The Small Step Forward; Samaria

Acts 8:4-13

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was much rejoicing in that city. Now there was a certain man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city, and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, ‘This man is what is called the Great Power of God.’ And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip; and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.

“There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’”

“And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’”

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The first quotes are from the New Testament, the latter is from Neil Armstrong as he took the first step onto the surface of the moon. Whether walking on the surface of the moon or traveling to a far away city, it all starts with the first step. Even the shortest of journeys requires that first step. If one wants something as small as a snack, one must take the first step to accomplish this goal. “Not if they’re confined to a wheelchair or if the snack is already next to him,” is what the sophomoric student would say. This is literature, lame literature to be sure, nevertheless, we are allowed to make generalizations when writing, as John did in his gospel account.

The Jews didn’t have any dealings with the Samaritans, even though they were both descendants of Jacob. The Jews considered the Samaritans half-breeds. That is, the Jews were racist. Right? Is that not our definition of racism? The Samaritans were of a mixed ethnic background, part Jewish and part Assyrian, possibly part something else. Many theologians and Biblical and secular scholars adamantly argue that the 10 northern tribes were all carried away by Assyria, disappeared and never returned. Which is interesting because the Samaritan woman says to Jesus, “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” She also states, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus doesn’t jump in and say, “whoa, Jacob is not your father.” Notice also, that the Jews hated Romans, but they dealt with them. There is an obvious hostility between the Jews and Samaritans due to their ethno-religious, somewhat-severed, link. We see this attitude throughout history. Some even say that the Old Testament encourages this behavior. But that’s because they don’t, you guessed it, consider the context.

When God told Israel not to intermarry with the nations they were to disposes, it was not because of their ethnicity but because of their wickedness. God never changes, therefore we see his love for the half-breed in his dealings with the Samaritan woman; and his Great Commission. If we believe in the deluge, which we should, we see that God not only preserved animals but all of mankind in the form of eight people. God is not racist. Yet he does reveal himself progressively to the nations, to the Jews first, then to the partial Jews and then to the world. This may sound racist still but we must remember that the Jews are not a race but DNA descendants of Jacob who was the grandson of Abraham. As far as I can tell, we are a human race, distinct from all other animals. Therefore, the word going out to the Samaritans is a small step for God, even though it may seem like a giant leap for the Jews.

Having become built up and bogged down in the background of the Samaritans, let’s look at what Jesus said, once again before his departure and ascension into heaven–the final,  recorded, earthly words of the resurrected Messiah. “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Fast forward a few months–Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was much rejoicing in that city.”

And since we have the luxury of fast forwarding, let’s look at the response of the apostles. “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John.” Lord willing, we will delve deeper into this next time. For now we see the support of the apostles for Samaritans. They remember what Jesus said and they remember what Jesus did. The apostles are taking that first, small step toward their witnessing to the world.

The very beginning of this process, started with the beautiful words which portray the severe situation. “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” You’ve probably heard it said, “when you see a therefore in the Bible, you need to know what it’s there for.” Meaning, context is king. This is precisely why, here, we begin at the beginning of a book, except for our very beginning. That may sound redundant but in our current cultural climate of mega-church pastors and Christmas pageants, rarely do they start at the beginning of a book, much less, read it all the way through, considering the context, we do. Therefore, we have already considered the previous context but reserve the right to return for remembrance and review.

“And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ And having said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”

Persecution pushed these people out but pressing on, they preached the word, precisely as Jesus predicted. The early church didn’t fail in Jerusalem because of their socialism experiment, as some claim, but because they had great persecution, after much was accomplished in a relatively short time. Jesus’ judgment on Jerusalem was imminent, and he had a much bigger church in mind than just in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, we won’t forget that it all began in Jerusalem–it was time to take the next step, into Samaria.

“And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was much rejoicing in that city.”

We remember Philip, like Stephan, he was a table waiter in the early congregation. He was a worker, a servant, approved by the people, the apostles and God. Because of the persecution, Philip was promoted to preaching, purging the demons and healing the paralyzed people. He was doing such a good job that he caught the attention of a sorcerer of sorts, Simon.

“And there was much rejoicing in that city. Now there was a certain man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city, and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, ‘This man is what is called the Great Power of God.’ And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip; and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.”

We certainly don’t want to jump to any conclusions concerning Simon but to carefully consider the context. We believe, what we are told by Luke, nothing more and certainly nothing less. Luke writes, “and even Simon believed.” Next time, Lord willing, we will see that Simon’s faith was flawed. However, it doesn’t mean that he had no faith, especially when we consider the context. Philip healed and baptized in the name of Jesus, the context is clear, therefore, seeing the great signs and wonders, done in Jesus’ name, the sorcerer of sorts, Simon, saw and believed, so that he followed Philip. The text doesn’t give us any indication that Simon continued in his magical arts. Nor does it tell us how or if Simon helped Philip, only that he followed Philip. Fast forwarding, we see that although faithful, it was found to be a flawed faith, by Peter. Nevertheless we have considered the context of Matthew and have seen the flawed faith of Peter, himself. That’s how an expository exegesis of examples of examples enlightens or eyes. We are looking to see Luke’s aspiration to his audience, letting the context unfold as we walk through the Scripture.

Based on how Luke wrote, we should see what he wanted us to see. A psuedo miracle making, magical, manipulative man, amazed at actual miracles from the untrained Philip. Simon was so amazed that he followed Philip. We keep it simple because the Scripture keeps it simple. We see the sublime string.

Everything is happening as Jesus prescribed and prophesied. Philip followed the plan and became a witness to Samaria, making the first, small step. Yet his deeds were mighty in the Spirit, making another step from table waiter to miracle maker, prominent preacher and he baptized believers. The people who were amazed by Simon, were utterly astonished by Philip, even Simon himself had to admit that something special was in Philip. We already know what that was, for we met Philip as a deacon prospect, full of the Holy Spirit like his fellow table waiter, Stephan. Once again, just as Jesus said, he has sent his Spirit, and he is helping those who have made the small step, making them into giant strides.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

It all started with several small steps. I am not convinced that it will end in the same way. I don’t believe that people are leaving the church because of evil and apostasy but because the churches have become like the Sadducees and Pharisees on the one extreme and like Simon’s sorcery on the other. We alienate not only the world but each other with our doubly dubious dogmas, preaching piety but not loving each other. In fact, we are at each other’s throats over eschatology, liturgy, music and other activities that are not necessarily essential. On the other extreme, we have watered down the gospel and made Jesus and his Holy Spirit our heavenly vendors, dolling out healings and multiplying our money. We expect the Holy Spirit to shake the room, make utterances through our mouths in words incomprehensible to us. But where do we see any of this in the context of Acts or the New Testament? Unlock the CAGED Scripture by using the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, unlike books on blood moons and your best life, it’s 100 percent free.

See the sublime string and the plan of Jesus to build his church until it is full. Consider the Context, Aspirations of Author, Genre, Examples and Divide rightly the word of truth based upon these things. And then we will notice that even though the apostles were devoted to the word of God and prayer, solemn study and submission of sorts, they still sent Peter and John to Samaria. Of course this leads to more confusion which we will see next time. Nevertheless notice, even the notable apostles of Peter and John, were still stepping. Maybe it’s time for us in the west to get to stepping again.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s