Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Call of Stephen
Have you ever been forced into something? Maybe you lost your job and had to move - maybe a family member died - or some other circumstance forced you into a major life change that you didn't anticipate or want.
Picture what you would feel - the anxiousness, the uncertainty. That's just how the disciples found themselves in Acts, chapter 8.
Vs 1 - 4
This is a crucial sea change for the fledging church. Up until now the only opposition was from the Sanhedrin. But after the people turned against Stephen, and stoned him to death, it unleashed a torrent of persecution.
It's almost as if Satan had been building and building in his fight against what Jesus had accomplished through His death and resurrection, and now the wave was cresting - driving onward in attempt to stamp it out. Satan first tried to destroy the leaders (Peter, John etc) by bringing them before the rulers he attempted to intimidate them. When that didn't work he stepped up the attack with Stephen, and now unleashed much power against the church.
Ironically, Saul became a part of Satan's plan - and at one point actually served as the ring leader in the opposition movement. Imagine you are in a place of worship - a house, even like our little building here - when suddenly a bunch of guys break in and drag off the leaders and church members to jail - that is what it was like under Saul's attacks.
Satan's plan worked into God's plan perfectly. We don't know the reason why, but God took the persecution and used it as a way of spreading the gospel, fulfilling Jesus' words in
Acts 1:8 "But 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."
Like a seed pod shaken in the wind, this persecution sent seeds of the gospel into Samaria and then into the rest of the world.
Another irony, of course, the one who tried to stamp out the church and keep it from spreading like a weed, became the very one who spread it the farthest.
It's just like God - taking what see as a terrible tragedy, and using it. He often uses hardship in our lives to:
o Force us to focus on God
o Force us to depend on God
o Re-focus our efforts
o Make us stronger and His kingdom stronger in the process
I think this is the first recorded witnessing to a somewhat gentile area. The Samaritans were actually imported from other countries when the Assyrians deported the northern 10 tribes of Israel in 722 BC. The people they brought back in adopted a form of the cult created by King Jeroboam. The people thought they worshiped Yahweh, but they also worshiped other gods as well. The Jews considered them gentiles and had nothing to do with them. In fact, they would spend days extra just to walk around Samaria in their travels.
It is interesting to note that Philip would go here - it could be that he, being a Jew if Greek heritage, did not hold the same disdain for the Samaritans. Philip was one of the seven chosen to serve as Deacon - to wait tables, if you will. Like Stephen before him, Philip did much more than just menial tasks for God - he preached and performed miracles.
Some believe that Philip actually when to Sychar - a city of Samaria where Jesus met the women at the well. No doubt if this is true, he continued to do the work Jesus started three years ago. This too is a way that God works through us. Paul said in 1 Cor 3:6: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." We often come across seeds someone else has planted - a word, a witness, a chance conversation - and we water it. "Jesus has been so good to me." "Hey, a guy just told that to me a few days ago." We need not worry that we are following someone else's work or stepping on their toes - nor do we need worry that we should reel someone into the kingdom hook line and sinker from one talk.
Simon did become a Christian - and we too can come to Christ even though we have not left behind all the sins that held us captive What tripped up Simon was that his previous experiences with spiritual power came from Satan. He confused the power of light with the powers of darkness. To him it was probably just power - plain and simple.
The second thing that stood in Simon's way was not just spiritual power but personal power. People looked up to him. He was a big shot. Becoming a Christian was probably a bit humbling for Simon. Perhaps in watching the Holy Spirit come upon people - the joy produced, the power, the life changes - and the respect given to Peter - worked in Simon's heart. Maybe he saw this as a way to keep his former stature in this new life of Christianity.
Peter, of course, sees right through it. He calls it a sin - and basically says to Simon "you're not going to serve God and further His kingdom with this attitude. Pray and forgiveness and a change of heart."
Sometimes we try to accomplish God's mission with our methods. Perhaps we were a big shot in the business world. When we came to Christ we thought, "my expertise in this area can greatly benefit Christ's church." What we need to realize is that: 1 Cor 3:19 "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight."
We need to put away our ideas and first be cleansed of the world and its ways, then be filled with God and His ways. That way our perspective will be right when we want to step out in ministry.
Another point - never never seek God's power for power's sake. That is sorcery and God condemns it. In the church today there are branches whose sole purpose seems to be to see God work some great power - some Holy Ghost goose bump kind of show to impress people into the kingdom. The power is for a purpose - the purpose is not for the power.
8:26-35 Philip the Evangelist
Here we see the first recorded one on one sharing of the gospel. It is a model for how we can evangelize too.
The angel gave Phillip very specific instructions - go to this road at this time of day. Phillip, of course had no idea what would happen, but he obeyed. He no doubt anticipated something that that Lord was going to do - and he was right. We too need to obey when the Spirit prompts our hearts to do something. Look for what God might have you do, even when it doesn't make much sense to you. God often doesn't reveal His full plan, or the next step.
To the eunuch the passage meant nothing because the subject was not named. To Phillip it spoke volumes. The thing missing was Jesus. For many of those around you who are unsaved, many of the thing you say or they read about Christianity mean nothing as well. Without filling in that crucial first blank about Jesus dieing on the cross for their sins, the rest will mean nothing.
o Listened to his surroundings
o Picked up on a "God moment"
o Didn't run ahead of God, but took advantage of the right moment
o Asked a probing, yet non-confrontational question
o When given the opportunity for more information went from where the man was and shared the gospel.
8:36-40 Philip the traveler
This is one of the strangest portions of Scripture we find in the book of Acts. The words "suddenly took away" is the Greek word Harpazo when means "to snatch away" or take by force. It is the same word used in:
1Thes 4:17 "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."
This passage is about the rapture of the church. So the question is, did the Holy Spirit literally pick Phillip up and deposit him in another place? We don't know, but its entirely possible.
However, we shouldn't presuppose that a miraculous even took place here. The same word is used in Acts 23 when the commander of the Roman garrison takes Paul "by force" out of a riot in Jerusalem.
One commentator suggests that just as the Spirit commanded Phillip to go down the desert road, He is now strongly admonishing him to get up and get out of there quickly - that his mission is done and he needs to keep going to preach the gospel, not get involved in this eunuch anymore.
Azotus (or Ashdod) was only 16 miles away from Gaza - so Phillip could have easily walked and it was the next nearby city.
o Great works for God often proceed great trials brought by the enemy
Don't be surprised when after you do something for God the enemy attacks. This is not a reason to shrink back, but a reason to watch for God to do even more.
o Look for opportunities for growth when change forces itself into your life
A root bound plant experiences all kinds of new growth when placed into a bigger pot. Maybe you are root bound in some areas of your life. When change comes, stretch out your roots into new soil. It may feel uncomfortable as you've wound your life around and around in a tight ball - but it provides new opportunities to learn, grow, and share.
o God may take you to an unfamiliar, even uncomfortable place
Samaria was uncomfortable to Phillip. Where does God take you that is out of your comfort zone? But great joy resulted.
o Sharing the gospel is natural
Go where God tells you, look for moments to share, be yourself