Acts 8 – By the Spirit We Are Intentional
What did you learn about the Holy Spirit?
- He performs signs and great miracles, but it is not the same thing as magic (8:11-13) and his power cannot be purchased (8:20).
- He is moving, as promised in 1:8 from Jerusalem to Samaria! We see the fulfillment of that in 8:17 when Acts specifically records the Holy Spirit coming to this community.
- He speaks and instructs, here very specifically (8:29).
What did you learn about the Spirit-filled community?
- The work of the Spirit in the community brings joy to entire cities (8:8).
Notes from Pastor Mark
We are making the case that Luke’s book should be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because He is clearly the central player of this drama. Nevertheless, the traditional title, “The Acts of the Apostles,” certainly makes sense. Actually, it is primarily the acts of three apostles (all of them have names that begin with a “P”), and one of them wasn’t really an apostle at all; he was another one of those Spirit-filled deacons who was a faithful and humble table-server who was invited by the Spirit into preaching work. With the story of Philip, we are introduced to the first of the “P” sections: Philip, Peter and Paul.
Stephen and Philip were both Hellenists, that is, Jews from outside of Israel who spoke Greek, not Hebrew. With their appointment as deacons, we see how the Holy Spirit is already putting into place His plan to take the gospel to the “ends of the earth.” Jesus’ mission was off and running… but in some ways that they could not imagine and would never have chosen.
After Stephen’s murder, those who hated the Christ-followers were emboldened and great persecution began. These newly-minted believers were suddenly running for their lives, scattered to the four corners of the earth. Ironically, the very thing the persecutors had hoped to avoid—the spread of this Christian “heresy”—they had facilitated by sending Spirit-filled followers of Jesus throughout the Roman Empire. Notice verse 4: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Oops… talk about unintended consequences!
One of those preachers was Philip. Obviously he understood that the message of Jesus was intended for the “outsiders,” because he headed right into Samaria, the ultimate outsiders in Jewish society. Jews hated them because they were the offspring of intermarriage between 8th century Assyrian invaders of Israel and the Jews who were left behind when their nation was taken into captivity. Samaritans were considered impure half-breeds and were utterly rejected by “pure” Jews. When Ezra was rebuilding the temple, Samaritans came with the offer of money and labor and were booted out of town. Samaritans had their own holy mountain (Gerizim) and their own temple and some non-kosher religious beliefs. But who could blame them? The Jews wanted nothing to do with them.
But Jesus did. He bragged on the Samaritan leper who thanked him for his healing in Luke 17, he converted the Samaritan adulteress at the well in John 4 and he made a Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous parables in Luke 10. So Philip, who was himself something of an outsider, marched right into Samaritan territory and did spiritual battle. It is exciting stuff!
But the most memorable Philip moment takes place with another outsider. The Ethiopian eunuch was a person of great influence and power in the court of his African queen. As a eunuch, he would have been considered unclean, barred from the inner courts of the temple. But despite this humiliation, he longed to know and follow the God of the Jews.
This is where Philip comes in, and it is one of the most impressive examples of a Spirit-led work of evangelism in the Bible. Philip goes to a place where he is told to go… to a road, out in the middle of nowhere… and waits. Then the Spirit tells him to go and speak to the man who is seated in the chariot, reading the scriptures. Through a series of great questions Philip is able to show him how Jesus is the fulfillment of the passage from Isaiah that the eunuch is reading. Just as Stephen had done before his executioners, Philip walks the man through the story of God’s salvation, ending with the “good news about Jesus.” In the end, the eunuch is so excited, he asks the question that every preacher would love to hear: “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized!” The answer was, Nothing…and so he was.
In the earliest days of January we spoke about how a disciple-maker is intentional. He has his head on a swivel, listening to the Spirit, looking for Spirit-made opportunities to share his faith in Jesus. Is there any better example of this than Philip? Taking one step at a time, going to a place he does not know, waiting for the Spirit’s next prompt, taking the opportunity when it is presented, really listening to the answers to really good questions and then, when the Spirit-prompted moment was right, offering the gift of Jesus.
Many Christians are afraid to make disciples because they think it means imposing their faith on others. But true disciple-making starts simply with our intention. If we intend to be used by the Spirit and are willing to be used by the Spirit there will be nothing forced about it. God will provide the opportunity, the words to say, the wisdom to provide and the response. It is all about what the Spirit wants to do…with Jesus-followers who intend to really follow that leading!