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The Great Persecution
We approach today the scenes that immediately followed Stephen's death. Satan, encouraged by Stephen's martyrdom, thinks to press on with fire and with flood, with stoning and with sword to exterminate the Christians. Let us consider how his tactics prospered.
I. A GREAT PERSECUTION AROSE (Acts 8:1 )
Prior to this time there had been persecution; Peter and James had been thrown into prison; Stephen had been stoned. Now, however, the persecution began to take on a more general nature. Everyone who named the Name of Christ was called on to suffer for Christ's sake. The persecution which had centered against the leaders was made to include all believers.
Paul wrote plainly, "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
Christ said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation," and the Spirit, in His Letter to Timothy added, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
Does the interest of these words prevail in the twentieth century? Or, has the Church advanced so far in her conquest of the world, that the days of persecution are past?
We wot not.
The Church has ceased to suffer because the Church has grown worldly, The Church has set aside the offense of the Gospel. For a great part the Church and the world are walking together. However, where believers stand firm for the whole Gospel, and where they take their stand outside the camp, they still find themselves bearing reproach.
Persecution in some parts does not carry the same method; martyrdom has not prevailed, but persecution under the form of isolation, and segregation; persecution under the form of misrepresentation and insinuation does prevail. Saddest of all it is the religious world, it is the ecclesiastical hierarchy that heads the present-day persecution.
Christianity is grouped under separate and distinctive ecclesiastical systems, and practically all ministers are inveigled in one of those groups. Persecution is most keen within these groups, commonly known as denominations; and it becomes dominant when any one minister or church, refuses to fall in line with the leaders who exercise authority in those denominations.
Loyalty to the denomination, abject obedience to the authority of men, the hearty support of every program fostered by the Church, has supplanted loyalty to Christ, and obedience to the One who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
The individual believer can scarcely think for himself, or follow Christ as the Spirit leads. He must bend the knee to men, he must support human leadership.
If preacher or pew-holder dares to step aside from the denominational program, he is at once a speckled bird, unloyal and worthy of debasement. For the most part denominationalists have accepted the yoke of human authority and leadership, and they are allowing men, and not God, to direct their steps.
The liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free is lost, and the preacher who is unwilling to wear the yoke of some distinctive denominational headship is destined to suffer for Christ's sake.
Stephen filled with the Holy Ghost and power, bucked the Sanhedrin; he cast off the fetters of synagogal authority; he refused to bow to the dictates of Judaistic authority; he would not wear the yoke of an ecclesiastical system that rejected Christ: as a result he was martyred for his faith; martyred for his loyalty to Christ; martyred because he spoke the truth; martyred because he exposed error.
II. A SCATTERING ABROAD OCCURRED (Acts 8:1 , l.c)
Satan no doubt thought that, with cyclone effectiveness, he was sweeping the land clear of the Christians. Before the onrush of persecution the Christians were scattered in every direction, Satan, however, was deceived. Instead of depleting the Church, he increased it. As the wind carries firebrands helter-skelter, and each brand starts a new conflagration, so the saints scattered, were the saints increasingly effective. Wherever the Christians lighted, they started a new testimony for Christ. The Gospel spread with speed. New converts were made and new churches sprung up over night. The Gospel prevailed and the power of God was manifested.
Throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria the message of life and liberty was carried.
In all of this persecution, with its sequence of scattered saints, we cannot fail to see the hand of God working out His own will. God was using the wrath of man and the strategies of Satan to praise Him; God was forcing them to work His will.
The parting command of the Ascending Christ was, "every creature." The wall of partition had been broken down. It might remain "the Jew first," but not, "the Jew all the time." It might have been, "beginning at Jerusalem." but not, "stagnating at Jerusalem." Christ had said, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
The import of this command failed to awaken any response in the hearts of the Apostles and the Church. They had begun in Jerusalem, and they were staying in Jerusalem.
We have this conviction that if the Church had immediately pressed out to the ends of the earth with their testimony, the persecution that was waged might not have been so sudden and so severe.
Thus, as we stand at the bier of the martyred Stephen, we cannot but feel that from his tomb the seeds of missionary endeavor sprang. Thus also we feel, that, in the persecution that followed, the seeds of missionary endeavor greatly multiplied.
Christians with Christ in their heart, and with the pulsings of a living testimony on their lips, being scattered themselves, scattered also their testimony.
Persecution became the "Missionary Board" of the early Church, thrusting out missionaries to unevangelized centers.
Persecution became the method by which God forced His people into obedience to His command.
Persecution became the power of God in carrying the message of God to Judaea and Samaria, and ultimately on to the ends of the earth.
Thank God, then, for the far-reaching ministry of Stephen's death. Like Samson, he slew more in his death, than in his life.
Thank God for the persecution that broke up homes, discommoded families, brought great financial loss, and sent saints fleeing in all directions. Mark the words of Acts 8:4 , Then "they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the Word."
Of old, Joseph sold to the Ismaelites, was Joseph sent to Egypt as a missionary of God's grace and glory, and Joseph sent ahead to preserve his own father and seed. That of which Jacob said, "All these things are against me," was indeed, for him.
The little maid stolen away from her Jewish home by a marauding Syrian band, became the little maid who waited on Naaman's wife; became the little maid, a missionary of God's grace and glory to the leprous Naaman who was captain of the hosts of the king of Syria. The parents of the little maid were crushed with the news of their kidnapped child but God was working in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; God was pressing into service a missionary to a faraway land.
So also in the days of the persecution that followed the death of Stephen, God was using the testings and the troubles of those dark days to send out heralders of His grace. The heart of God reached beyond the sequestered streets of Jerusalem all men everywhere need to repent.
Let the Church learn its lesson. A missionary church is a God-owned and a God-honored church. Years ago the Baptists split on the missionary call to the Church. The anti-missionaries after the years, number if anything less than when the split occurred. The missionary Baptists have been increased many, many fold.
The church, or the individual, that wants the blessings of Heaven, must catch the spirit of the Master and carry the words of the Master to the end of the earth.
III. A GREAT SINNER WAS CONVICTED (Acts 9:5 )
When God struck down the stalwart Saul, as with letters of authority he journeyed toward Damascus seeking to bind saints and bring them to Jerusalem, the Lord said to Saul, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." We come now to the goads which pricked Saul. Mark three striking statements that are before us.
1. "And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul." These are the words of Acts 7:58 .
2. "And Saul was consenting unto his death." These words are found in the opening of chapter eight.
3. "As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison," These words are in Acts 8:3 .
One would not easily detect any conviction for sin settling on the heart of the young persecutor, Saul of Tarsus. Yet, it must have been so. Saul may have hid any yearning and burning in his spirit from the Jewish Sanhedrin, and from the rabble; but, he did not hide his groanings from God. O Saul, it was hard, hard, hard, to hold out against the Lord.
What have we here? We are still following the results of Satan's strategies against the saints; we are still seeing how Satan outdid himself. Satan brought about the death of Stephen prominent in that stoning was the young man Saul, who guarded the clothes of the men who stoned Stephen. Satan knew Saul, knew his training at the feet of Gamaliel, knew his power with the Sanhedrin, knew his popularity in leadership. Satan felt that his interests were safe in the hands of Saul.
Beyond doubt Saul was a peer among persecutors. He hated the Christ and hated the Church. He was a vassal of evil men. His power and usefulness in Satan's cause was enhanced by the fact that concerning the Law, he was blameless. He was a youth who was extremely religious; he was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Saul was a "Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless."
Satan thought himself entrenched with so great a leader. Nothing suits the devil better than to link up, in his work against God, men who are, supposedly, sponsoring the things of God. Satan delights when he can get into the very citadel, and hold the keys of the tower in his own hands.
This, however, was one time that Satan ignominiously failed in his purpose. Saul was too sincere a man, too honest, too true, to be held by the evil one. To be sure his heart was as hard as adament; his eyes were blinded by religious prejudice; and for a while he verily thought that he was doing God's will. However, ultimately, he could hold out no more. Through the mist that covered his eyes the light began to shine. Let us see how it all came about.
First, there was the death of Stephen, Saul did more than guard the clothes of the men who stoned Stephen Saul saw a shining face, he beheld a forgiving spirit, and he caught the words of a tremendous testimony. There was something about Stephen that was so distinct, so different. His words seemed borne on the wings of a faith that was unwavering; they were carried by a power that was all-convincing. Saul knew this.
After Stephen's death, after the noise of the yelling mob had subsided, after the excitement of the hour, Saul was left with an arrow of conviction pricking his heart. Saul could not forget the triumphant death of God's martyr; he could not erase the memory of the vision that Stephen said he saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Saul could not forget the words that marked the collapse of Stephen's strength, the words were loud, and they would not grow faint in the memories of Saul Stephen had said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."
Have you ever been to Rome? Have you stood mid the ruins of the old Coliseum? There, in the days of old, the helpless Christians were thrust out into a lion-infested arena. The great crowds that thronged the galleries looked down. The elite of Rome and of Italy and of the nations were there. The cultured and the educated, the members of the Roman Senate were there. They all looked down and saw helpless men and women, facing sure death without a tremor. They knew that the saints in the arena could have obtained their liberty and safety by uttering one word "we recant"; but no, they were willing rather to die. The throngs saw their faces shining as the faces of angels; they heard their prayers; caught their dying flights of faith.
Truly the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church. From the old Roman arena, from every martyr's funeral pyre, from the dying of Stephen men were born again the Christ of the martyrs became the Christ of some who saw the martyrs die.
Thus with Saul the goads began to prick. Saul sought to resist the pricks. He did no less than to increase his madness against the Church. First, he guarded the clothes of Stephen's persecutors; then, he consented to his death; then, he made havoc of the Church, rushing everywhere and dragging men and women to jail. In another sermon we will show the ultimate of all of this Saul's conversion on the Damascus road.
IV. A GREAT FIDELITY OF THE APOSTLES WAS SHOWN (Acts 8:1 )
It is most significant. Hear the words of Acts 8:1 , "They were all scattered abroad * * except the Apostles."
There are two considerations dominant here.
1. The fidelity of the Apostles. We remember how Peter had once quailed and trembled before the onrush of the enemy. Now Peter knew no fear, and showed no sign of retreat. We remember how the Apostles, as the mob came into Gethsemane, all forsook Christ and fled. Not so, now. The days of desertion were past.
The Apostles had a dauntless courage that held them fast. The ship might sink, but they would die with their hands on the helm. They would not take to the boats.
In this is much to strengthen our faith, The men who knew God were willing to pay for their trust, with their blood. Should not we be willing to do as much?
God needs men who will not swerve; men with iron in their blood; men who will be stone walls, and iron pillars.
2. The failure of the Apostles. We would not take one iota of glory from the vision of their courage, but we would not fail to observe the seeming lack of their obedience to the command of Christ. They were not willfully disobedient, they did not mean to lag behind.
God wanted the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem only until the coming of the Holy Spirit, then they were to press their way to Judaea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth. This they did not do. The Spirit came, and still they tarried. The believers in Jerusalem were greatly multiplied, and still they tarried. Great funds of money were laid at the Apostles' feet, and still they tarried.
The fuller meaning of the rent veil; the deeper vision of "all nations," and "every creature," they failed to grasp.
There was a hanging on to the old Judaistic conception of Jew first, Jew second, and Jew all the time. The Apostles were trying to keep intact the middle wall of partition which the Lord had torn down. They failed to grasp that the Gentiles were now fellow citizens with the saints; they who once were afar off, had been made nigh by the Blood of the Cross.
When Christ died He brought the Gentiles into a new position by grace. They were no longer strangers and foreigners, but together with the believing Jews, they had access, by one Spirit, unto the Father.
Our last word for today is a plea that the churches of Christ may press on, never being content with another man's line of things made ready to their hands. The regions beyond, must ever be our goal.
Philip the Evangelist
Philip was a man mighty in word and in deed. He wrought miracles and preached Christ, The people may have talked and marveled at the many palsied and lame that were healed, and at the demons that were cast out, but Philip did not use his power of the miraculous to preach himself as some mighty one; he did not parade his miracles, but his Master.
Among the multitude who gave heed to Philip was Simon the sorcerer. Aforetime in the same city, Simon had used sorcery, bewitching the people of Samaria. Let me bring before you Acts 8:10-11 :
"To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying. This man is the great power of God.
"And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries."
Simon sought to make himself a name. He gave out that he was some great one, and the people, from the least, even to the greatest, granted his claims, saying, "This man is the great power of God."
We have no doubt discovered the key that will unlock much of the false work that carries the stamp of the true. It is nothing less than the deism of man.
Jesus Christ humbled Himself. He made Himself of no reputation. Have we not read? "Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not." We are commanded to cease "from man, whose breath is in his nostrils."
Three things are stated in Corinthians: (1) "Let no man glory in men." (2) "Let no man glory in the flesh." (3) "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
Some of us must stand rebuked along with Simon the Sorcerer. Some love the "chief seats in the synagogues"; some delight in being called, "Rabbi, Rabbi": some seek the "uppermost rooms at feasts," and "greetings in the markets." Some even allow themselves to be called, "Father," and, "Master."
This is true of self-seeking religious leaders, and, "The people love to have it so." Simon made himself some great one, and the people acquiesced.
Men seek human worship, and men delight in worshiping them. This leads me to the following consideration:
I. PHILIP FOUND THE PEOPLE READY TO FOLLOW A FALSE PERFORMER (Acts 8:11 )
Simon builded his reputation on his cunning. He claimed to do the genuine, but was, in fact, a trickster. He paraded as true, but was false. The people swallowed whole his craftiness. They failed to discern his deceit. They were ready to follow his fraud.
The day of superstition has by no means passed. The day of the reign of religious fads and fancies, has by no means disappeared. The lure of delusions is still paramount. People gladly believe a lie; some still follow hot after the cunning craftiness of men, whereby the crafty lie in wait to deceive.
Simon Magus was an antichrist on a small scale. The people of that day, were typical of the people who will follow the antichrist in the near future. We have not passed from the age of ignorance and superstition; we have not passed from the thraldom of deceptive delusions. Hear the Word of God:
"Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; "Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
"Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?"
Surely the world is ripening in the very sorcery that Simon practiced. The whole world will wonder after the Beast. The people will yet cry, "Who is like unto the beast?" One who worketh wonders will yet deceive those who dwell on the earth by means of his miracles, and he will cause men to worship the Beast.
In Simon, the sorcerer, God has given us a warning of certain things which will prevail in the last days.
II. GETTING BEHIND THE WONDERS GOD OR SATAN, WHICH? (Acts 8:11 )
Simon wrought wonders, and the people acclaimed him, "The great power of God," Philip also wrought wonders, and miracles, and signs. Was there any method by which the common people could discern between the true and the false?
In the days of the tribulation, which now approaches, the antichrist will work with "all power and signs and lying wonders." At the same period the Lord, through His Two Witnesses, will work miracles and wonders and signs. How may the people discern between the true and the false?
The populace had pronounced Simon as "the great power of God," but Simon had been, in fact, the power of Satan, God once said, "They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean" (Ezekiel 44:23 ).
Here are some suggestions, based on Divine revelation, by which we may discern between the false and the true in the miraculous.
1. We should go back of the miracles and wonders and examine the Spirit that dominates those who work them. We will quote at length from I John, chapter four:
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
"And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
"We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:1-3 , 1 John 4:6 ).
Deceivers and antichrists are they who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. They also confess not that He is coming in the flesh. Deceivers follow after strange creeds, and abide not "in the doctrine of Christ." These words from the Holy Spirit, suffice. Every false worker will be revealed by his vagaries, and fanaticisms. He may at times, parade good doctrine, but the insincerity of his statements will be easily discerned.
The true, always stand by the Bible testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ, in His Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Return. They hold to the faith in a pure conscience. They possess a sound mind.
2. We should consider the aim, and the purpose of the miracle worker. The false magnify themselves, the true magnify Christ. The false work to make to themselves a name, the true do all to the glory of God.
Simon Magus made himself some great one. The coming antichrist will exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped.
Paul wrought miracles, but Paul truly said, "For to me to live is Christ." He knew how to abase himself. Paul, at Lystra, healed a man impotent in his feet. The people immediately lifted up their voices, saying, "The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men." What did Paul do? He said, "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the Living God."
Peter wrought a mighty miracle in the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. The people would have done him obeisance, but Peter said, "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?" Then Peter continued and preached unto them Jesus.
3. We should remember that the false work miracles by Satanic power, the true work them by the Spirit of God. It is wrong to say that God alone works wonders. There may be and there is still much by way of magic, by way of cunning deceit, and by way of lying wonders. Marvels may be wrought by the unholy. There are also marvels wrought by God. Let us, then, go back of the signs and wonders, and discover the power that energizes the workers of miracles.
4. We should test the genuineness of the miraculous by the sweep and sway of its miracles. We have just granted that Satan works marvels, and that the antichrist will yet work miracles and lying wonders. We now say that the scope of Satan's power falls far beneath the scope of power Divine.
We remember how Moses and Aaron cast down their rod before Pharaoh and their rod become a serpent. Then came the wise men and sorcerers of Egypt and cast down their rods, and they likewise became serpents. However, "Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods."
We remember how, Aaron smote with his rod upon the waters that were in the river, and the waters became blood. The magicians of Egypt did so also with their enchantments. After seven days Aaron stretched forth his rod over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came forth upon the land of Egypt. The magicians did so with their enchantments and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt, However, the magicians could not rid the earth of the frogs: in this the superiority of the God of Moses and of Aaron stood forth.
You remember how Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust, and it became lice throughout the land of Egypt? The magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments, and they could not. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." From that time on, throughout the plagues the magicians stood helplessly by, unable to either duplicate or to stand up against the mighty power of God.
Thus again, in the days of the coming Tribulation, Satan will work with mighty power, but much that he does will be with all deceivableness of unrighteousness. His wonders will be great lying wonders. Those who succumb to his sway, will believe a lie. Over against Satan's future manifestations of the miraculous, God will work as He wrought in the days of His servants, Moses and Aaron. God's seals and the trumpets and vials will be accompanied with unprecedented miracles, world-wide in their scope.
The beast from the earth will do great wonders, so that he maketh fire to come down from heaven upon earth in the sight of men. Thus he will deceive them that dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he shall have power to do. He will even have power to give life unto an image of the first beast. Over against his marvels, God's two witnesses will have power to turn water into blood, and to smite the earth with plagues. They will have power to shut the heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy; if any man will hurt them, fire will proceed out of their mouth to kill them. When, at last, the two witnesses are slain, and their bodies He in the streets of the city for three and one-half days, then the people of the earth will rejoice and send presents one to another. But, after three days and a half the spirit of life from God will enter into them, and they will stand upon their feet. Then from Heaven a great voice will be heard, saying, "Come up hither." They will ascend up to Heaven in a cloud, while their enemies behold them. At the same hour there will be a great earthquake, and a tenth part of the city will fall, and seven thousand men will be slain in the earthquake.
Thus, as Satan and his Antichrist and False Prophets work lying wonders, God will superabound over them in the scope and power of His mighty marvels.
The strong man will be overcome by the Stronger. Satan will be harassed by the Son of God. Finally, the one who opposeth himself against God will be destroyed by the Lord with the breath of His lips, and with the brightness of His coming.
III. SIMON SEEKING SALVATION (Acts 8:12-13 )
The conversion and baptism of Simon. When Simon believed, he was baptized, and he continued with Philip, wondering and beholding the miracles that he did.
No one knew the sincerity of Philip, and the genuineness of his miracles better than Simon. Simon believed. In believing, he, of necessity, paid a great price. His sorcery had no place in the realms of his new relationship.
Some have thought that Simon did not truly believe, but that he entered the new fellowship, simply because Philip could outdo him in the realm of marvels, and he thought to profit thereby. Whether this be true, or not, Simon, at the first, showed signs of true faith. He was baptized, and he followed with Philip. Before Peter and John came down, there was just one thing that seemed to cast a doubt over Simon's new profession, he followed Philip, "and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done."
IV. PETER AND JOHN SENT DOWN (Acts 8:14-17 )
When the Apostles which were in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John. When the two Apostles reached Samaria they prayed for the new converts, that they might receive the Holy Ghost.
Would that the churches today felt the same way about the importance of new converts being filled with the Holy Ghost. Some hardly know whether there be any Holy Ghost. The command, "Be filled with the Spirit" is quite as strong in its demand as the command, "Be not drunk with wine." Some of us live too much in the negative, and neglect the positive of this call of God.
It is the fruit of the Spirit that is love, joy, peace, and all of the rest. It is the Holy Spirit who gives victory in life, as well as power in service.
How can we expect to obtain a closer walk with God, and a larger reach in the Christian graces, without stressing the ministry of the Spirit?
None can live or serve acceptably, without his life is unctionized by the Holy Ghost.
We are concerned to see souls saved and baptized; are we concerned to see them Spirit-led, Spirit-endued, Spirit-taught, Spirit-filled?
V. SIMON'S REQUEST (Acts 8:18-20 )
When Simon saw that through the laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost."
Peter promptly replied, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God."
Simon wanted to commercialize the power of God. He wanted to buy the power to impart the Holy Ghost. Perhaps he wanted to buy, in order that he might sell to others a like power.
There are a few potent questions we feel impelled to ask.
1. Are there to be found today, any who desire to have POWER that they may profit thereby? Would they seek the enduement of the Spirit, in order that they might use Him to foster their own cause? Do we want the Holy Ghost that we may use Him to build up for ourselves a reputation as evangelists, or pastors, or workers?
Surely the Spirit of God comes upon us to use us, not to be used by us. He comes to take the reins of our lives, to lead us in the way and work which He would have us pursue.
Any effort to make merchandise of the Holy Ghost, or of any power which He may give to heal, or to pray, or to serve, is an abomination before God. O Lord, have mercy! Are there any who want the blessings of Heaven on their ministry in order to make their names great? Do we seek ourselves? then we follow in line with the sin of Simon the sorcerer.
In his old life, Simon had used his sorcery to feather his own nest. By it he had sought to make himself a name, and to enrich his coffers with money. Now, he sought to follow a like method in the Church of God.
2. Is there to be found today any one who would seek to purchase the gift of God? Whether that gift be salvation, or power for service, it matters but little the spirit is the same.
Alas, alas! It seems to us that half of the world is seeking to merit, unmerited grace. We think that we may purchase the gift of God by the puny words and works of our own hands.
At Pentecost God said, through His Apostle: "And ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Shall we bargain with God as though so great a gift was subject to purchase? Shall we endeavor to buy a world for a farthing? Can we buy the highest and the best of God's great gifts, even the Holy Spirit, with the puny nothingness that money represents? Money stands for human values, the value of the work of our hands; the Holy Ghost stands for Divine values, the glory of God Himself. If we think that we can buy God, and salvation and the Holy Ghost and Heaven, by the work of our hands, we must think that God's great gifts possess no more worth than we ourselves possess. We deify the works and worth of our own hands, or else we humanize the works and worth of God.
VI. ARE OUR HEARTS RIGHT WITH GOD? (Acts 8:21 )
God had given to Peter the spirit of discernment. Men often look at outward appearances. It was a matter of satisfaction to many, no doubt, to see the man who once followed after his sorcery, baptized, and following after Philip. It was a disappointment to Peter to discover, that, deep in Simon's heart, was the thought of personal gain in all that he did.
Let us ask God to show us our inner selves. Are we religious with a selfish end in view? Are we outwardly pious, while we possess a heart that is not right with God?
Peter said to Simon, "I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." Was this thrust unjust? If not unjust, was it unkind?
Do we help men by applauding their sin? Are we kind when we cover up their iniquity? Are we faithful to one's best interest, when we overlook his faults and fail to warn him of the error of his way? We think not.
The church that allows sin to remain in its folds unre-buked and undisciplined is absolutely unkind to the erring, as well as unfaithful to God.
VII. LET US CONCLUDE WITH SIMON'S PLEA FOR MERCY (Acts 8:24-25 )
After Peter's charge against Simon, Simon pled: "Pray ye the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me." We trust that Simon's heart was changed, and that the future found him an humble and obedient follower of Christ, We know that if his prayer was genuine, his forgiveness was sure.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
The subject of our sermon today, is "The Ethiopian Eunuch." There is a wonderful vision of God given in the 68th Psalm. After the Prophet has ascribed, in the opening verses, the glories of God as He arises to scatter His enemies; and after the ascension of Christ is so graphically described in Acts 8:18 ; and, after the restoration of Israel is set forth in Acts 8:22 ; then, the Prophet, in Acts 8:31 , says, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God."
The words quoted above doubtless have a far-flung fulfilment, a fulfilment which will follow soon upon Christ's Return; they, however, have an application that is most striking, in connection with the very scene which confronts us in our study for today.
I. A SEARCH FOR THE TRUE GOD (Acts 8:27 )
We have no certain knowledge as to what first led the Ethiopian to turn his feet toward Jerusalem, "for to worship." In the Divine Record of the varied crowds that had thronged Jerusalem at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came as a rushing wind, and the people of many lands heard the Apostles speak in their own tongues, wherein they were born, we have no mention of the Ethiopians. We have Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, of Cappadocia, and Pontus; of Phrygia and Pamphylia, of Cretes and of Arabians, but we have no Ethiopians, Somehow, however, the story of Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, with the aftermath of the descent of the Spirit must have reached unto Ethiopia. At least one soul was moved to seek the Lord; and, laying aside the burdens of his treasuryship under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, he had come to Jerusalem to worship the great God, and His Christ, of whom he doubtless had but a vague comprehension.
He arrived in Jerusalem with a heart hungering for God. We must, however, remember that the saints in Jerusalem were, at that time, scattered everywhere through the persecution that had arisen. What the few remaining saints were doing, we know not. Perhaps they met secretly, with closed doors, for fear of the Jews. Perhaps the eunuch did not know how to find them. If he went anywhere to worship, he must have gone to the synagogues of the Jews.
Be that as it may, the eunuch had been to Jerusalem for to worship, and was returning to his home and country, unsatisfied. He sat in his chariot reading a copy of the roll of Isaiah the Prophet. He read, but knew not the meaning of what he read.
II. THE TRUE GOD SENDING SUCCOR TO THE SEEKING SINNER (Acts 8:29 )
We stand wondering as we get this marvelous look into the heart of God. We remember how the Lord Jesus stood still as He passed out of Jericho and toward Jerusalem and crucifixion stood still to hear the call of a poor, blind beggar who sued for mercy. We remember how a woman who had had five husbands, but was at the time living with a man who was not her husband, caused the Lord to say I "must needs go through Samaria"; and how, at the well at Sychar the Saviour sat and talked with her who was a sinner.
Yet, withal, we wonder with amazement as we approach this scene a black man, from a faraway land appealed to the heart of God. A black man, representative of a black race, caused God to commission an angel to hasten to an evangelist with an order to press forward toward Ethiopia with a message of life.
How good is God! How great in compassion! How wonderful in love! It is still true that a seeking sinner will be met by a seeking Saviour. Heaven has no deaf ear to those who seek after God. "Then shall ye * * find Me," saith the Lord, "when ye shall search for Me with all your heart."
"None are excluded thence, but those
Who do themselves exclude;
Welcome, the learned and polite,
The ignorant and rude."
III. THE COMMAND "ARISE, AND GO" (Acts 8:26 )
It was to Philip that the angel spoke, saying, "Arise, and go." The Lord did not send an idle saint; He sent one who was busy preaching and publishing the glad tidings. Not every believer is prepared to publish Christ. Not every Christian knows how to lead a seeking sinner to the Lord.
It may seem to us unwise for God to have taken an evangelist away from a successful campaign and hasten him down a road which is desert. Yet, this is just what God did. There was no explanation offered Philip there was only a plain and positive command, "Arise!" "Go!"
"Ours is not to reason why;
Ours is but to do, or die."
How refreshing is Philip's response. Hear the Word of God: "And he arose and went." There was nothing by way of arguing, nothing by way of complaint. Philip went.
When Dewey left America with his fleet, he left not knowing where he went. When he was one hundred miles at sea, he did as he was ordered, he opened his sealed envelope, and read the command of his Government, "Go to Manilla Bay and sink the Spanish Armada." Dewey went, and a few weeks later he wired home; "The Spanish Armada is in the bottom of the sea."
When God spoke to Paul, Paul was "not disobedient unto the Heavenly vision."
I have seen hands outstretched from a people in need,
Pleading, "Come now, and tell us the Way";
Song of Solomon 1:1-17 answer the word, "If Thou speakest the word,
I am ready Thy will to obey."
To the work of the Lord, I will go, I will go;
Anywhere, ev'ry where. He doth say;
I will go to the lost of the faraway land,
Or, at home, I will labor today.
We remember how a mighty man of God, Dr. R. C. Burleson, once told us of how the Lord had impressed him to speak to the young man who delivered oil on the university grounds. For a whole year he let opportunity after opportunity slip by, disobedient to the Heavenly call; then, one day, on the train to Chicago, there was an awful wreck. Dr. Burleson rushed from his pullman car toward the overturned cars ahead, and there pinned under one of the cars, the first man he saw was the young man who had so often delivered the oil. He dropped to his knees and placing his mouth close to the ear of the young man he cried, "Trust in Jesus, He will save you." The youth gave him a sad, strange look, gasped a few last breaths, and was dead.
If the Spirit speaks, saying "Go," let us arise and go.
IV. STANDING IN NEED OF HELP (Acts 8:30-31 )
As Philip went his way along the desert road, "Behold, a man of Ethiopia," was riding in his chariot. The Spirit said, "Go near, and join thyself to this chariot." Philip began to see the objective of God's strange command, "Arise, and go." He drew near, and heard the eunuch reading the Prophet Isaiah. Philip said, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" The eunuch replied, "How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him."
Philip asked, "Understandest thou?" How the answer of the eunuch should ring in our ears, "How can I, except some man should guide me?"
We have before us a double need. The need of a sinner, struggling for light: the need of a God of mercy wanting to answer the struggle of the sinner. Both the Almighty God, and the sinner demanded the ministry of a saint.
Of old, Christ took the loaves and fishes, blessed them, and gave them to the disciples; and the disciples gave them to the multitudes. The disciples stood between the Lord and the hungry crowd.
We too, are go-betweens. God might preach by the lips of angels, but He does not. The Lord has said, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me." We are ambassabors of God, as though God, by us, did beseech men to be reconciled to God. How can they believe in those of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without a preacher? How can they preach except they be sent?
Perhaps to the land that is distant,
God leads you on;
Where souls grope in heathenish darkness,
All the day long.
Go, then, nothing doubting, but follow
Where e'er He leads,
He'll go in the way, on, before you,
Meeting your needs.
There are many Macedonian cries: "Come over * * and help us." We may say, "Let them go, and buy victuals for themselves"; however, Christ says, "Give ye them to eat." The unsaved cannot grope their way to Christ, they need the gospel message; and we must give it unto them.
V. A GREAT QUESTION (Acts 8:32-34 )
The place which the eunuch read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before His shearer, so opened He not His mouth: in His humiliation His judgment was taken away: and who shall declare His generation? for His life is taken from the earth."
How meaningless were these stirring words to the man who knew not the One of whom the Prophet spoke. The eunuch had already read how that One bore our iniquities and carried our sorrows. How that One was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. He was reading as Philip joined him, of the details of His death the death of the Substitute, of the slaughter of the sacrificial Lamb.
The eunuch wanted to know the Sin-bearer, so that he might make known his own need. He was a sinner and he groaned under the burden of his sins. Who, oh, who could help him?
Philip answered his question. He began at the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus. We would have rejoiced to have heard that message. With what wisdom and with what array of knowledge did Philip open up the Scriptures to a mind beclouded and dismayed.
Christ is the only hope of the lost. He is the only sin-bearer. He is the One who, like a sheep was led to the slaughter, and like the lamb, before its shearers, stood dumb.
He preached unto him Jesus. Suppose he had preached the ethics that are the burden of many a pulpit today? Suppose he had preached anything else than Christ? Then he had left the man groping in darkness.
"There is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
The Gospel of the Son of God,
Can give thy soul sweet peace"
Then trust in Him, believe His Word,
He'll give thee thy release.
The Blood of Christ, the Paschal Lamb,
Can wash thy sins away;
Then come to Him, accept His Cross,
He'll take thy sin away.
The empty tomb, the Risen One,
The Christ exalted high;
Assure thy soul, then, trust in Him,
And on His work rely.
The Coming Christ, the glory cloud,
The Rapture drawing near,
Give comfort strong, and happy song,
And fill the heart with cheer.
VI. THE BAPTISM OF THE EUNUCH (Acts 8:36-38 )
As they rode on their way, they came to a certain water. The eunuch said, "Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Philip said, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." The eunuch said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Then command was given that the chariot should be halted and "they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him." How refreshing is all of this!
Philip must have told the eunuch of the baptism of Christ and of how, being baptized, the heaven was opened and the voice of God came from the blue, saying", "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." He certainly told him of how those who believed in Christ as a Saviour and Lord were baptized in mark of their faith. I believe he told him that baptism symbolized the death and burial of the Paschal Lamb, the resurrection of Christ, and His anticipated Return with the resurrection of saints at His Coming.
We may not know all that Philip said, we do know the result of his words the eunuch desired to be baptized.
We know also that Philip, before he baptized the eunuch sought to assure his own heart that the eunuch was truly saved. He did not baptize the eunuch, nor were any baptized in Apostolic days merely as the method by which they might become members of a church. The eunuch and all others were baptized as a signet of their faith. They were baptized in a symbolic service; they were baptized to designate their faith in the crucified, buried and risen Son of God, and to establish their position of union with Him in His death and resurrection. Baptism to the early Christians became a public designation of faith in, and dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ.
When baptism becomes a door to the church; a method of obtaining membership, it is in danger of losing the deeper meaning which makes its ministration pleasing to God.
Let us mark the words of Philip: "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." There was no letting down of the bars to get a disciple here. We are certain that no preacher can please God and baptize any one on any less a demand than this. Nor are the repetition of words enough. We must have reason to believe that the affections of the heart are centered in Christ before baptism is accomplished.
The old theologians used to put it this way: First there must be the assent of the mind an intellectual belief; secondly, there must be an affiance of the heart an affectionate trust.
Mark the response of the eunuch. He said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." He who had just said, "Of whom speaketh the Prophet this?" now is ready to affirm, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." The eunuch knew that Jesus was the One long promised who should bear the sin of many; he knew that He had come forth from the Father and had gone back to the Father he knew, he believed, he confessed and he was baptized.
VII. A COMPLETED TESTIMONY (Acts 8:40 )
After Philip had preached Jesus unto the eunuch, after he had baptized him, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip: and he was found preaching in Azotus. From Azotus Philip went on and "preached in all of the cities, till he came to Caesarea."
Philip was kept with the eunuch until the eunuch was saved and baptized, then the Spirit caught him away. Not that the eunuch did not need further instruction and encouragement, but that the Lord had other work for Philip to do, and other means by which He could complete the work which He had begun in the eunuch.
We do feel constrained to suggest that salvation needs the immediate sealing which baptism gives. A believer left unbaptized, would be like an Israelite left in Egypt. Baptism is, so to speak, the bridge that spans the separation of the old life from the new. Baptism is the putting on of Christ. Baptism is the public testimony of the one baptized that he has passed from death unto life.
With his baptism completed the eunuch had taken his stand on Christian ground; he had crossed his Delaware and burned his bridges behind him.
We read that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, though Jesus baptized not, but His disciples, Our commission is to make disciples and to baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Let us not stop short of our full commission.
VIII. THE HAPPY CONVERT (Acts 8:39 )
The eunuch "went on his way rejoicing." That is as it should have been. He knew that his sins were gone; he knew that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He had come to know God as a Saviour, and he rejoiced. Joy and rejoicing is the norm of the Christian life. Christ said, "These things have I spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you."
One other thing we merely suggest "he went on his way." His way was down to the land of Ethiopia. He took his new life back into the old place. He was still the treasurer of the Ethiopians, he still was in charge of all of the queen's treasure, but he was saved.
Eternity alone will reveal the far-reaching results of the conversion and baptism of the eunuch.
In the Spirit's first call to "Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert," God had in mind not alone the conversion of the eunuch, but a missionary to carry His Gospel to an unevangelized people.
Philip, therefore, in preaching to one man, and baptizing him, was in fact, touching a nation. Who hath despised the day of seemingly small things? It seemed folly to leave a city to go down a desert road; but it turned out to be the leaving of a city, to go to a nation.
Just this further word in the story of Philip and the eunuch we must not fail to get the vision of the inner throbbings of the heart of the Lord. He wants the message of salvation to go to all of the people. We dare not stop our ministrations until the end of the earth has been reached, and the Gospel has been preached to every creature in that distant clime.
Press on to the ends of creation,
O press over moor and o'er fen;
Press on with the news of salvation,
O tell it again and again.
In Christ there is no condemnation,
O preach it from hilltop and plain;
Cease not till the lost of each nation,
Have heard it again and again.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Acts 8". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30