Good morning and welcome to worship! We are in a study through the book of Acts. It was written by a Gentile physician and historian named Luke as a follow up to his Gospel. In it Luke records his research into the early church and his journal of his travels with Paul.
Today we begin in chapter 8. Our focus is motives. What are the motives behind what you do? What motives drive the way you invest your money, your energy, your talent?
Let’s get started. Acts 8 -“On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered through 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.” Acts 8:1-3
Up to this point the infant church met together in the open porches of the temple. Now those who remained in Jerusalem were forced into hiding. Many were thrown in prison. The apostles remained in Jerusalem to care for these persecuted members of the church.
Many others in the Christian community fled the city to escape persecution. Remember Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” God in his sovereignty uses even Satan to accomplish his will. This is the first lesson for today.
Don’t get shook up by the trials that come your way! The Lord hasn’t abandoned you. The suffering you are experiencing may have little to do with you. It may be the way God has chosen for you to be a witness for him. He’s in control. If you’re a believer, he will use your crisis to accomplish his purposes. Trust him even when it makes no sense. Look at vs 4!
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there…evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” Acts 8:4-8
This is not Philip the Apostle, he’s in Jerusalem. This is Philip who was one of the 7 deacons along with Stephen chosen to oversee the meals on wheels for the widows.
Like Stephen, God has gifted this Philip to do more than just administrate. He is a teacher, preacher and an evangelist. The Lord is using him to drive out demons and heal the sick even though he hadn’t been to seminary or taken any night classes from the apostles.
So here’s the second lesson. The task of sharing Jesus and praying for people belongs to every Christian. The ministry we see in Stephen and Philip belongs to us all.
Something else I discovered about Philip this week! Are you interested? This is fascinating. Turn back to Acts 21:8. It’s more than 25 years later. Saul who was throwing people in prison has become a Christian. He changed his name to Paul and the Lord has sent him out to convert the Gentiles. Along the way, he has collected a Gentile named Luke as a teammate and personal physician. He and Luke are on their way back to Jerusalem after completing their 3rd missionary journey.
Caesarea is the Roman seaport city below Jerusalem. Philip has now been living there as a pastor and evangelist for over 25 years. So Paul and Luke stop to visit him. He’s married and has 4 daughters who are also engaged in Christian ministry.
I want you to imagine Philip and Paul and Luke sitting around the table together that first evening. They are catching up on news of the kingdom so to speak. Luke has his pen and scroll and he begins to write as Philip tells the story of what occurred 27 years earlier.
“We were in Samaria (north of Jerusalem) and things were going well. So well that we asked Peter and John to come help us. That’s when we ran into this guy named Simon…”
He practiced black magic and claimed to be somebody great. He impressed all the people with his tricks. When he saw the miracles the Lord was doing through us, he said he wanted to become a Christian, too. But his motives were bad. What he really wanted was more power to impress people. He wanted to lay hands on people and have them receive the Holy Spirit. He saw Jesus as a way to increase his fame and make more money.
Jesus warned us that there will be those who want to use his name to exalt themselves. Suddenly here it was. This Simon offered to pay Peter money if Peter would give him the power to lay his hands on people and have them receive the Holy Spirit.
Peter told him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part in this ministry because your heart is not right with God! Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such thoughts!” Acts 8:20-22
Simon did repent and asked Peter to pray for him. Don’t you wish you could have been there to hear Philip and Paul share their stories across the table that night? Aren’t you glad Luke was there to record some of them for us!
Another of Philip’s stories starts in 8:26 “Now an angel of the Lord said to (me) Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Acts 8:26
That’s a 50 mile hike from where Philip was in Samaria. Remember, things were going well up in Samaria. Lots of people were being saved. Why go halfway to Egypt to the desert where nobody lives? Because God told him to! So Philip went.
Somewhere south of Jerusalem he found himself walking alongside a royal coach carrying an Ethiopian diplomat on his way home. The Spirit told Philp “Walk up alongside that coach.”
When Philip did he was surprised to hear the diplomat reading aloud from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible. He was reading Isa 53 – one of clearest descriptions of Jesus and his sacrifice in all of the OT.
The man was obviously well educated. He spoke his own language as well as Greek and probably Latin. Philip, a Hellenistic Jew asked him in Greek. “Do you know what you are reading?” “How can I, the man said, “Unless someone explains it do me!” And he invited Philip to come up into the coach and explain what Isaiah had written 700 years earlier.
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and as a lamb before the shearers 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.” Isa 53:7-8
Over the next few hours of their journey Philip told this man the story of Jesus and led him to faith in Christ. Now water is pretty scarce in the desert but along the way they came to enough of a puddle that the man asked to be baptized. And Philip did.
Jesus said to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
That’s exactly what happened here. This man is not only from the uttermost parts of the world geographically, but culturally. His race, religion, physical condition as a eunuch were canyons between himself and God that no human effort could span. But the cross of Jesus is the bridge that spans every crevasse between God and the people he loves.
Luke continues Philip’s story, “He (the Ethiopian diplomat) ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.” Acts 8:38-40
When we are baptized in the name of Jesus, God unites us with the death of Jesus and raises to life as a new person. Paul compared it to being drown and raised to life like Jonah. Second, he washes us clean from every stain of sin and guilt. Third, he writes our name in his Book of Life.
Baptism is not magic, it is a gift of God’s grace. But every gift must be received by faith. How can water do such great things? Luther tells us it’s not the water, it’s God’s word with the water and our trust in God’s promise that gives this new birth through the Holy Spirit.
Note that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. What changes when a person becomes a Christian and Jesus takes possession of their heart? Everything – past, present, and future!
Faith isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts we do to get what we want from God. That’s what Simon the magician thought. His motive was to serve himself. What a tragic empty motive for life.
Faith is a living relationship of trust and obedience with Jesus. It’s unconditional surrender to his lordship in our lives. It’s obeying him and serving him. That’s what we were created for. The abundant life we seek only comes when Jesus moves in and we submit to him.
What’s your motive for life this morning? Who do you serve? Who are you living for? There is only one motive for life that really works. And that’s to seek the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Heaven is going to be a great place to tell the stories of what God has done in us and through us. But the greatest story of all will be how he let a sinner like me into a place like heaven! When we gather in that place, will you have a story to tell?