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The gospel is not about you, but it is for you

Back to all sermons Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Date: August 5, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Scripture: Acts 8:1–8:40

This morning we are continuing our journey through the book of Acts, up to Chapter 8. Remember that in Acts 1:8, Jesus saidBut you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus’ disciples were to proclaim the gospel, telling everyone around the world about Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. But up to chapter 7, they had yet to leave Jerusalem. But then Stephen was killed and a great persecution broke out, causing them to be scattered. Sometimes it takes an inciting incident, even suffering and persecution, to move us out of our comfort zone to do what God has called us to do. Chapter 8 is about Philip, one of the men raised up to be a deacon in chapter 6, and his ministry as he goes out to proclaim the gospel. I want to share four things we learn about the gospel through this passage:

 

Acts 8 - And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.  4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.  5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.  6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.  7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.  8 So there was great joy in that city.  9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great,  10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power."  11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.  12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.  14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,  16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.  18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money  19 and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."  20 Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!  21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."  24 Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."  25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.  26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road-- the desert road-- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."  27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,  28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.  29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."  30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.  31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth."  34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?"  35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.  36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"  37   38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.  39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. 

 

I want to share four things we learn about the gospel through this passage:

 

  • The gospel is good news to be proclaimed

 

4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

 

5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. – Philip proclaimed the Christ there. (kerusso – to herald)

12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  – he preached the good news of the kingdom (euangelio – to preach the good news)

 

The gospel is the Greek word euangelion, which means good news or good message. News means that it is about what has happened already. It contains the word angelion – angels, heavenly messengers or heralds. Heralds come to proclaim a message, to tell what has happened. The gospel is good news about something that has happened, not good advice about what you must do.

 

As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 - Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,  8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

 

We are to proclaim who Jesus was and what he did. It’s not good advice about what you should do, like follow the eightfold path, or the five pillars, or the ten commandments, to find God and be right with Him. No – proclaim what Jesus has done. This is the news: Jesus Christ died for your sins, that you might be reconciled to God and have eternal life. Do you receive it? Do you believe it?

 

Think about all the good advice out there on how to live. What happens when you suffer and things don’t go well? Most of us try some different advice. But the gospel is good news in all circumstances, even in suffering. Saul, and on a cosmic level, Satan, tried to snuff out the gospel, and only succeeded in spreading it even further.

 

Think of China – in 1949 the national government was defeated by the communists, and 637 China Inland Mission missionaries were kicked out. Many of them were redeployed in South-east Asia and Japan. The Chinese Christians, even under severe persecution, began to multiply, and now total 40 or more times the number they were when the missionaries left. 

 

The gospel is good news in all circumstances. Even suffering can not destroy us, because God uses even that to shape us and to transform others. Even the death of Stephen had a profoundly positive impact on the world.

 

  • The gospel is transcultural

 

In chapter 8, Philip ministers to the Samaritans, and then to a single Ethiopian eunuch.

 

Because of the gospel, Samaria is no longer an enemy but a mission field. They are no longer the heretical outsiders, hybrids in both race and religion. The gospel is inclusive, crossing all ethnic boundaries.

 

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,  16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

 

What is going on here? This event brings up the question of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit a second event? Is this set up as a usual pattern or an exception? In some denominations, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is seen as a second event, often associated with the laying-on of hands and speaking in tongues.

 

My understanding is that no, this is not normal or a pattern for us to follow, as it diverges from the apostles’ teaching.

 

Acts 2:38-39   Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call."

 

What is going on here is that this is the first occasion on which the gospel had been proclaimed not only outside Jerusalem but inside Samaria. Would there be separate factions of Jewish Christians and Samaritan Christians? God withheld the Spirit so that the apostles could come, investigate, endorse it, and embrace them.

 

After this, Simon shares the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch, a racial, cultural, sexual outsider, and he too is baptized and welcomed into God’s kingdom.

 

Christianity is the most inclusive religion, the most worldwide religion. Most religions are still for the most part existing where they were founded.

 

96% of Muslims live in the Middle East

88% Buddhists live in the Far East

98% Hindus live in India

 

But look at Christianity: 631 million in Africa, 601 million in Latin America, Europe million in 571, Asia million in 388, 277 million in North America, and 29 million in Oceania. Christianity embraces yet challenges every culture. The gospel of sacrificial love is a story that transcends culture.

 

  • The gospel is not about you

 

Simon the sorcerer wants their power. He was considered a god and worshiped by almost all the Samaritans. He wants the glory. He may be saved, but his heart is not right with God – he is still seeking his own glory.

 

The gospel is not about us. Simon was about power, and as he lost his status, he saw in the gospel a way to regain his power and influence. But Peter and John saw through him.

 

Why are you in this? For what you can get out of it? What God can do for you? Or is it about Jesus? It’s not primarily about using God to get your real god, your functional savior. It’s not about looking for peace, power, relationships, success, fulfillment, etc. and if I don’t find it, then I will look elsewhere.

 

  • The gospel is for you

 

Look at Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. He would have been castrated so as to not be a threat to power to the king or queen of Egypt. He had made a huge sacrifice for career. But it must have left him empty, because he was traveling a long way to Jerusalem. But he wouldn’t have even been allowed in as a eunuch because of the holiness laws. And as he is traveling back, he is reading Isaiah 53

 

Isaiah 53:7-8 - He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

 

Near that passage is this one, which was even more relevant:

 

Isaiah 56:3-7 - Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely exclude me from his people." And let not any eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree."  4 For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant--  5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.  6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant--  7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."

 

The eunuch sees himself in the gospel. This man was cut off and would have no descendants, but through his sacrifice, the eunuch was accepted. This man died for ME.

 

The gospel is about us – as we see that Jesus died FOR US, we are saved and transformed. Have you seen yourself in the gospel? Have you realized that it was for you, for your sins, for you pain, for your shame, for your guilt, for your needs? Salvation comes as our story intersects with the gospel story. The gospel is not about us, but it is for us.