June 22, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 8: A Miracle of Multiculturalism

Suzan is Egyptian. Her father was a missionary in the Sudan. To the south of Egypt. And she grew up there, living with the Sudanese. She now lives in Australia. I met her at Glenwood, and she’s now a member of the church there.

The two of us have nothing else in common. We’re from completely different worlds. But we get on like a house on fire. Because we share a SAVIOUR.

There is a bond between Christians/ stronger than any of the things which might DIVIDE us. When you stand at the foot of the cross, there is no race or language or nation or culture.

Although, if you met Suzan, you wouldn’t think that it’s very surprising that we get on. Because she’s a LOVELY LADY.

But there are plenty of more SURPRISING examples in the world today. Like what’s happening in Burundi.

Serge Gahundu is a Christian from Burundi. His tribal group is the TUTSI. One of the two main ethnic groups in Burundi and Rwanda.

There’s a long history of conflict between the Tutsi/ and the Hutu, who are the ethnic majority.

The clash escalated after the presidential elections in 1993 and especially following the assassination of the Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye.

After this, Hutu extremists went on a rampage of revenge, an estimated 500,000 of the Tutsi minority. Tens of thousands of Tutsi fled to neighbouring countries. Many thousands of Hutus, fearing revenge attacks also fled.

Serge was a schoolboy in 1993. He lost his parents and all his relatives on the 21st of October that year.

From then on, he viewed all Hutus with suspicion and hatred. As enemies, killers who needed to be fought.

A pretty standard attitude, I would guess, for most people on either of the two sides.

Serge takes up the story. “After the of my family, my mind was consumed with feelings of revenge. At that time, I was at school. I met with some Tutsis who had managed to escape. I participated actively in the actions of revenge. What is even worse is that when I was sent to compulsory military service in 1987, I saw it as an opportunity to oppress the Hutu (and I think that I was taking a lead in it.) Whenever I met with a new person, the first question in my mind was, “Are they a Hutu or a Tutsi?”

BUT THEN SERGE BECAME A CHRISTIAN. A miracle. But it wasn’t the ONLY miracle. It was only the BEGINNING. Listen to the way he describes it.

“Since I accepted Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of my life, that question, “Are they a Hutu or a Tutsi?”, no longer bothers me. When I think about my past life, I can’t help saying ” WOW! THE CROSS OF JESUS IS INCREDIBLE. He really DOES make you a new person.”

Today when I am with my Hutu friends or when I gain a new one, I become so fired up. What is amazing is that when I am with such people these days, I spend weeks, months or even a year with them without even knowing their ethnic group.

What is important is to love people and indeed show EVERYBODY that they are loved. What the cross of Christ does is so incredible.”

It’s miraculous reconciliation like this/ that’s been going on in the Christian church since the very beginning. Back in Acts.

The Christian church was the FIRST multicultural society. And we see how it all began in Acts Ch 8. It’s a crucial turning point in the story. How the gospel finally made it beyond the city walls of Jerusalem. In fact, made it all the way through Judea. To Samaria.

Mind you, it wasn’t an EASY thing to work out. Because the implications of the gospel cut against ingrained national hostilities. Jew and Samaritan had D each other for centuries. Even worse than Tutsi and Hutus.

In fact, when you understand the background, you realise what a MIRACLE it was that the two sides got together at all.

Acts 8 is full of MANY miracles. Evil spirits cast out. Cripples healed. Philip miraculously transported 20 km away instantly. Miracles that even impress Simon the Sorcerer. The miracle EXPERT.

But the greatest miracle of ALL. Is the one which JOINS Jew and Samaritan together. Under the cross. In fact, it’s SO unbelievable that the Apostles send Peter and John down to check it out.

And this is THE START OF IT ALL. The first venture into foreign territory. A momentous event that has repercussions right through to Ch 15 where it reaches a climax. And then to the end of the book.

So, with that context in mind, let’s turn to Acts 8.

1. Persecution and Preaching (2-4)

And the first thing we see is PERSECUTION AND PREACHING.

Jesus told them to get out of Jerusalem. Into Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. But the Apostles have been a little slow to take up the task. Not that they’ve been doing NOTHING. There’s plenty of work to do in Jerusalem. And plenty of people are becoming Christians.

And so their focus hasn’t really been OUTSIDE the city walls. Until Stephen is STONED. A terrible . And the persecution begins.

And v1 tells us that everyone except the Apostles were SCATTERED throughout Judea and Samaria.

But look down to v4. The amazing thing is that it wasn’t DEFEAT. It wasn’t even a strategic withdrawal. It was an ALL OUT COUNTER-ATTACK.

(Acts 8:4 NIV)  Those who had been scattered PREACHED THE WORD WHEREVER they went.

Preaching the gospel. Through Judea and Samaria. Exactly what Jesus commanded them to do in Ch 1 v8.

2. The Miracle of Multiculturalism

And then we get AN EXAMPLE. Philip. Another of the seven from Ch 6. And just like Stephen, he was MUCH more than a food delivery boy. Look at it there in v5.

(Acts 8:5-8 NIV)  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.

Incredibly, God is at work in SAMARIA. With POWER. Miracles and SIGNS that point to Jesus.

And yet, the REAL miracle, at least for Jews back in Jerusalem, is that God is accepting SAMARITANS TOO. The miracle of multiculturalism.

And to highlight THE IMPORTANCE of what’s happening – how miraculous it really IS, we see this cameo involving Simon the sorcerer.

Because Philip’s not the FIRST to be doing miracles in the city. V9 describes Simon, who amazed the people with magic tricks. He believed his own publicity – his billboard carried the nickname – “The Great Power”. And he thought he lived up to the title pretty well.

But, in v12, when Philip came along, Simon was just left behind in the dust. There was a NEW show in town. But notice what caught their attention. V12.

(Acts 8:12 NIV)  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.

Yes! Philip was doing MIRACLES. But it was the MESSAGE which God used. The miracles led to JOY and HEALING. But it was the GOSPEL which brought SALVATION. FORGIVENESS. BAPTISM.

And EVEN SIMON, not wanting to be left behind, …“believed” and was baptised.

But notice what it is that gets HIS attention? We’re not told what HE thinks of the GOOD NEWS about Jesus. But the end of v13 says.

(Acts 8:13 NIV)  …And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by THE GREAT SIGNS AND MIRACLES HE SAW.

The people were attracted by the MESSAGE. But for Simon, it was the POWERFUL ACTS which got HIS attention.

3. The Apostles Verify It.

And while WE might wonder if SIMON’S conversion was genuine. The Apostles back in Jerusalem were wondering about the WHOLE THING. “Christians in Samaria? Who ever HEARD of such a bizarre thing!!”

So they send Peter and John down to verify it. To check the stories.

I wonder if John was sent along as the resident skeptic. He might have taken some convincing. You might remember that James and John were the ones who wanted to call down fire on the inhospitable Samaritans, back in Lk 9:54.

(Luke 9:52-55 NIV)  … Jesus sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; {53} but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. {54} When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

John’s inclination was the REJECT, rather than ACCEPT.

But there’s a turnaround in John’s attitude. Whatever he sees when he gets there convinces him. God HAS saved the Samaritans, too.

But what they DO find/ is that God’s left THEM something to do TOO. Even though the believers have been baptised, they haven’t received the Holy Spirit yet. So, v17, Peter and John place their hands on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit.

Presumably with the same sorts of signs as we saw in Acts 2. At Pentecost. Because this is really the SAMARITAN Pentecost.

Philip, and the Apostles, in PARTNERSHIP at this new stage of the birth of the church.

Now, it’s very important to understand these verses correctly. Are they PRESCRIPTIVE or DESCRIPTIVE?

Prescriptive means they PRESCRIBE something which is true for us too. (It happened THEN, so it must always be true NOW)

Whereas descriptive just means they DESCRIBE a one-off event, which DOESN’T have immediate implications for us.

SOME churches say it’s PRESCRIPTIVE.

Many Pentecostal churches say that it means that EVERY CHRISTIAN goes through a TWO-STAGE experience like this . There’s conversion. And then, there’s receiving the Holy Spirit, or baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But the problem is/ the rest of the Bible says the OPPOSITE. When God forgives your sin, he makes you a new person, makes you his child, and gives you his Spirit. ONE EVENT.

Like Rom 8:9

(Rom 8:9 NIV)  … And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

Or 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

(2 Cor 1:21-22 NIV)  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, {22} set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

ONE EVENT. We’re TOGETHER because we ALL have the Spirit. There’s NO double stage.

Other churches like the ANGLICANS say it’s PRESCRIPTIVE in that an APOSTLE, or at least a BISHOP must CONFIRM every new Christian.

And yet no other place in the Bible makes this assertion. If it WERE such an important step, it would make sense to mention it elsewhere.

No, I believe we are to see this episode simply as DESCRIPTIVE. Describing a ONE-OFF event. In fact, even HIGHLIGHTING this one-off event. And I reckon there are good reasons, from the flow of the book, for doing so.

We’ve been talking about what a SIGNIFICANT EVENT this was. Imagine how it would have felt for the SAMARITANS. So long been despised as the poor cousins. The rejects. Not good enough to come to Jerusalem.

And then, Philip comes, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, of Jesus the Messiah. They accept it. But still in the back of their minds is this ing doubt that they’re not good enough. After all, who’s Philip? Just some renegade. Some runaway from Jerusalem.

But then, along come Peter and John. Two of the top three Apostles.

They LAY HANDS on the believers. A token of solidarity and fellowship and unity. And then God BACKS it UP by pouring out his Holy Spirit.

And they confirm to THE SAMARITANS that the message they received was THE TRUE GOSPEL. And that the Samaritans were truly part of God’s new people.

And then they go back, and report to THE JERUSALEM CHURCH. Yes, we saw it with our own eyes! It’s the real deal! God really HAS made the Samaritans his children.

God used this one-off event as an act of verification for BOTH SIDES.

And it certainly DOES convince Peter and John. Because what do they do on their way back to Jerusalem? Flip over to v25.

(Acts 8:25 NIV)  When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

They joined in as well. Building this new miracle of multiculturalism.

But what about Simon? We’ve forgotten him, haven’t we? He’s pretty impressed by what he sees too. SO impressed, he wants to BUY IT. V18.

(Acts 8:18-19 NIV)  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.”

Notice that he’s not talking about the gift of the Spirit. He goes right to the SOURCE. He wants the ability to give out the Holy Spirit. The laying-on-of-hands gift.

Seems to ME/ that it’s all about A BUSINESS VENTURE. Invest a few bucks to find a need, corner the market. Then think what you could CHARGE for that service. You’d make your money back in NO TIME.

But Simon’s completely got it wrong. And this is what makes me think his conversion wasn’t genuine. The gift’s not from THE APOSTLES. It’s from God. And it’s a GIFT. Not something you can buy or sell. And so Peter rebukes him. V20.

(Acts 8:20-23 NIV)  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.”

And at least on the surface, Simon recognises his error.

(Acts 8:24 NIV)  “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Perhaps it really is repentance after all!

Simons’s got side-tracked by THE MIRACLES. And forgotten that it’s THE GOSPEL that’s the real miracle. How it changes lives. Makes friends out of enemies.

And it’s a mistake that it’s easy to make today. Plenty of television Christians  – like Benny Hinn – have got so pre-occupied with the HEALING miracles, that there’s a danger of the GOSPEL miracle being forgotten.

And we need to make sure that doesn’t happen with US.

Samaria and beyond (26-40)

Well, with that the Apostles return to Jerusalem, preaching as they go.

But it’s not the end for Philip. Because God’s got OTHER plans for him. He’s not content to stop at SAMARIA. Remember the plan? Even to THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. Samaria and BEYOND.

And, in the ancient world, you don’t get much closer to the END than Ethiopia! Right through Egypt, and South, right to the top of the Nile River. At the end of the Red Sea. Almost to the Indian Ocean.

And although Philip HIMSELF doesn’t make it that far. He does the next best thing. An angel directs him to AN ETHIOPIAN.

A God-fearer. Travelling back from Jerusalem. Which is convenient for Philip. But he’s a Gentile, and a eunuch to make matters worse. So he’s not allowed in the temple.

And it’s this triple combination which makes him about as far away from God’s people as you could imagine. A Gentile Ethiopian eunuch. But when Philips shares the gospel with him. God even changes THIS guy’s heart. And he asks, in v36

(Acts 8:36 NIV)  “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

And so Philip baptises him.

It’s like God’s saying “You think bringing SAMARITANS into my people is a miracle? Just wait until you see what I’ve got in store!” He might as well have made him AN AUSTRALIAN!

Because it’s the miracle of multiculturalism.

And just like with SAMARITANS, it will take Peter a while to catch up to what God’s doing through OTHER CHRISTIANS.

It’s not until Ch 11 that Peter recognises that GENTILES are part of God’s people TOO. But that’s something Philip’s already worked out here in Ch 8.

So, how well have YOU learned the lesson? The miracle that God offers EVERYONE the chance to be his child. Forgiveness. Eternal life.

EVERYONE. Egyptian or Australian. Tutsi or Hutu. Jew or Samaritan. Or even Ethiopian.

God’s children are everywhere. You’ll find them in the most unexpected places.

In the science lab. In the garbage dump. In the university professor’s chair. On a surfboard. In a suit and tie. In rags and bare feet. With a hundred dollar hair-cut. With no hair and tattoos. Wearing a trucker cap. Or a Sikh turban or Muslim headdress.

No-one’s too far away.

So don’t be surprised when you FIND them everywhere. And don’t be put off TELLING all these sorts of people the good news.

And the incredible thing about BLACKTOWN/ is you can find EVERY SINGLE ONE of those people within a few streets of each other!

In the science lab. In the garbage dump. In the university professor’s chair. On a surfboard. In a suit and tie. In rags and bare feet. With a hundred dollar hair-cut. With no hair and tattoos. Wearing a trucker cap. Or a Sikh turban or Muslim headdress.

God’s children are everywhere. You’ll find them in the most unexpected places. No-one’s too far away. And God can make us ONE. That’s the miracle of multiculturalism.

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