Study 1 HOW TO BRING JOY TO A CITY
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 8 -11)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 8:1-8
The geographical area referred to in this portion of scripture was the region of Samaria; the city of Samaria had been destroyed many years previously. Now Luke records (in verse 8), “there was great joy in that city”. What had happened that had led to this great joy in the hearts and lives of so many people? What must happen for this to come to any area today – any town, city, village, or to any individual? What had happened in the preceding verses to bring this about?
1. Fierce persecution entered the Church
The Christians in Jerusalem had been cosily enjoying fellowship in the city for several years. Thus it was that the Lord permitted persecution to come in order to scatter the believers, so that they might spread the good news of the message of Christ crucified and risen, and of the salvation which is available for all in Him. In Acts 7 we have the account of Stephen’s martyrdom, and we learn from verse 58 of this chapter that Saul of Tarsus was watching this awful scene. We then learn from Acts 8:1-4 that Saul became a bitter opponent of the Church. The persecution which arose is described as “a great persecution”, and Saul “began to destroy the church”; he raged against the Church like a wild beast – and what was the result? Acts 8:4 tells us. All this was in the plan and purpose of God because He had said to His first followers – Matthew 28:19-20; look up Acts 1:8. These Christians had seen great victories in Jerusalem, but success carries with it the danger of complacency, so the Lord permitted the Christians to be scattered. As we study church history we find the record of this happening over and over again – look up Philippians 1:12. As Alexander Maclaren says about this passage, ‘A volcanic explosion flings burning matter over a wide area’.
2. Believers witnessed wherever they went
If we compare verse 1 with verse 4 we see that it was not the apostles who were scattered, but the rank and file members of the Church. Wherever they went they proclaimed the gospel. This does not necessarily mean that they held meetings; it means that they ‘gossipped the gospel’; they talked about the Lord Jesus to everyone they met. God’s plan is every-member-evangelism and this is how the early Church grew. The Church grows slowly today because we are not working to this pattern. We all have a congregation every day, and it is to this congregation that we are to witness joyfully and confidently to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. One Spirit-filled layman was obedient to the Lord
In verse 5 we read that “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there”. This was not Philip the apostle, but Philip the deacon, the layman of whom we read in Acts 6:5, where it is specifically stated that he was “a man full…of the Holy Spirit”. What did this Spirit-filled layman do? We are told that he preached Christ – see 8:5. He was not a minister, an evangelist or an apostle; he was a layman who was sensitive to the leading of the Lord, and he went to the principal city of Samaria. Notice that what we read about in verse 4 is of Christians witnessing to individuals, whereas in verse 5 we read of Philip proclaiming the gospel to great crowds of people. Later, according to Acts 21:8, Philip is described as “the evangelist”, but here in Acts 8 he was for the first time embarking on his public ministry – a very bold step indeed. The lesson for us is that Philip was available to the Lord, ready to receive orders and to act on them. This is borne out by what we read in verses 26-27, as well as in verse 5. Who knows how God will lead us and use us if we are ready to do His will!
4. The message proclaimed was full of Christ and of His saving work
In Acts 8:4 we read that the Christians preached “the word”. We are reminded of John Wesley who constantly cried, ‘Give them Christ!’, and of Paul who declared – look up Romans 1:16 and 1 Corinthians 9:16.
We need to proclaim the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ – His virgin birth (Matthew 1:20); His sinless life (Hebrews 7:26); His authoritative teaching (Matthew 7:29); His atoning death (2 Corinthians 5:21); His bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:4); His glorious ascension (Acts 1:9-10); His present session (Hebrews 1:3); and His personal return (Acts 1:11); and to make it clear that He is able to save all who come to God by Him (Hebrews 7:25); that He is the only Saviour (Acts 4:12). This is the message this poor old world so desperately needs; there is evil on every hand; there are organised efforts to lower and reject Christian standards; there is much unrest and international relationships can be strained. What is the solution? It is the gospel of Christ – Christ Himself is the answer.
5. The Holy Spirit was at work and many lives were blessed
We learn this from Acts 8:6-8. As a result of the powerful witnessing of ordinary members of the Church, and of the Spirit-anointed preaching of Philip, there was a three-fold blessing:
- 1. The demon-possessed were delivered. Men and women who were gripped by evil were set free (verses 9-13).
- 2. Many people were healed. In verse 7 we read that “many” were healed; it was not “all” who were healed. God heals today when it is His sovereign will to do so. If revival came, however, God might well perform “extraordinary miracles” (Acts 19:11).
- 3. A great many souls were saved. The greatest miracle of all is not the healing of the body but the salvation of the soul.
No wonder there was great joy throughout the whole area! Read through this section of scripture again and pray the prayer – ‘Lord, do it again!’