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“The Gospel Expansion Begins” (Acts 8:1-25)

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

Last week we had a special service where we observed both the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and I preached a sermon specifically about understanding the ordinances of the church. We took a one-week break from our series in Acts.

This week, we’re back in Acts.

You may recall that the last major event that happened in our study of the Book of Acts was the killing of Stephen. That’s where we’re going to pick up our study this morning: just after the death of Stephen.

Before we go any further, let’s pray together.


Today’s sermon is entitled “The Gospel Expansion Begins.”

You see, up until this point, all of the work of the Church was focused in and around Jerusalem. However, the death of Stephen and the persecution of the church would serve as an expansion of the reach of the gospel.

Let’s learn about that and more in today’s passage.

First, let’s learn about . . .

‌I. The ravaging of the church.

Let’s start off by looking at Acts 8:1–4:

“Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison. So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word.”

Notice, first of all, that it says Saul agreed with putting him to death.

Of course, it’s been a couple of weeks since we were in Acts, but if we were reading straight through, you would remember that the him that is spoken of here is Stephen.

Also, you would remember that those who killed Stephen took off some of their outer garments and kept them under the watch of a man named Saul.

This is the same Saul. This is Saul of Tarsus. Luke (the author of Acts) is revealing more and more about Saul of Tarsus, as he will become a central figure in the Book of Acts.

So, Saul agreed with putting Stephen to death.

What’s more, we see that on the day that Stephen was killed, a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem.

Remember, when it speaks about the church in Jerusalem, it’s talking about the people, not a building. A severe persecution broke out against the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Luke tells us what happened as a result of that persecution.

Verse 1 says, “ . . . all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.”

So, the twelve apostles stayed in Jerusalem, but we see the majority of the followers of Jesus scattered throughout the land.

Don’t forget, there are not just a few Christians at this point. As we’ve learned throughout the first seven chapters of Acts, the Lord continued to add to the church daily those who were being saved.

There was great expansion of the church in Jerusalem, and now we start to see the expansion of the church outside of Jerusalem.

Verse 4 says that as they were scattered, they “went on their way preaching the word.”

Lest we forget, we must remember what Jesus said in Acts 1:8. He said,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We see this happening here, don’t we? The gospel reach is expanding into Judea and Samaria right here in Acts 8.

However, Saul is not having it. He is on a mission to stamp out this expansion of the Church.

Verse 3 says Saul was ravaging the Church.

Saul would actually go house to house and drag off men and women to put into prison.

Saul wasn’t messing around. He hated the success of the gospel, he hated the expansion of the Church, and he was doing everything he could to slow down the followers of Jesus.

However, though there was a ravaging of the church, there was also . . .

‌II. The reaching of the Samaritans.

Let’s pick it up in verse 5:

5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and amazed the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God.” 11 They were attentive to him because he had amazed them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.

Again, we see that what Jesus said would happen is actually happening.

Jesus told His followers that they would be witnesses in Samaria. Philip is being a witness in Samaria.

Jesus told His followers that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Philip was accomplishing powerful Spirit-filled ministry among the people in Samaria.

You may recall that Samaria was an area north of Judea that was home to a lot of people who were either not Jewish or were of mixed Jewish descent.

Here’s a map for you: here’s Jerusalem, here’s Judea, and here’s Samaria.

The Samaritans were not well-loved by the Jews, and the Jews were not well-loved by the Samaritans.

However, don’t you know that the gospel transcends any and every cultural barrier‽ The gospel can shatter all hate, all racism, and all walls!

Philip understood this reality, and Philip sought to expand the reach of the gospel. Verse 5 says, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.”

What resulted from Philip’s preaching?

Verse 8 says, “So there was great joy in that city.”

Verse 12 says, “But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”

Through the witness of Philip and the power of the Holy Spirit, lives were changed, and the gospel was expanded because of the proclamation of the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.

We also hear this information about a man named Simon.

Simon was a sorcerer who drew the attention and praise of people because he practiced sorcery, which impressed the people.

Verse 10 says they even referred to him as “the Great Power of God.”

Well, even though Simon was the one who impressed everyone, Simon himself became impressed when he saw the real great power of God at work.

Verse 13 tells us that Simon believed and was himself baptized as a follower of Jesus.

We’ll hear a bit more about Simon in a minute. For now, we see in this passage the reaching of the Samaritans.

Finally, notice . . .

‌III. The receiving of the Spirit.

Let’s look at the final few verses of this passage.

Let’s look at verses 14-25:

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them so that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit because he had not yet come down on any of them. 16 (They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.”

24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 So, after they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

Ok, let’s talk about what’s going on here.

First, we must acknowledge that there is some mystery here.

The mystery centers around the idea that these Samaritans accepted Jesus as their Lord, and they were baptized, yet they did not yet have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

You see, this was not a normal thing in the New Testament. Generally, we see someone receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when they receive Jesus as their Lord.

So, it’s a bit mysterious as to why this is happening.

One theory that several scholars have, with which I tend to agree, is that God chose to withhold the giving of the Holy Spirit as a way to verify that salvation was indeed coming to these Samaritans.

You see, up to this point, the gospel work and the growth of the Church had been limited primarily to Jewish people in and around the city of Jerusalem.

Now, Philip is taking the gospel outside of Jerusalem into Samaria.

If you think back to Acts 2, what did God do in Jerusalem to show that the age of the Church was beginning?

We saw God’s miraculous work as the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and unleashed power into the Church.

In Acts 8, it appears that we’re seeing a special occurrence of the Holy Spirit being given in a unique way as the very first group of non-Jewish people come into the Church. In fact, one commentator has referred to this story as the “Samaritan Pentecost.”

So, we see the coming of the Holy Spirit in a way that the Samaritans see the power of God at work in them, and Peter of John get to witness the Holy Spirit at work in the Samaritans. Don’t forget that Peter and John are the two primary leaders of the Church at this point.

Now, Peter and John can go back to Jerusalem to personally testify that they witnessed the Holy Spirit coming upon non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

Indeed, we see in verse 25 that Peter and John do go back to Jerusalem.

Notice something spectacular about their trip back. After witnessing the Spirit coming upon Samaritans, Peter and John also started sharing the gospel with Samaritans.

Verse 25 says, “they traveled back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.”

I believe this is why God chose this unique way of giving the Spirit to the Samaritans, not only to encourage the Samaritans in their salvation, but also to encourage the apostles in their proclamation of the gospel to the non-Jewish world.

This miraculous event and the timing of this miraculous event will be used by God for the expansion of the gospel.

Before we leave this point, let us not forget about Simon the Sorcerer.

We see in verses 18 and 19 that Simon saw the coming of the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid their hands on the believers.

Simon wanted the ability to do this also, so he offered to buy this gift from the apostles.

For a sorcerer to buy a magical ability from someone was not a strange request. However, Peter reacted so strongly because this event was no magic trick. This was the power of God at work!

You see, the power of God is available to anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, no matter how much money you have! Now we see that it doesn’t even matter if you are Jewish or non-Jewish!

There is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved than by the name of Jesus of Nazareth!

When we call upon Jesus, powerful things begin to happen, including the coming of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Peter rebuked Simon and called him to repentance.

So, we see in this section the receiving of the Spirit. Let’s summarize all this with this bottom line:

‌Bottom Line: God began a gospel expansion that still continues today.

What God did through Philip in Samaria would begin to create a gospel expansion that is still taking place. The gospel has spread all over the world, yet there is still work to do.

In fact, did you know that Jesus said that the beginning of the heavenly kingdom would only happen after the gospel expands to all peoples? Jesus said in Matthew 24:14:

This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

So, let us thank God that the gospel expanded to us, and let us continue to be a part of the gospel expansion.

Challenge yourself this week in this one way:

‌Weekly Challenge #1 – Commit to be a gospel expander.

Will you play your part?

Jesus said in Matthew 28:19–20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We have been sent out to be gospel expanders. Will you do your part?

Challenge yourself to do so this week and beyond.

(Gospel presentation)

(closing prayer)

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