MVMT 05: Church for the city

Acts 8:1-25

Acts 8:1-8 – And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

I love this passage. This is what I envision our church to be. A church for the city. I’ll explain to you what I mean by it soon. In this passage, we see a big transition happening in the book of Acts. Let’s look at the mission statement of the book of Acts again. Acts 1:8 – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Jesus says that the gospel will spread from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and to the end of the earth. However, in the first 7 chapters, the gospel has yet to spread out beyond Jerusalem and Judea. All the gospel actions are still within the perimeter of Jerusalem. But in chapter 8, the gospel finally breaks out of Jerusalem and begin to spread like a wildfire. The church is on a mission. And from this point forward, Luke will tell us how the gospel spread to the end of the earth. And the first stop is Samaria. This chapter will tell us how the gospel transforms the city of Samaria. And I believe this passage will give us directions on how the gospel can transform the city of Sydney. How many of you want to see our city transformed with the gospel? I long to see gospel transformation in our city. And to do so, we need to be a church for the city.

Here is what we must get. I gave you the definition of a church a few weeks ago. The church is a movement of ordinary people with the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit united around the message of Christ. So, when you join a church, you join a movement. And movements move. With another word, there is an underlying assumption that drives everything we do as Christians. Christians are those who are saved by God. Loved by God. Cherished by God. All of those are true. When you became Christians, God gave you a new identity. You who were once an enemy of God is now a child of God. That is wonderful. But that is not the end. Because when you become a Christian, you are also given a new purpose in life. And the purpose is the same for every Christian. You might be a pastor, a lawyer, a chef, an accountant, a student, it doesn’t matter who you are and what you do. Our purpose in life is the same. One of the most common questions I received as a pastor is, “What is God’s purpose for my life?” I am going to answer that question once and for all. Get this. The purpose of our life as Christians is to advance the gospel wherever we are. The purpose of our life is not to have a wonderful marriage. The purpose of our life is not to have a good family. The purpose of our life is not to have a successful business. The purpose of our life is not even to be a good Christian. Now, all of them are good. We want to have a wonderful marriage, a good family, a successful business and be a good Christian. But those are not the purpose that drives our life. The reason we want to have a good marriage, a good family, a successful business and be a good Christian is so that we can advance the gospel wherever we are. That is the purpose that drives everything we do. And if the purpose of our life is to advance the gospel, then nothing can stop us. We are unstoppable. Do you know why? Because our purpose is God’s purpose and God cannot be stopped.

Now, I am not saying it is easy. If the main purpose of Christians is to advance the gospel, then the main purpose of God’s enemy is to stop the advancement of the gospel. That’s the logic. That is the reality facing us today. Satan will do whatever it takes to stop us from advancing the gospel. And he is doing that very thing right now. He is doing his very best to distract us from living in God’s purpose for our lives. He is convincing us that there are more important things that we need to give our time, energy, and money to than the advancement of the gospel. And he is using the good gifts of God to distract us from accomplishing the purpose of God in our life. He attacks our marriages, our family, our work, and our Christian life to keep us from advancing the gospel. But that is not new. Satan will always try his best to stop the gospel movement. But the good news for us is that God is unstoppable. And what the enemy meant for evil, God meant it for good, as we will see in this text.

How can we be a church for the city? Three ways. We need active Christianity; joy in the city; comfortably messy.

Active Christianity

Acts 8:1-4 – And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

This is the big turning point in the book of Acts. Up to this point, the apostles are the main characters of the gospel movement. Most signs and wonders are done among the people by the hands of the apostles. But as the church continues to grow at an amazing speed, the apostles cannot handle it on their own anymore. They appointed seven people to help them serve the people in the church so that they can devote themselves to prayer and preaching. Two of those seven people are Stephen and Phillip. And then in Acts 7, Stephen is put on trial and he is stoned to death. Stephen is the first martyr in Christian history. And the death of Stephen marks the beginning of great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. So, before the persecution, the gospel movement is only happening within the perimeter of Jerusalem. But because of the persecution, the believers are scattered throughout different regions and they carry the gospel with them to those different areas. So, persecution only succeeded in helping the spread of the gospel. Isn’t that amazing? Here is something that we know. The advancement of the gospel does not happen despite persecution and suffering but through the means of persecution and suffering. If you try to kill the church, it only fastens the growth of the church. What the religious leaders tried to do in stoning Stephen and persecuting the church is to stop the gospel movement. But what happens is the exact opposite. Rather than breaking the church, persecution only makes the church grow even faster. Let me give you a modern example: China. When the communist government took over China after World War 2, they expelled every Christian missionary out of China. And people said that it was the end of Christianity in China. But fast forward 70 years. Today, one of the fastest growths of Christianity happens in China. That is not coincident. There is something about persecution that propels the church to grow faster.

Let me put it this way. How many of you like to play chess? If you play chess, then you know that it is inevitable for you to lose some pieces. But a good chess player knows how to lose pieces in such a way that help him win the game. For every piece he lose, he is one step closer toward victory. Can you see it? God is like a chess master who cannot lose. He is all-knowing. He already knows the move that his enemy will make. And he already anticipates that move with another move to win the game. Every setback of the gospel is simply positioning for the greater advancement of the gospel. God uses the suffering and persecution of Christians to spread the gospel and bless the world. Look at what happens.

Acts 8:4 – Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. This is really cool. Remember that this is the first time that the gospel expanded beyond Jerusalem. And the first time the gospel expanded, it is not the apostles who preach the gospel but the normal Christians. The apostles remained in Jerusalem. It is the normal common believers that preach the gospel to the new regions. And the word “preaching” here does not mean what you think. When you think of preaching, you think of what I am doing right now, standing in front of many people and proclaim the gospel. But the word “preaching” here is the word evangelize. What is evangelize? I love the way Michael Green describes it. He writes that evangelism is gossiping the gospel. How many of you love to gossip? Not a single hand raised. You guys are liars. How do we gossip? Let me tell you how. We gossip naturally, enthusiastically and with conviction. Am I right? For some of us, gossip comes as naturally as breathing. You don’t even know if what you say is true or not, but it comes naturally as you talk to others. And you speak with eagerness and conviction. “Have you heard that Yosi is getting married?” and the other person replies, “OMG, I did not know. Is it finally happening?” “Yeah, I heard from so and so that Yosi is getting married to so and so.” And in a few short hours, all of RSI thinks I’m getting married to so and so. While I am at home, reading books, still single. Right? That’s what every Christian are called to do. We are called to gossip the gospel.

Don’t miss the point that Luke is making. It is not only the apostles that gossip the gospel but every believer. That means we must change our game plan as a church. We must change from passive Christianity to active Christianity. Here is what I mean. Our old game plan is we like to invite others to come to church to hear the gospel. We say things like, “Hey, come and check out my church. The sermon is great. You will learn a lot about Christianity and the gospel.” First, thank you for thinking that my sermon is great. And second, thank you for taking the initiative to invite others to church. This is good and it is not wrong. That’s how the church is for the first 7 chapters of Acts. It is centred around the ministry of the apostles. But it is not as effective. Beginning from Acts chapter 8, a massive change happens that leads to the widespread gospel movement. The widespread gospel movement happens not by the preaching of superstar pastor but when every Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit and gossip the gospel wherever they are. This is active Christianity. And it is far more effective. The gospel movement happens when everybody in the church owns and participates in the mission of Christ. So, we don’t just wait for people to come to church and hear the gospel, we bring the gospel to the people. Every Christian is a missionary. Every-member-evangelism. This is the new game plan.

I am not saying you should quit your job and become full-time ministers. But what I am saying is that you are where you are because God has a purpose for you there. He wants you to share the gospel there. God has arranged for you to be there for you to gossip the gospel to your friends and colleagues. When you go to University, you not only go there to study but also to share the gospel. When you go to work, you not only go there to make money but also to share the gospel. When you go on holiday, you not only go there to have fun but also to share the gospel. All of us are uniquely wired by God with different gifts and passion. All of us are uniquely placed by God in different areas. You are not where you are by accident. God has given you the talents and the passions that you have for a purpose. All of us have different gifts. One of the new emerging hobbies in RSI is baking. Some of you love to bake. So, go ahead and pursue your love in baking. Be the best baker you can be and bake the most delicious bread you can. Make an Instagram account and call it something the baker. Do all that. But that is not your purpose. Your purpose is that wherever you are, whatever you do, advance the gospel. Use your passion for baking to gossip to others about the gospel. You are part of God’s plan to accomplish his worldwide mission. God has given you a big purpose in your everyday lives. So, don’t live small; live big. Be an active Christian. That’s the first one.

Joy in the city

Acts 8:5-8 – Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

Now, this is very radical. In order to understand the weight of what’s happening, we need to understand the historical context first. To say that the Jews and the Samaritans do not like each other is an understatement. There is an enormous hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews are taught that to be in contact with any Gentile would defile them and make them unclean. They avoid the gentiles. But they consider the Samaritans even worse than the Gentiles. The Jews would not have any relationship with the Samaritans because the Samaritans are mixed blood. The Samaritans intermarry with the Syrians and therefore they are no longer pure Jews. Not only that, the Samaritans also only hold to the Pentateuch, the first 5 books in the Old Testament written by Moses, as their Scriptures. They reject other books. On top of that, they built their own temple to replace the temple in Jerusalem. So, there is a strong racial tension between the Jews and the Samaritans that lasted hundreds of years. And now here comes Philip to the city of Samaria. It is unthinkable for Jews to have any dealing with Samaritans. And yet Philip comes to Samaria and proclaim Christ to them. This is beautiful. The purpose of God’s saving mission not only involves people that we like but also people that we do not like. The message of the gospel transcends every cultural barrier, no matter what the background is. There is no barrier that the gospel cannot break. If we want God to use our church to transform the city, we need to love people who are nothing like us.

Let me make it more specific. How can we love the city? Two ways. First, we have to be a multi-cultural church. Don’t be quick to say amen. Here is what I know about most of us. We love the idea of a multi-cultural church, but we hate the process of becoming one. Why? Because it is extremely uncomfortable. Just think about it. Becoming a multi-cultural church means that we need to learn to let go of our preferences. A lot of time when we think of a multi-cultural church, we think of a church that consists of people with different skin colours worshipping God the way we worship God. That is not a multi-cultural church. That’s a multi-colour church. We have no problem having people from different tribe, nations, and tongue worship together as long as we do it our way. But that’s not going to happen. For us to be a multi-cultural church, then we must be multi-cultures. And this is very uncomfortable.

Let me give you two examples. Imagine that instead of singing a modern contemporary song during the worship, we change one of the songs to Christian rap. How would you feel? Let me confess that just the thought of it gives me a goosebump already. Every time I listen to a rap song, I have no idea what they are saying. Anyone else like me? It is extremely uncomfortable. And this is only one small thing. Another example: language. Now, I understand that it is so much more comfortable for us to speak in our mother tongue. And for many of you, it is Indonesian. You don’t have to think before you speak. It just comes out naturally. I am not saying it is wrong for you to speak Indonesian but if we want to be a multi-cultural church, then we must speak the language that unites different cultures in this city. Because we live in the city of Sydney, that language is English. Once again, it is uncomfortable for many of us. But if we are serious about being a multi-cultural church, we must embrace uncomfortableness. Listen. It is not enough for us to tolerate diversity; we need to celebrate diversity. I love this quote from John Piper. It’s beautiful. “We love Christ-exalting diversity because we love the gospel.” The church that we see in revelation consists of people from every tribe, nation and tongue worshipping the Lamb who was slain. Jesus shed his blood and gave his life to form a multi-cultural church. The church of eternity is a multi-cultural church. Therefore, the church of today should strive to reflect the church of eternity. If we are serious about becoming a church for the city, then we must be serious about becoming a multi-cultural church.

Second, we have to be a church of word and deed. Here is what I mean. When Philip comes to Samaria, he does two things. He proclaims Christ, that’s word, and he heals the sick and casts out demons, that’s deed. We cannot choose one over the other. We have to excel in both. And let me make an honest assessment of RSI. I think we are doing okay in word. We proclaim the gospel every week from this pulpit. Although I think we can improve a lot in living out active Christianity. But regarding deed, if I can use an old King James word, we are “stinketh.” We are failing miserably. By deed, I am not saying that we should start healing and exorcism ministry. Yes, it might involve praying for the sick and casting out demons, but it also speaks of seeking the wellbeing of the city. I think a lot of time, the church can be very one-sided. We see every problem as a spiritual problem. Therefore, we only care about spiritual wellbeing. But that is not true. The Bible says that our problem is both spiritual and physical. The church is told to both preach the gospel and care for justice. It’s not either-or. The church must has the answer to both spiritual and physical problems of the city. That means we must love the city, meet the needs of the city, care for the city and sacrifice for the city. We are called to make a difference in the city. If we are not making a difference in the city, why should the city listen to us? I am not saying that deed is more important than word. But deed opens opportunities for us to preach the gospel. To separate word and deed is not biblical. It is an unhealthy dichotomy. Look at what Philip does. He does both and the crowd pay attention to him because of it. And here is the verse that really convicted me. Acts 8:8 – So there was much joy in that city. Is there much joy in the city because of our presence? If the answer is no, then we have a lot of work to do in the coming years to be a church for the city. And it can’t be just me. I need every member of this church to work together with me to transform the city.

Comfortably messy

Acts 8:9-25 – But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Before I explain to you what I mean by comfortably messy, let me take a few minutes to explain the strange thing that happens in the middle of the story. So even though many people become believers in Samaria, apparently none of them is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is almost like what happened to the disciples in the day of Pentecost. They became believers long before they received the Holy Spirit. This is strange. Because the norm is that you cannot become a believer without the works of the Holy Spirit in you. And yet we see a separation between becoming a believer and receiving the Holy Spirit in Samaria. What happened? Is this a second baptism? Is there a separation between being a believer and being baptised with the Holy Spirit? My answer is no. Here is where you need to separate between descriptive and prescriptive. What happens in Samaria is descriptive. It is specific for the people of Samaria. It is part of God’s redemptive history. Let me explain. Remember that there is a strong hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans reject the Old Testament as their Scripture. They only accept the Torah and they do not want to have anything to do with the Jews. But Jesus is a Jew and the people that Jesus chooses to be the pillars of the church, the apostles, are Jews. By waiting for the apostles to come before they receive the Holy Spirit show that the apostles are indeed anointed by Jesus and that the believers in Samaria are also under the authority of the apostles. We are going to see a similar thing happens when the gospel first spread to the gentiles in the house of Cornelius next week. After years of hostility, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit through the apostles are the stamp of approval that they are included in God’s saving plan.

Now, let’s get back to the story. The story of Simon is very disturbing. Luke tells us that Simon was a magician. He had an extraordinary power to perform magic. We do not know what kind of magic, but I am sure it was not card-magic. It was real magic. People were amazed and listened to him because of it. But when Philip came and proclaimed Christ and performed signs and wonders, many people believed and were baptised, including Simon. So, Simon is a man who professes faith and is baptised. From the outside, he looks like a genuine believer. But then when Peter and John come and lay hand on people and they receive the Holy Spirit, Simon is amazed. He wants to have that power for himself and he offers money to buy that power from Peter and John. He thinks that the Holy Spirit is for sale. He thinks that he can manipulate, control, and pay God off. And Peter rebukes him strongly. Peter is saying, “To hell with you and your money. Your heart is not right with God. You are a wicked person, and you need to repent.” But sadly, Simon does not repent. His response does not show any sign of repentance. And according to early church fathers, Simon eventually becomes one of the first heretics who is known as Simon Magus.

What happened? Here is the danger for all of us. There is a kind of believing that does not save you from sin. Simon believes in the message of Christ and he is baptised. But his belief is not rooted in Christ and what Christ has done but rather in the great act of power that Philip and the apostles performed. He sees the sign and wonders and as a magician himself, he is amazed by it. But his heart is not captivated by Jesus. He sees the signs and misses the point. He sees the supernatural with physical eyes, but his heart is blind to the glory of Christ. The object of his faith is not Jesus but signs and wonders. My friend, this is extremely dangerous. It means that we can witness and experience the wonders of Christ’s work and not have faith in Christ. We may have the appearance of Christians and not the heart of Christians. Not everyone who believes and baptised is a real Christian. It is possible to profess a faith that fools your pastor and yet it is invalid. At the end of the day, you have yet to surrender your heart to Jesus. You still want to control your own life and you use Christ as a mean to get what you really want.

Here is what we must understand. Whenever and wherever there is gospel movement, there will always be genuine believers and counterfeit believers. Always. We can’t get away from it. I wish everyone in the church is a genuine believer but that is not the case. The New Testament is clear that there will be many false Christians in the church. Which mean two things. First, we have to be comfortable with it. Second, the church will always be messy. Our church must be comfortably messy. So that means that any given time in church, we should find mature Christians, baby Christians and false Christians. Praise God for mature Christians. Praise God for those of you who know how to feed yourself in the word and live out your Christian lives. We need more of you. But we also need to praise God for baby Christians. If you are a parent, you know this. Raising a baby is an extremely tiring work. Baby Christians are those who do not know how to feed themselves. They are those who are still learning how to crawl and walk and continue to stumble. They are those who continually make a mess. They need lots and lots of attention. They will take most of your energy and time. And here is what’s worse. They have nothing to contribute. They demand so much of you and they give you nothing in return except occasional smile and a lot of poop. Am I right? But here is what I know about those babies. Even though those babies contribute nothing, they are still part of your family. You don’t give up on them. You continue to clean their mess. You continue to teach them how to walk. You continue to feed them. You don’t say to your baby, “If you don’t start wiping your own butt by the time you are 9 months old, I am kicking you out of the family.” You can’t expect a 9 months old to act like a 9 years old. They are babies. And as you continue to feed them and train them, they will eventually grow and become mature. But if they are not growing, then something is wrong with them. They are most likely false Christians. But it is almost impossible to differentiate between baby Christians and false Christians at first. Here is where I am going with this. A healthy church is a church who plays part in the gospel movement. With another word, a healthy church is one who is always filled with baby Christians and false Christians. Therefore, the house is always messy. And we have to be comfortable with that. If we want to be a church for the city, we must be comfortably messy. It means that the church is moving. A comfortably messy church is a healthy church.

So what enables us to become a church for the city? What enables us to have active Christianity, seek joy for the city and be comfortably messy? It is the gospel. What is it about the gospel that enables us to do so? One word, death. And death causes resurrection. This is a gospel pattern that we see play out throughout this passage and the rest of the Bible. Some of you know this as J-curve. In order for there to be much joy in the city of Samaria, Philip has to experience some form of death. Samaria will not have joy unless Christians were persecuted and scattered away from their home. Many people probably lost their job and family because of it. But because of their “death,” there is much joy in the city of Samaria. But not only that but for the joy of the gospel to spread to different areas, Stephen had to die. It is the death of Stephen that triggered the persecution of the church and the gospel movement outside of Jerusalem. Do you start to see the gospel pattern? Get this. Joy in life does not come in spite of death but through death. But what enables Stephen to die for the gospel? It is because he sees someone else who died for him standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55-56 – 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Stephen is able to embrace death because he is looking at Jesus who took on all the punishment of his sins and died for him. He looks at the man who says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And because of it, Stephen can also say, “Lord, do not hold this against them” as he is stoned to death. The death of Jesus Christ has created resurrection in the lives of Christians. We come alive because Christ died for us. His death led to our eternal life. It is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that the church came to be.

And that same pattern continues today. Do we want to see much joy in our city? Then we have to die for the city. I am not saying that we should seek martyrdom. But I am saying that it is not enough for us to believe the gospel. We must gossip the gospel wherever we are. There must be gospel intentionality in everything we do. And that will bring many deaths. We will be misunderstood. We will be marginalised. We might be left out from some party. We might get passed over for a promotion. We might lose family members. But our death will lead to joy for others. The death of Christ leads to our lives. And seeing his death enables us to pour out our lives for the city. And when there is much joy in the city because of us living out the gospel pattern, it will change the world. The gospel changes people and changed people can change a city. And that is the gospel movement. Let us play our part in that movement.

Discussion questions:

  1. “The purpose of our life as Christians is to advance the gospel wherever we are.” What comes to your mind when you hear this truth? (Feel free to express your concern and emotion as well).
  2. What does it mean by “gossiping the gospel”? How can we do it better in our daily life?
  3. Why is it hard to become a multi-cultural church? Give examples of some problems we might face and how the gospel is the cure of it.
  4. Why we cannot separate Word and Deed ministry?
  5. As a community (or a church), how can we improve our deed ministry? (Write a list and MC leaders please send it to Yosia).
  6. Explain what is “gospel pattern” and how does it empower us to be a church for the city?
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