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The Gospel Adventures of the Amazing Teleporting Deacon

After Stephen died a martyr’s death, Luke continues to tell deacon stories. Chapter 8 concerns Philip, not Philip the apostle, but Deacon Philip. Deacon Philip advances the story of the church from stage one of God’s plan in Acts 1:8 (witness in Jerusalem) into stage two (witness in Judea and Samaria). He preached the gospel in “the” city of Samaria (probably the capital city), and performed signs and wonders that demonstrated the power of God and confirmed his words. The message and the miracles commanded the attention of the crowds, and the good news and good works filled the city with joy.

However, word of all this got back to the local resident wonder worker, a magician named Simon. Such was his power that the Samaritans all paid attention to him, and turned his self-chosen nickname into a title, “The Great Power of God”, believing that this man was divinely enabled, if not divine himself. But evidently, Philip’s miracles put Simon’s to shame, and the crowds quickly switched over to Philip, believed the gospel, and were baptized. Even Simon himself believed, received baptism, and became a follower of Philip.

In light of Philip’s great success, the apostles back in Jerusalem send Peter and John to confirm the work, and to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit. Simon was in the crowd when Peter and John administered the gift through the laying on of hands, and he became extremely jealous of this unimaginable power, and so he tried to buy it. Peter strongly rebuked Simon, and testified that his sinful behavior meant that Simon was completely outside the Spirit’s work. Simon departed, but Peter and John continued preaching in Samaria, and in the villages all the way back to Jerusalem.

After this, an angel told Philip to head towards Gaza by the desert road instead of the main road. There he encountered a high-ranking Ethiopian eunuch who was returning from worshiping in Jerusalem, which is surprising for two reasons: he is disqualified from full worship both because he is a Gentile, and because of his physical deformity. In spite of all that, Philip finds him riding back to Ethiopia reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip gladly explained to him how the prophetic word was about Jesus, and he used this passage as a springboard for the rest of the gospel message, including the need for baptism. And so as soon as they came across water, the eunuch stopped the chariot, and Philip performed an emergency baptism on him.

Coming up out of the water, Philip was mysteriously carried away by the Spirit. The eunuch couldn’t see him anymore, and so he headed back to Ethiopia, praising God. Philip found himself on a completely different part of the map, but immediately resumed his ministry and preached the gospel all the way back up the coast to Caesarea.

In conclusion, we’ve seen exorcisms, flying magicians, drive-thru baptisms, and teleporting deacons. The bedrock that undergirds everything, however, is the faithful preaching of the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. Wherever the Spirit moves the apostles, the deacons, and the disciples, they preach the gospel.

Acts 8 demands that we view the gospel as powerful: this is a gospel that transcends differences of race, lineage, and temple. This is a gospel that cannot be bought for money, but freely transforms hearts. This is a gospel that frees the demon-possessed, the sick, and the crippled. This is a gospel whose power embarrasses and amazes magicians. This is a gospel that calls all people, even Gentiles. This is the gospel of a sacrificial lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Philip’s story calls on all of us to believe the gospel, to trust the gospel, to love the gospel, and most of all, to preach the gospel. Acts 8, indeed, the first eight chapters of the book of Acts, show us an unstoppable gospel, a gospel that spreads the fame of Jesus Christ throughout Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.

Posted on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 by CJ Bowen