God's Promise, Power, and People

Introduction

As we continue on through our Acts series we come across Philip. This is not the same Philip who was the disciple of Jesus, but rather he is one of the original seven men chosen to help serve the Greek widows in Acts 6:5. He is often called ‘Philip the Deacon’ or ‘Philip the Evangelist’ (because of our passages this morning). After our accounts today we see him pop-up again about twenty years later when Paul, Luke and others stop at his house in Caesarea and it mentions his daughters who prophesy.

Here in Acts 8 we have two unique accounts of Philip and his evangelistic ministry. We are going to compare and contrast these two accounts, and I pray this morning you see in these passages three main aspects: God’s Promise, God’s Power, and God’s People.

God’s Promise: His Pleasure in Peoples

From a high level, in both of these accounts, we start with God’s promise and we see in his promise his pleasure is in peoples. [I don’t always do alliterations, but when I do…look out!] In both of these accounts we see the beginning of God’s fulfillment of this promise. Acts 1:8 is crucial to the trajectory of the entire book of Acts. Christ tells his disciples that they will be going to all of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This is so important that Luke, the author of Acts, is careful to note the ways that God continues to unfold his plan and fulfill his promises to all these groups of peoples. This is why we have said the main theme of Acts is:

The Holy Spirit empowers his people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people with all boldness and without hindrance.

We say that God’s Promise is his Pleasure in Peoples on purpose because God is after the multifaceted display of his glory through many different people groups. We have already seen in Acts how the disciples began proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, and in doing so also reached many from Judea. Here, we see the remainder of that promise beginning to be fulfilled.

First, we have Philip going to the Samaritans. This isn’t the first time we have seen the Samaritans. Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:7–30 after which many in the city believed in him. And even many people who are not Christian know the story of the good Samaritan, the parable of the Samaritan who does what many Jews were failing to do—love their neighbors well.

As you will remember, the Samaritans were close relatives of the Jewish community. They were partly from the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, Joseph’s sons. They were from the peoples left behind after the rest of the Israeli Kingdom was sent into exile. They have their own version of the Pentateuch. They have their own place of worship, Mt. Garazim. These are the disciples and the early Christian’s close neighbors, and in many ways the hard neighbor. These two groups—the Jews and the Samaritans—they know each other and they know they disagree on crucial issues.

On the other hand, we have the Ethiopian eunuch. For many he might as well have been an alien. He is from the ends of the earth from them. In fact, throughout Scripture Ethiopia is used as a sign of God’s promises reaching to the end of his creation. It would be helpful sometimes if we translated these words the same. In the Old Testament, the word for Ethiopia is “Cush”— they were the Cushites. Listen to what God says about them in Isaiah 11:11 as he talks about the day of his coming:

“In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush [Ethiopia], from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.” (Isaiah 11:11 ESV)

He says something similar in Zephaniah, who himself was half black, a partial-Cushite:

“From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering.” (Zephaniah 3:10)

 We are being reminded here in Acts 8 about the breadth of God’s care for ‘peoples’. While Jerusalem and Judea represent those who are close to the Jewish people and natural for them to connect with, Samaria and Ethiopia represent two very distinct groups. Both are hard: the Samaritans are hard because of the religious and cultural differences even though they are near.  The Ethiopian is difficult because they are far away and often out of mind.  These are the people at the ends of the earth. Yet they are both important to God’s spreading and passion for his promise to go to peoples.

 Who are these people in your lives? Who are those that are close but hard like a Samaritan? For us in Boise, I would suggest that your Mormon neighbor might be a prime example. They do good things, they often care well, but they have crucial differences from us when it comes to who we worship. They do not worship the same God we do. Have you thought about how you might engage them? One of the best ways might be to start with the Bible. Read through one of the gospels together—they say it is part of their holy scriptures—and discuss what God is saying there.

 And who are those people who are out of mind to you? Countries you forget about, people who are at the ends of the earth as far as you are concerned. Do you ever stop to look at a website like the JoshuaProject.net and pray for the groups of people listed there? Are you amazed when you meet people here in Boise from other countries that God is bringing across your path much like the Ethiopian eunuch? Are you willing to engage them even though they are different, that their very nature of being from a different part of our world makes relating much more difficult? Do you have a passion for all peoples to worship God?

God’s Power

As we look closer at these stories, we also see God’s Power. And he is moving in power in very distinct ways. We see God’s Power:

  • Through Plans

    • In Plain Pursuit

    • In Prophetic Purposes

  • Through Places

    • At Prominent Points

    • In Personal Ponderings

  • Pointing to His Prominence

Power Through Plans

We have all these polar opposites in these two stories. When we first see Philip, he is not doing anything particularly special. He has obviously decided that the Samaritans need the gospel of Jesus, so he goes. God demonstrates his power through plans in several ways, and this plain pursuit by Philip is often the most natural way God demonstrates his power to his peoples. Somebody like Philip has a passion for a particular people and they respond. And God uses this simple planning quite often even in our lives to do something most miraculous—to save somebody.

 God does move in miraculous ways sometimes—look at how Philip meets the Ethiopian. The Angel of the Lord says:

““Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”” (Acts 8:26)

And again the spirit says to him:

“Go over and join this chariot.”” (Acts 8:29)

And when Philip is done, God literally takes him away to Azotus, where he preaches until he finally reaches his home in Caesarea.

Sometimes, God moves powerfully through prophetic plans. He supernaturally places a concern, a care, or even gives a word that people might engage somewhere that he wants them. Philip does both in his life, and doesn’t seem to value one over the other.

What about you? Do you value one of these over the other? I get the impression from many or us, and I have been guilty of this as well, are waiting to hear the audible voice of God telling us to go talk to someone about Jesus. We walk around praying, “Is this the one Lord?” but don’t engage unless we sense something or feel incredibly compelled. Interestingly, Philip begins his ministry by simply being faithful and sharing with those he can find.

This would seem to be our more normal path—to simply engage in discussions with those we know need God and see what God does. Those who are gifted at evangelizing will tell you it isn’t that they necessarily have more people convert more unbelievers than a normal person, rather they simply pursue people in plain ways, every day, and do it over and over again. While I pray God would give us a word through his Spirit if it would please him, I also wonder how often God is actually looking for the faithfulness that comes from plain pursuit over prophetic plans. And how often might he want to use those who are diligent in that pursuit in his prophetic plans?

Power through Places

In a completely different way, we see God’s power show up in different places. And I love how God does exactly the opposite in these stories from what you would expect. When his Spirit shows up and tells Philip to go and find the Ethiopian, you would expect God to also show up in obvious and prominent power. But he doesn’t! Rather, we find the Ethiopian reading. He is reading a passage from Isaiah about Jesus and his execution. Philip finds the Ethiopian in his personal place pondering, and enters in with him to help explain what God is doing.

Instead, it is in his regular dealings with the Samaritans that God shows up with signs and miracles. God is not afraid to counter Simon’s magic with power that demonstrates that he is the very God of the universe and completely in control in ways that Simon could never imagine.

I love how God pairs up the very natural with the supernatural. Of course, God can show up and do what he wants in any situation. The biggest problem for many people who want to claim the miraculous gifts have ceased have is that they know too many missionaries who come back from the field with stories of how God showed up in power to confront the demonic and oppressive spirits they encounter. Where the demonic is visibly active God is ready to engage, and we believe he could whenever and wherever he pleases.

Yet, more often than not, he engages people in power through their personal ponderings. I heard from someone recently about a friend working in a campus ministry who was very dejected. She hadn’t had anyone respond for a long time to her discussions with them. She had been trying hard to engage people on campus and so often was met with either disinterest or contempt. So she prayed that God would provide her an encounter like the Ethiopian eunuch. The next day she saw someone sitting by themselves reading their Bible, so she thought she would sit by them and hopefully meet another Christian on campus she could encourage. She said, “Hi, it looks like you are reading your bible. Is it okay if I sit by you?” To which the person responded, “Sure. I haven’t really ever read this before and am pretty lost. Maybe you can help me.”

Friends, we always want to be ready to stand on God’s side when he shows up in power. But entering into other people’s personal ponderings is much harder. It takes you inserting yourself into someone’s life. This doesn’t have to be awkward. It most naturally comes through genuine friendship. An outspoken atheist, Penn Gillette, has said that the Christians he respects most are those who do what their faith should compel them to do, and share it with others. If we really are good friends to those around us, how could we leave out the most important aspect of our life? We should want to know their thoughts in this area and share with them the wonderful gift we have been given.

Pointing to His Prominence

 In all of these examples of God’s power, who does it point to? It points to HIS prominence. When Simon does magic the people are amazed by him and called him “Great.” Yet what happens when Philip shows up in the power of God? They don’t worship him. Instead, they are baptized! In both instances the Samaritans and the Ethiopian put their faith in God and want to demonstrate it visibly. That is one of the beauties of baptism: it acknowledges that everything we have received is by the power of God.

God’s People

Lastly, we see God working through his people. We see several aspects of God’s people here:

God’s People:

  1. Procured

  2. Proclaiming

  3. Primary and Peculiar

  4. Pliant (yielding under pressure)

  5. Passionate

Procured

God’s people have been procured! He has chosen them. How can you get away from that picture when you see the effort God puts into his people. God chose Philip who he uses to procure the Samaritans, Simon, and the Ethiopian.

Proclaiming

God’s people are a proclaiming people! We hear both of these in 1 Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen race [or peoples], a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

This is you, Christian! A chosen person, a royal priesthood, a people for God that you might proclaim his marvelous grace in your life. Philip exemplifies this for us in the ways he proclaims God’s gospel of Jesus to anyone God sends him to.

Primary and Peculiar

Yet even amidst being chosen to proclaim. We see in these two accounts God’s people are primary (meaning just starting out) and often times peculiar. One might call Philips first engagement a partial failure. For some reason he only baptizes the Samaritans in the name of Jesus and Peter and John—the big guns—are called in to fix the situation. I think God waiting to pour out his Spirit so that the Jewish Christians would have no reason to believe that God wasn’t moving out in his promises. But Philip could have felt defeated. Not only that, one of his first converts here, Simon, tries to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter and John! This points to the second point: God’s people are often times peculiar! Are you okay that all of God’s people have to start in their maturity somewhere? Are you okay that it might be a messy time being friends with all of us? And that we are each peculiar in God’s chosen people?

 Pliant

This leads to the next point: God’s people are pliant. This means yielding under pressure or guidance. This is definitely true of Philip. He goes everywhere God tells him. And all these new believers are pliant. They let God direct their paths and are willing to follow him toward grace and mercy. It’s hard to be in the family of God. Our growth and our service requires us to bend and yield in ways that is often very hard for us. But that is part of our call—for our growth and God’s glory. 

Passionate

Last, but not least, we see God’s people are passionate. There is no escaping Philips passion. Whether it is going to his difficult neighbors, or explaining Scripture to the Ethiopian, he is passionate about who God is and what he has done in Jesus Christ! The Samaritans are miraculously saved and baptized. Simon, even when he passionately pursues the power of God wrongly, passionately implores the disciples to pray for him. The Ethiopian jumps out of his chariot and says:

“See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”” (Acts 8:36)

We should find ourselves passionately captured by God’s amazing promise and power for us through his Holy Spirit!

Conclusion

This is an amazing section of Acts. There is so much going on. As we looked at these accounts we saw God’s Promise, God’s Power, and God’s People:

  1. God’s Promise: His Pleasure in Peoples

  2. God’s Power:

    1. Through Plans

      1. In Plain Pursuit

      2. In Prophetic Purposes

    2. Through Places

      1. At Prominent Points

      2. In Personal Ponderings

    3. Pointing to His Prominence

  3. God’s People:

    1. Procured

    2. Proclaiming

    3. Primary and Peculiar

    4. Pliant

    5. Passionate 

We see God’s Promise, God’s Power, and God’s People. But what is behind everything that we talked about this morning? God.

It was God who made a promise and as the promise keeper he made sure it would happen, even by sending Jesus himself. It was God’s power, God himself showing up through his Holy Spirit that ensures that his people are empowered for the job they were given.  

The Holy Spirit empowers his people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people with all boldness and without hindrance.

 It is God who stitches together a body of peculiar people that we might be to his glory and honor!