SERMON TITLE: The Gospel is for Everyone (pt 1)
TEXT: Acts 8:4-40 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in week five of our series in the book of Acts which we’re calling Resistance — as we’re seeing that for every gospel action there’s a reaction by the enemy. We’re in a conflict and we have an enemy who loves to disrupt us from accomplishing God’s work — but we’ve been given God’s Word and Spirit — and through our faith in Jesus — we have the power to resist our enemy.
Now for the next few weeks — not including next week when pastor Robert is here with us — but for the next few weeks — we’re going to be in sort of a mini-series within this larger series on Resistance. For the next few weeks, we’re going to look at how we’re to resist against a tactic of our enemy — where he convinces us that the gospel isn’t as powerful today as it once was. Where we begin to doubt if the gospel can still save people today. Where we may even begin to categorize people into different groups — those who we think the gospel is for and those — who we think — will never be saved by the gospel.
So I want us to resist against limiting who the gospel is for — as we remind ourselves — that the gospel is for everyone.
So let’s turn to our passage for today.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Acts chapter 8. We’ll be looking at verses 4-40.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. And we’re going to be starting a podcast soon — where I’ll be part of a conversation about the sermon with the hopes of helping you think more about your faith more throughout the week. And one thing we’ll do from time to time on the podcast is answer the questions you send in. So if you have a question, text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
THE GOSPEL IS FOR...
Now I know it was over a year ago, but I want you to think back to the very beginning of the book of Acts. The disciples are with Jesus — this is after his resurrection — and he’s been preparing them for their mission. What mission? The mission he gives them in Acts 1:8 where Jesus tells his disciples, “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.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
Now we’re in chapter 8 and the disciples haven’t been doing the greatest job of obeying Jesus’ orders. “What are you talking about Josh? The church is huge — thousands of people are part of the church.” Well — yeah — but they’ve only focused on the Jerusalem and Judea part of their mission — they haven’t done anything in the “Samaria and the ends of the earth” part of their mission yet.
Now this is a big deal — why? Because I think this tells us — this delay in fulfilling the entirety of their mission — this tells us that the disciples struggled with the idea of the gospel being for everyone. What do I mean? Well some background will help you understand what I’m talking about — why were the disciples struggling to move beyond Jerusalem and Judea?
Well Luke has written his investigation — remember he’s been hired to investigate the reliability of the stories circulating about Jesus and the early church — and he’s written down his findings in two parts. Acts is part 2 — but in part 1 — the gospel of Luke — he records this story.
“And he (that’s Jesus) sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him (so the Samaritans rejected him — they didn’t let Jesus into their village...), because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it (Jesus being rejected...), they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them (do you want us to call fire down on the Samaritans who’ve rejected you...)?" 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:52-56 ESV)
OK — so here’s what happened. Jesus and his disciples are trying find a place to settle down and they try a Samaritan village. But the Samaritans refuse to allow Jesus and his disciples to stay in their village. And James and John — two of Jesus’ disciples — decide the best response to all of this — is to call fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans — not exactly a subtle response. And Jesus rebukes James and John for suggesting the idea.
So think about how easy it’d be for the disciples to put Samaritans into a “well there’s no way they’ll ever believe in Jesus” category. I mean they rejected Jesus while he was alive and — now that he’s in heaven — there’s no way they’ll believe in him, right? Yet Jesus tells them — in Acts 1:8 — that the news about him was to be taken to the Samaritans and — here — in our story — we finally see the gospel reaching them. Because the gospel is for everyone.
So there’s this thing that we do — where “we put people into categories” — and we must resist against doing this. But that’s not all — there’s something else we need to resist against — something that comes from our culture.
Our culture has a narrative that tells us sharing the gospel with others is inappropriate. There’s a bit of a “live and let live” mentality in the air that we breathe — where we’re told “you can have your own private religious beliefs — that’s fine and all — but don’t try and impose your religious beliefs on other people.” In our culture — for now at least — religious beliefs are fine — but only if you keep them private.
Now — hear me out — I’m not saying that the cultural air we breathe is all bad — what am I talking about? Well this idea of “live and let live” forces us — followers of Jesus — to see that how we share the gospel — how we evangelize really matters. We have to share the gospel because Jesus commanded us to — but we must do so while being aware of the cultural narrative we live in so we adapt how we share the gospel. Because — if people are going to get tripped up — if they’re going to stumble — or disagree with us — let’s force their disagreement to be with the gospel and not by how we share the gospel.
Now a problem with our cultural narrative — with our “live and let live” approach — and if you’re here and you’re a firm believer in this kind of thinking — here’s why we Christians have a hard time accommodating to your beliefs. This “live and let live” approach says nothing about the importance of truth — and truth matters. In fact — live and let live quickly collapses into relativism — where people believe “what’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me.” Where there’s supposedly no such thing as truth that’s true for everyone.
Yet the gospel tells us that there is truth — and he has a name — Jesus. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And our belief in Jesus — and our beliefs about him — push us out into our culture to share this truth with others — even though it clashes with relativism. So we — if you’re a Christian — we must resist the enemy — he wants you to remain silent — he doesn’t want you to share the gospel — so we must resist and lovingly and winsomely share the Good News of what Jesus has accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection to all people — because the gospel is for everyone
And in this story from Acts, we encounter three kinds of people we may put in a “there’s no way they’ll ever respond to the gospel” category. Three groups of people we may be reluctant to share the gospel with. Now I don’t know if you struggle with any of these kinds of people or — if you’re here today and would say that you’re part of one of these groups — but here are three groups who the gospel is for — three groups that we need to resist against the idea that they’re unreachable — because the gospel is for these people.
THE SPIRITUALLY CURIOUS
The first group are the spiritually curious. People who are spiritually curious. Let’s begin in Acts chapter 8 — verse 4.
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 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. 7 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. 8 So there was much joy in that city. 9 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.” (Acts 8:4-17 ESV)
The spiritually curious. Now I know that calling spiritually curious isn’t very politically correct — as it can sound like I’m demeaning their beliefs — “they’re curious, but not correct.” But know that I’m not judging the sincerity of their beliefs. I don’t doubt that they sincerely believe they’re following a noble, spiritual path — but the gospel — and my relationship with Jesus — means I must not allow the sincerity of someone else’s spiritual beliefs cause me to not share the gospel with them.
Now — in a way — all of the Samaritans are spiritually curious — some might say they’re even confused. Why do I say that — who are the Samaritans? One Bible scholar suggests that “[Samaritans] seem to have been descendants of Jews of the northern kingdom who intermarried with foreign people.” (Ajith Fernando, Acts in The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 271.) So the Samaritans weren’t viewed as Gentiles — as foreigners — they were viewed more like Jewish descendants who’d lost their way. They’d mixed up traditional Jewish beliefs with beliefs from other religions — resulting in a jumbled up — confused — new religion.
And — as we see in this story — Samaritans were easily intrigued by the mystical — the magical — they were curious about spiritual power. The Samaritans in our story are mesmerized by a guy named Simon — who was a magician — not in a “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat” Bullwinkle kind of magician — but one who “dabbles in evil spirits.” And Simon had a following among the Samaritans — he was popular — he was influencing them — because they were spiritually curious.
But when Philip shows up — preaching the gospel — the Samaritans believe his message about Jesus and are baptized — they experience spiritual power on a whole new level. Even Simon — the magician — is baptized. Word spreads about what’s happening in Samaria — so Peter and John are sent to investigate what was going on — are the stories really true? Are Samaritans believing in Jesus?
Which leads us to this curious story where the Samaritans — though they’ve believed in Jesus — have not yet experienced receiving the Holy Spirit.
Now there are all kinds of thoughts about why the Samaritans have this delayed receiving of the Holy Spirit — so here’s my take on what’s happening. Do you remember the story I shared earlier about Jesus and the disciples in Samaria — where James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritan village? Well that story shows us how the disciples viewed these religiously curious and confused people — they had them in a box — a “I don’t think the gospel is for them” box. So here we are — in Acts chapter 8 — and — even though Jesus had told them to take the gospel to Samaria — they haven’t done so.
So — I think the reason why the Holy Spirit was delayed — is so that Peter and John — John being one of the men who wanted fire to rain down on Samaritans — would instead witness the fire of God’s Holy Spirit rain down on the Samaritans. If Peter and John — key leaders in the early church — had not witnessed the Holy Spirit raining down on the Samaritans — well I don’t know if they would’ve believed stories about Samaritans believing in Jesus — that’s the kind of “I don’t know if the gospel is really for these people” kind of box they’d put the Samaritans in. But now they can’t deny what they’ve witnessed — they’ve seen it with their own eyes — the gospel is for everyone — even for the Samaritans.
Now there are all kinds of people — in our world today — who are like the Samaritans — who are spiritually curious. People who practice other religions — Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. People — who though some call them Christians — don’t believe the core essentials of our faith — Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Universalists. And then there are those who grew up in the church — but have wandered away and now believe all kinds of spiritual things.
So here’s some Good News for all of these kinds of people — people who are spiritually curious — but who aren’t following Jesus — the gospel is for them. Maybe they think they believe the gospel — or maybe they think they’ll never believe the gospel — regardless — we’re to share the gospel with them — because the gospel is for them.
Now maybe you’re here today and you’re 100% sure you don’t believe in Jesus — well here’s what I want you to know. Incredible grace — unearned favor and blessing — undeserved love and kindness — is being offered to you in Jesus Christ. And the way you know you’ve received God’s grace is by repenting — by turning away from trying to earn God’s love — you repent — and you respond — you receive the grace of God by faith — meaning — just as aware that you are right now of what you do and don’t believe — you become just as aware that God has extended grace to you and — you receive that grace — you bank your life on God’s grace — you live in response to God’s grace.
I want you to know that the gospel is Good News for you — because the gospel is for you.
THE SELFISHLY MOTIVATED
Let’s look at the second group. Let’s begin in verse 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.” (Acts 8:18-25 ESV)
Here we find the selfishly motivated. Now Simon’s a tough guy to figure out. Earlier it says that he believed Philip’s message and was baptized, but — here — he tries to buy the power of God and is told that his heart isn’t right with God — that he needs to repent. And I don’t know that he ever does repent. He asks Peter and John to pray that what they’ve said wouldn’t happen to him — but that’s way different than repenting. A lot of people want the consequences for their sin to go away — they may even want people to pray that the consequences of their sin will go away — but that’s not repentance. You can want the pain caused by your sin to go away — and not want God.
And there are people today — like Simon — people who want religious authority and power for nothing more than their own selfish gain. Simon liked having the Samaritans eating out of the palm of his hands. He liked the popularity he had among them. And now these Christians show up and take away his spotlight — and he wants it back. It seems as if the only reason he wants to join Philip, Peter, and John is so he can regain the influence he had over the Samaritans.
And there are people in the church today — and let’s be honest — some are pastors — who are in ministry for selfish reasons. We’ve seen this in recent church scandals where pastors have abused their power by taking advantage of vulnerable women and children. We’ve seen this in pastors who’ve demanded certain lifestyles and salaries. These are abuses of power by pastors that’ve happened in churches in our nation — and this should humble us.
But we can’t forget — we must resist the lie — that the selfishly motivated person is beyond the gospel — the gospel is even for them. Thank God the gospel is for the selfishly motivated person because we’re all so fond of ourselves, aren’t we? Some just take their selfishness to an extent that others of us haven’t. Not because we’re better — but because God has protected us from such self destruction.
But we can’t be afraid to share the gospel with these people — and I know — like Simon — they’ll say “Yeah, yeah that gospel stuff — I already believe it” — but their behavior — their actions show they haven’t.
Something sad to consider is that one of the best places to evangelize the lost is in the church. Because in the church — not just the guests who show up — but even among church members — and even some who are in church leadership — there are many who believe — but only like Simon believed — where their belief is nothing more than a cover for the selfish desires of their heart. But — Good News again — the gospel is for them — because the gospel is for everyone.
THE UPPITY UPS
Finally our last group. I didn’t really know what to call this group — so we’re going to go with the “uppity ups.” The gospel is for the uppity ups. Let’s begin in verse 26.
“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:26-40 ESV)
The gospel is for everyone — even the uppity ups. So an angel of the Lord gives Philip a command — which he obeys. And his obedience leads him to this Ethiopian eunuch — he’s the uppity up in the story. Now — being a eunuch — would’ve restricted him from participating in some parts of worship in the temple. There were certain restrictions on who could be in which part of the temple — not everyone had the same rights when it came to worshipping God in the temple — and one restriction was for those who’d been castrated — which as a eunuch — he would’ve been. But — through Jesus’ death and resurrection — the walls of hostility between those who could fully worship God and those who couldn’t — were torn down. Thus the gospel is for everyone.
Now why am I calling this guy an uppity up? Well he’s described as being a court official of the queen of Ethiopia. In fact — he was in charge of all of her treasure — so think of him as the finance minister of the queen.
So he’s in a high ranking position.
He’s got access to the queen.
He’s part of her court.
He’s riding around in a chariot — which only the most well to do people did in these days.\
He’s got a copy of the scroll of Isaiah — only the wealthy had copies of any kind of literature in these days — much less a copy of Scripture.
So he’s an uppity up if ever there was one.
And that he’s from Ethiopia is an important detail that Luke records for us. In these days — Ethiopia was the area of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. And in ancient literature, Ethiopians were considered as living “in the ends of the earth.” How about that?
Remember — up until now — the Christians have been hanging out in Jerusalem and have failed to get to the Samaria and ends of the earth part of Jesus’ commission. And here we see Philip preach to the Samaritans — and now — he shares the gospel with someone who is from the ends of the earth.
Prompted by God’s Spirit, he goes up to the man’s chariot and asks him if he understands what he’s reading — which the man doesn’t. And Philip takes advantage of the opportunity to use God’s Word — the book of Isaiah — to point this eunuch to Jesus — who’s the fulfillment of the book of Isaiah. And the eunuch believes in Jesus and desires to be baptized — and Philip baptizes him.
Now earlier we saw that Simon the magician believed and was baptized, but none of it meant anything to him. But — here — we see another man — an uppity up — believe and be baptized and it means everything — for he goes on his way rejoicing — a sign — that he’d discovered the joy that’s found only through faith in Jesus. And though we don’t know with certainty what became of this man, a second century writer — Irenaeus — says that he became a missionary — a proclaimer of the gospel — to the people of Ethiopia. It’s likely that this man took the gospel to the ends of the earth because he knew — like Philip did — that the gospel is for everyone.
Now uppity ups are — if I’m being honest — of the three groups we’ve looked at today — the hardest for me. I think it’s because I see how money and material possessions and power have gripped their heart. I see their lives filled with fruitless activities — I see what they value and am often at a loss as to how to reach them with the gospel.
Now a bit of irony — for me — is that because I’m the pastor of Gateway — a larger church in our community — I find myself in situations where I’m surrounded by more uppity up types. I get invited to pray at different community events where I feel like a fish out of water because of the uppity up folks who are in attendance. But — as awkward as these situations are for me — I’m thankful for these opportunities.
For example — just over a month ago — I was invited to pray at an event where the crowd was more uppity up-ish — a bunch of lawyers and judges — and if you’re a lawyer or judge — me calling you an uppity up is not the worst thing you’ve been called this week — and you know it. Anyway I’ve prayed at a particular event for a couple of years now — and each year I’ve been surprised — because I go into events like this figuring I’m not going to get invited back — so I might as well take advantage of the opportunity and pray a very “Here’s my one shot at letting these folks know that the gospel is for them” kind of prayer.
And — first off — they keep inviting me back — which I think is crazy. Additionally, I always have some folks who come up to talk to me about my prayer. Some are believers and were encouraged because they often feel alone in the circles they run in. Some aren’t believers — but — through their questions — they show me they have a spiritual curiosity. And I’m reminded — that the gospel is for these people — because the gospel is for everyone.
What about you? Do you believe that the gospel is for everyone?
Do you believe it’s for those who are spiritually curious?
For those who are selfish?
Even for those who have a position in our society that makes them a little on the uppity up side?
Is the gospel for everyone?
Who — in your mind — or more importantly — based on how you live — do you believe is unreachable by the gospel?
Why can’t they be reached?
Is it really them?
Or — maybe — is it you — that though the gospel is for them — you’re resisting sharing the gospel with them.
As the English pastor — Charles Spurgeon — said, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled...let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
Maybe you’re here today and you’re the one who needs to be warned. You’re headed straight to hell because you’ve rejected Jesus and all that he’s done for you. Well let me tell you some great news. Because the gospel is for everyone — the gospel is for you. I’m going to pray for you right now — that you would believe that the gospel is for you. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gospel. The Good News of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection. He defeated Satan, sin, death, and Hell for us because we were incapable of defeating them on our own. We needed a rescuer — a Savior — a Conquering King — and you sent your Son to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.
For the believers here — Father — I ask that you’d remind us often that the gospel is for everyone. That you would destroy the boxes we put people in — especially the box of someone who is unable to be reached by your gospel. May we look at all people with great hope — because your gospel can reach them — it is the power of salvation — it gives life to the hardest of hearts. Help us to believe and live in response to and share your gospel with everyone because it is for everyone.
Finally — Holy Spirit — for anyone here who is questioning whether or not the gospel is for them. Wondering if believing in Jesus can really make any difference at all. For the hardest, most cynical among us — Spirit I ask that you would give them life and save them right now. Just as we’ve asked the boxes we put others in to be destroyed — I ask that you would crush whatever box they’ve put you in — and save them. Surprise them. Even for the person who came here with an — I didn’t come here to become some sort of religious person — may they be shocked, astonished, and startled because they can’t help it — they believe. They know the gospel is for them.
And we pray all of these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: the person desiring to believe that the gospel is for you; the believer who wants confidence so they will share the gospel with others)
May you go — believing and sharing with others — all that Jesus has done — because the gospel is for all people. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.