Carry on the Work of God's Church!
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - Dec. 29, 2013
*As we continue to explore Acts 8, remember that the chapter began with a great travesty and tragedy for God's church: Stephen the deacon was stoned to death for boldly proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ. And in Acts 8:2, "devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him."
*But the church's tribulation had only begun, because Acts 8:1 says: "At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles."
*Of course, Saul of Tarsus was one of the ringleaders of this persecution against God's church. But we know that in the very next chapter, Saul will meet Jesus on the Road to Damascus. There, Saul will be saved, and transformed into the beloved Apostle Paul.
*Satan had a plan, but God's plan is infinitely greater! And God is in the business of bringing good out of the evil that happens in our world. That's what happened here in Acts 8:3-4:
3. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
4. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
*Satan tried to destroy the infant church. But just like the wind blowing on a dandelion, God scattered the seed of His Word everywhere the Christians went.
*In vs. 5-8, God sent Philip to Samaria, and he began to preach the good news about Jesus Christ. There was a fantastic response to the Gospel from those people who had been deceived for so long. Many miracles were done. Many people were being saved. And in vs. 8, "there was great joy in that city."
*Let's read vs. 9-25 to see what happened next.
*When World War II began, the British government distributed posters to encourage resolve among their countrymen. The first series of posters went out in September 1939, and carried this message: "YOUR COURAGE YOUR CHEERFULNESS YOUR RESOLUTION WILL BRING US VICTORY."
*As the war got much worse, a second poster was released with these words: FREEDOM IS IN PERIL DEFEND IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT. They were scattered throughout the countryside and plastered on trains, restaurants, stores, and pubs.
*A third poster was created with two and a half million copies. But this third poster wasn't used, because the British government was saving it for an extreme crisis, like an invasion by Germany. Then, the crisis poster was basically lost for 60 years, until a copy was discovered at an auction of old books.
*And though this third poster was never used during the war, it's probably the only one you have ever seen. It contained just five words: "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON." Once found, it quickly escalated in popularity and was put on coffee mugs, postcards, and posters. People appreciated the simple but strong message to resist anxiety in the face of extreme adversity. (1)
*Carry on. That's what God's church was doing here in Acts 8. They had faced extreme adversity. One of their most beloved and fruitful leaders had been brutally murdered by the High Court of the Jews, but the church carried on. Most of the other Christians had been uprooted from their homes and scattered to the winds, but the church carried on.
*How can we carry on the work of God's church today?
1. First: It must be by preaching God’s Word (vs. 9-13).
*The only way we can continue the work of God's church is by preaching the Word of God! But why is it so important for us to preach God's Word?
 One reason why is the problem of false teachers.
*This world is plagued by false teachers today, and this was one of the biggest problems here in Acts 8. In this case, the false teacher was named Simon. And we see him in vs. 9-13:
9. But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great,
10. to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God.''
11. And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
12. But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.
13. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
*At first glance, we might think Simon got saved in vs. 13, but the rest of this passage proves this was not the case.
*John Phillips explained: "Simon's faith was spurious (or counterfeit) from the start. He was not won by Philip's message, but by Philip's miracles. Simon 'believed,' it says. But what did he believe? Whatever it was he believed, it did not regenerate his soul. He was as lost after he 'believed' as he was before he 'believed,' as the sequel of the story makes clear. Simon deceived Philip. Perhaps he even deceived himself. What Simon coveted was not the Master but the miracles, not the Savior but the signs." (2)
*God's Church still faces the problem of false teachers today. We still face men and women who deny Christ, and claim that all kinds of evil are good. That's one reason why it's so crucial for us to preach God's Word.
 But a greater reason for our preaching is the power of God's truth.
*Simon wasn't truly saved, but many of the Samaritans were saved! So vs. 12 says: "But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized."
*Many of the Samaritans were saved! And they were saved by the power of God's Word. That's why in Romans 1:16, Paul could say: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."
*The gospel of Christ is still the power of God to salvation for everyone who truly believes! But the gospel of Jesus Christ must be preached!
*The Apostle Paul strongly affirmed this truth in Romans 10:6-15, where he said:
6. . . The righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' '' (that is, to bring Christ down from above)
7. or, " 'Who will descend into the abyss?''' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
8. But what does it say? "The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart'' (that is, the word of faith which we preach):
9. that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.
11. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.''
12. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.
13. For "whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.''
14. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
15. And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!''
*No wonder Acts 8:25 closes this passage by saying: "So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans."
2. We cannot carry on the work of God's church without preaching God’s Word! But we also must have the presence of God's Spirit.
*And thank God, we do have the presence of His Holy Spirit today! The same Holy Spirit of God we see in Acts 8 is here with us right now, and living in us now, if we have received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
*But as we look at vs. 14-17, we do see a difference in the way God's Holy Spirit was received:
14. Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,
15. who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
16. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
*This Scripture reminds us of the importance of touch. First, God touched the Samaritans through the good news about Jesus Christ. Then God touched them through the hands of the Apostles.
*In vs. 17, Peter and John "laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." And in that way, God gave those new Christians the best gift He can ever give: He gave them Himself. They received the Holy Spirit. God Himself moved into their hearts to live as Comforter, guide and friend. But the Holy Spirit was only received through the laying on of the Apostles' hands.
*That was a special touch for a special time, and it reminds us that our God is a sovereign God! He knows best. He can give His Holy Spirit any good way He wants, and we can trust Him to work any way He sees fit.
*Jesus showed us this truth when He healed people. He used different methods at different times, according to God's perfect will. Take blindness for example. In Matthew 9:27-30, Jesus was in Capernaum, still fairly early in His ministry, and there Jesus healed two blind men. God's Word says:
27. When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!''
28. And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?'' They said to Him, "Yes, Lord.''
29. Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you.''
30. And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, "See that no one knows it.''
*Here the Lord simply touched their eyes, and they were healed. Later in Bethsaida, Jesus was in the third year of His ministry, and Mark 8:22-25 tells us this:
22. Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him.
23. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.
24. And he looked up and said, "I see men like trees, walking.''
25. Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.
*Later still, Jesus was in Jerusalem, and He healed a man who had been born blind. John 9:1-7 says:
1. Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.
2. And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?''
3. Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.
4. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.
5. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.''
6. When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.
7. And He said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam'' (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.
*The Lord could have healed all of those men in exactly the same way. But in His perfect will and wisdom, Jesus used different methods. That's perfectly fine, because our God is a sovereign God! He always knows best. He can heal blind eyes, and He can give His Spirit any good way He wants.
*But there are at least two crucial reasons why God gave the Holy Spirit here through the laying on of the Apostles hands. Two strong confirmations were needed.
 First, God wanted to confirm the authority of the Apostles.
*In Acts 8, the church was still brand new. Only a few months or a few years had passed since God sent the Holy Spirit to His church on the Day of Pentecost. These early Christians did not have the complete Bible as we do today.
*On top of that, Satan had false teachers everywhere. How were you going to know who to listen to? God made sure that people would turn to the Apostles for spiritual truth. God used the Apostles' hands here in Acts 8 to confirm the authority of the Apostles.
 But He also wanted to confirm the availability of the Gospel.
*God wanted to strongly confirm that the Gospel is for all people, and not just for the Jews. "You mean the hated Samaritans can be saved just like we are? The answer is yes!" And God reinforced this truth through the special way they received the Holy Spirit.
*So, do we have to lay hands on people for them to receive the Holy Spirit today? The answer is absolutely not. A. T. Robertson explained that "the laying on of hands is not seen at Pentecost in Acts 2:4 and 2:33. The laying on of hands was also not seen in Acts 10, when Peter preached at the home of Cornelius the Roman Centurion. Acts 10:44 simply says: "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word."
*The laying on of hands is mentioned in Acts 9:17 in the story of Paul's salvation. But in Paul’s case it was Ananias who laid his hands on him, and Ananias was definitely not one of the Apostles."
*Based on these Scriptures, A. T. Robertson said we cannot conclude "that the Holy Spirit was received only by the laying on of the hands of the Apostles or by the hands of anyone." (2)
*Almost 30 years after these events in Acts 8, Paul wrote the Book of Romans. And in Romans 8:9 Paul said this to Christians: "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His."
*In other words: Everyone who belongs to Jesus by being born again has the Spirit of Christ. When we open our hearts to receive Jesus, we are receiving the Holy Spirit of God.
*Also remember what Jesus said in Luke 11:11-13:
11. "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
12. Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
13. If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!''
*And hear what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit in John 7:37-39:
37. On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.
38. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.''
39. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
*Today, everyone who truly believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior receives the Holy Spirit of God.
3. Thank God, because we cannot carry on the work of God's church without the presence of God's Spirit. But we also must stand against the poison of sin.
*God's church must always stand against the poison of sin. In tonight's Scripture, Peter took a bold stand against the sin of the false teacher Simon. Please look starting in vs. 18:
18. Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,
19. saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.''
20. But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!
21. You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.
22. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.
23. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.''
*Back in vs. 13, it looked like Simon got saved, but he surely didn't. Remember that John Phillips said, "What Simon coveted was not the Master but the miracles, not the Savior but the signs." (2)
*And there was no doubt about Simon’s spiritual condition after the Apostles got to town. In the New Living Translation, vs. 18-19 say:
18. When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given when the apostles placed their hands upon people's heads, he offered money to buy this power.
19. "Let me have this power, too," he exclaimed, "so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!"
*Well, God doesn’t sell miracles! And Peter knew that, so in vs. 20, Peter said, "May your money perish with you for thinking God's gift can be bought!"
*That word "perish" is based on the same word the Bible uses for being "lost." Simon was lost, so in vs. 21-23, Peter said this to Simon in the New Living Translation:
21. "You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right before God.
22. Turn from your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts,
23. for I can see that you are full of bitterness and held captive by sin."
*John Gill added this important background: "There is no reason to believe that Simon truly repented from the accounts given of him by ancient writers. They always represent him as an opposer of the apostles and their doctrine, as the father of all heresies, and as a blasphemous wretch.
*Simon claimed that he was 'the Father' in Samaria, 'the Son' in Judea, and 'the Holy Ghost' in other places. He was a very wicked man, who worked with a prostitute that he claimed was the mother of the universe who created the angels." (3)
*Simon shows us the poison of sin, and we must stand against sin every way we can, both in in our own lives and in our society.
4. How can we carry on the work of God's church today? We must take a stand against the poison of sin. And we must be praying for people’s salvation.
*What can we do for people in Simon's condition? Simon himself tells us in vs. 24, where he said: "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me."
*And how should we pray? Pray for the same things that Peter talked about in vs. 22-23:
-Pray that lost people will turn from their wickedness.
-Pray that they will pray to the Lord for forgiveness.
-And pray that they will be set free from bitterness and sin.
*Back in the 1990s, I was blessed to serve for 6 years as pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in West Monroe. There, I learned that our little church had experienced one of the greatest revivals ever seen in town. One year in the 1960s, over 50 people were saved and baptized at Emmanuel!
*Bro. Alton Thompson was a deacon at the church back then, and many years later, he told me about the revival. Bro. Alton said that some of the people there got an incredible burden for the lost.
*Before the revival, they put together a list of 49 names of lost people to pray for. They were so burdened about these lost friends and family members that they began to pray for them. For two whole weeks before the revival, someone was praying for those lost loved ones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
*And during that revival, 48 of the 49 got saved. It was an incredible miracle. Alton told me that Sonny Mercer was the 49th person on that list. And Sonny got saved in the hospital two years later, after an accident that should have taken his life.
*Sonny lost both legs in that accident, and two deacons had to carry him down into the water to be baptized. Later, he served for many years as Chairman of the Deacons in that church. And Sonny Mercer was still the Chairman of the Deacons when the Lord let me pastor at Emmanuel.
*God touched people’s lives in a miraculous way, and by His grace God has touched our lives. Now, He wants us to carry on the good work of His church.
*And we can!
-By preaching God’s Word.
-By the presence of God's Spirit.
-By standing against the poison of sin.
-And by praying for the lost.
*May God help us all to carry on!
(1) "You'll Get Through This" by Max Lucado, 2013, p. 148 - Source: "IN OTHER WORDS" - September 2016 #1 - Produced by Dr. Raymond McHenry - www.iows.net
(2) "Exploring Acts" by John Phillips, Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids - Acts 8:13
(3) Adapted from "Robertson's Word Pictures" by A.T. Robertson - Acts 8:17
(4) "John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible" - Acts 9:10