Saturday, 19 September 2015

Bible Reading: Acts 8v5-25 'Reaching the unreachable'

At weekends I'm going to pause in whatever book I am looking at, in this case Daniel, and stop and think a bit about the passage we will be studying at Grace Church on Sunday mornings.  In this case Acts 8v5-25:

"5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptised. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 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.’
20 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 in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’
24 Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages."
Persecution has broken out against the church led by Saul who has been going from house to house dragging people off to put them into prison.  As a result the church is scattered, with only the Apostles remaining in Jerusalem.  But what looks like it might crush the church actually God uses to spread the gospel as the believers take the good news to Judea and Samaria, fulfilling the mission Jesus gave his disciples in Acts 1v8.  Now we see the actions and witnessing of one of those church members who was scattered, Stephen one of the seven chosen in Acts 6.

It is hard for us to imagine just how radical the statement in verse 5 is: "Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there."  Had the Jewish ruling council known that they would have been even more angry and determined to stamp out the church.  John sums up Jewish Samaritan relations in John 4 when he says Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.  They were cut off, they were heretics - they only read the Pentateuch and had their own temple rather than worship in Jerusalem- they were a mongrel race - they had intermarried during the exile.  There was  long history of aggravation between the two, like a family feud but on a national scale.

Thus Stephen's actions are striking, to an orthodox Jew they would have been unconscionable.  The gospel of Jesus is pushing out beyond Jerusalem, beyond the Jews.  The gospel is for all and Stephen begins by proclaiming Jesus to the Samaritans.  Acts 8 reminds us on a very simple level that the gospel is for all.  This is a defining moment in the life of the church will it recognise that fact, will it take the next step in the mission it has been left.

The gospel is for all, it is not prejudiced but colour and class blind.  Are we?  Are our churches?  Is our outreach with the gospel?  Have we fallen into the subtle trap of thinking there are no go areas with the gospel or for us as a church?  Have we subtly adopted societies norm of only associating with those who are like us and therefore only ever having opportunities to share the gospel with those like us?  What would it take to shake us out of the that?

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