I went to persecute them even in foreign cities.

 

Not only was Saul an effective persecutor of the Jerusalem church, he had the temerity and authority to pursue Christians out of the country and extradite them to Jerusalem. Unheard of power and reach on the part of a religious official not sanctioned by the Roman empire.

ii. to Saul 9:23-24, 29

The tables are turned, Saul becomes the object of persecution and plots to end his life. As Saul’s efforts changed from persecuting those who preached that Jesus was the Christ to “proving that Jesus was the Christ” (v. 22) his former compatriots turned on him forcing his exit from Damascus. Similar happened to him in Jerusalem and of necessity he returned to his home-town of Tarsus.

· It required the power of the Gospel of Christ propelled by persecution and directed by Christ Himself to overcome the hardness of Saul’s heart and blindness of his eyes. God neutralized the “terrorist” machinery directed against the church by converting the leader.

B. Opportunities to enjoy

1. Rest 9:31

· for the purpose of strengthening/building up v.31a

he who had been most active in exciting the persecution; who was, in a sort, its leader, and who was best adapted to carry it on, had been converted. He had ceased his opposition; and even he was now removed from Judea. All this would have some effect in causing the persecution to subside. Albert Barnes, Notes

The one who had been consumed with tearing down the church of Christ now becomes its most energetic and zealous advocate, pouring himself out over the rest of his life for the sake of the Gospel.

· building up only occurs in the context of obedience v.31b

Keeping a continually tender conscience; abhorring all sin; having respect to every Divine precept; dreading to offend him from whom the soul has derived its being and its blessings. Without this salutary fear of God there never can be any circumspect walking. Adam Clarke

· to receive comfort ( ???????????, parakle?sis ) from the Holy Spirit v.31c

This that they received from the Holy Spirit encompasses all that Jesus promised in his farewell –

John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

John 16:13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.

It is a peace and comfort and exhortation that comes immediately from God to our hearts and minds through the indwelling Holy Spirit; remember 1Pe_5:10: But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.

In a consciousness of their acceptance and union with God, through his Spirit, by which solid peace and happiness are brought into the soul; the truly religious man knowing and feeling that he is of God, by the Spirit which is given him: nothing less can be implied in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. Adam Clarke

to experience growth in size v.35 & 42

No wonder that the Church of God increased, when such lights as these shone among men. This is a short, but full and forcible description of the righteousness, purity, and happiness of the primitive Church. Adam Clarke

This growth continues as a result of divine power validating the message of the apostles – healing of the palsy, raising of the dead.

2. Restoration 9:32-35

· to health – Aeneas

· by conversion v.35

3. Resurrection 9:36-42

· to renewed service v.36 & 41

· to a larger congregation v.42

4. Reconciliation 9:43

· the second of three major victories over prejudice in Peter’s thinking – Samaritans, the ritually unclean, Gentiles

The lodging with the tanner was a[nother] step on the road to eating with a Gentile” (Furneaux). Robertson’s Word Pictures

· with an outcast class – shunned by the local synagogue for their handling skins of dead animals

C. Application

· Christ knows what we, his church can bear.

· We can learn much even in times of peace.

· The church is under construction until Christ’s Second Coming.

· The church is erected on a solid foundation (the apostles and prophets Eph_2:20) and individual members must be also.

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