It’s hard to imagine some places, some cities, some neighborhoods, some communities experiencing revival. After all they are drug infested, gang-controlled, poverty-stricken, underprivileged, disproportionately, single parent families! It is hard to imagine revival coming to Figure-Eight Island, Landfall or Wrightsville beach as well! At both ends of the social spectrum there are communities that seem to be impenetrable to revival and the message of the gospel. They are simply overwhelmingly wicked, or overwhelmingly self-sufficient and don’t seem interested in Christ.

After the explosion of faith in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, persecution broke out against the church. The explosive faith of the church had radically upset the religious balance in Jerusalem and the authorities were determined to get it under control. Twice they summoned Peter and John before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4 , 5). The anger reached fever pitch when Stephen’s public preaching and signs and miracles provoked some Jews from outlying provinces to bring him up on charges before the council (Acts 6:8-15). The trial went badly for the council, and Stephen’s testimony was so compelling that in a fit of riotous anger they stoned him to death (Acts 7:54-8:1). Apparently, a young Cilician Pharisee, of the group who argued with Stephen, standing in the crowd and supporting the execution, was provoked enough to begin a campaign of fierce persecution against anyone he could find who believed in Jesus Christ (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). Polhill notes that the persecution had been gaining ground since the apostles had been interviewed and warned (Acts 4), arrested and flogged (Acts 5); and now Stephen had been put to death (Acts 7). Saul’s persecution of the church became legendary for its cruelty and ferocity (lymaino, a Greek word used in the LXX of ferocious beasts tearing raw flesh) (Acts 9:1-2, 19b-22, 26) (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers).

The result of this outbreak of persecution was not at all what one might expect. Saul’s jurisdiction was limited to Jews and Jewish communities. So he ranged great distances with authority from the elders and council leaders, in his effort to stamp out faith in Jesus Christ. Explosive faith was met with explosive hatred and persecution at the hand of Saul of Tarsus. However, Luke records that the persecution simply scattered the church throughout the region, and that everywhere they went the disciples preached the good news about Jesus Christ. These were not the apostles or leaders of Jerusalem. They were likely the Greek Jewish laymen who were less strict than their Jerusalem brethren, and who were more ready to share the message with Gentiles (Gangel, K. O. (1998). Vol. 5: Acts. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers). There is a sense in which this army exploded into Samaria and other parts of Palestine, when they were forced out Jerusalem. Instead of suppressing the witness, persecution simply inflamed it and scattered it more rapidly into new places than it would have gone without the extra push! Luke calls the scattering persecution diaspora, a term that can imply broadcasting seed (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers)! The persecution of the church in Jerusalem simply resulted in seed of the gospel being flung further afield. Philip took the gospel to the interior of Samaria, and to the Ethiopian; Peter took the message to the coastal towns, and to Gentiles God-fearers in Caesarea; unknown disciples planted a church in Antioch; the gospel was already in Damascus (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). The gospel was explosively mushrooming throughout Palestine, and crossed the ethnic boundaries between Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers).

Jesus had told the disciples that they would become witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, and then Samaria and to the remotest parts of the earth. But the message of the gospel had up until the death of Stephen made no real progress to breakout beyond the Jewish enclaves of Judea. In fact, the Samaritan Pentecost began a chain of events that would lead to the first Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit in Caesarea, the founding of a predominantly Gentile church in Syrian Antioch, and eventually to the widespread missionary journeys of the man who was at that time persecuting the church in an attempt to wipe it out. It is not too much to say that the Samaritan Pentecost was a watershed moment.

Interestingly enough the power of the Holy Spirit accompanied the preaching of the gospel by Philip, even before the Apostles arrive to bring news of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:5-6). Signs and wonder were occurring in connection with the salvation of the Samaritans. The same things occurring in Jerusalem were occurring among them. And many were getting saved (Acts 8:12). There was no real quantifiable difference between what was happening in Samaria and Jerusalem, except that they did not receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit right away (Acts 8:15-16). Many of the commentators take great pains to downplay the role of the miracles performed by Philip. But they did accompany the preaching of the gospel, and the Samaritans were saved after all. Faith went viral in Samaria and exploded into the region, with all of the power of the original Pentecost in Jerusalem.

What made this remarkable or better unexpected was that the Samaritans were not considered by the Jews to be very suitable candidates for redemption! Polhill says these Samaritans were of unlikely “decent and religious persuasion” (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). The Jews of pure decent distained the Samaritans who were descendants of those deposited by the Assyrians after the deportation of the Jews (722 B.C.), and who intermingled with the Canaanites inhabitants of the land, and the people whom the Assyrians brought in (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). The Samaritans retained many elements of Judaism and built a temple on Mt. Gerizim to rival the one in Jerusalem (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). After their temple was destroyed they continued to worship independently and were even expecting the arrival of a messianic deliverer, whom the woman at the well referred to in her conversation with Jesus (John 4:25) (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). The prejudice against them among the Jews was palpable, and the Samaritans reciprocated in kind. The apostles themselves in the days of Jesus had issues with the Samaritans, and Peter and John at one point wanted to call fire and brimstone down on them to burn them up for their rejection of Christ (Luke 9:51-55). The Samaritan woman at the well had caused some raised eyebrows, and Jesus talk of white-fields of harvest potential, referring to the nearby Samaritan village, must have challenged the thinking of his disciples. Samaria was one of those areas that didn’t seem to be high on the mission and evangelism list of the early church. Few of the early disciples would have been alert to the possibility that they might respond to the gospel.

Luke implies that Philip ended up in Samaria because of the persecution of the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 8:4-5). While he was there, Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans, who responded, especially when they saw the miracles and signs that accompanied Philip’s message (Acts 8:6, 12). It was unexpected and something of a curiosity to the church in Jerusalem, who sent Peter and John to check it out. There must have been considerable shock in the church, especially among the more legalistic elements that would later resist Gentile inclusion without circumcision (cf. Acts 15). The same Peter and John, who had once asked Christ if they should call down destruction on the Samaritans, would now lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. It is hard for us to imagine how radical this must have seemed. This was a neighborhood they would have thought most unlikely to receive and respond to the gospel message.

But when they arrived the apostles saw all of the hallmarks of genuine faith and salvation. They witnessed an explosion of God’s power with signs and wonders, just like the ones they had been doing in Jerusalem. Samaritans had not only believed, but had been properly baptized, so they laid their hands on Samaritan disciples and prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit, to experience a Pentecost! The accompanying power of God at their baptism in the Spirit was sufficiently spectacular to gain the attention of a newly saved, former magician, who asked them to give him that same power (Acts 8:18-23). He evidently reverted to type at the prospect of being able to wield such power. The point is that no one in Jerusalem was expecting this, but in the economy of God, he was preparing for a Gentile Pentecost and for the establishment of a mission church to send missionaries into the Gentile world. This was yet another explosion of faith, soon to be followed by two more!

Faith had exploded beyond the boundaries of expectation. A significant thing had happened and the gospel had leapt over a significant hurdle, if it was to go to the Gentile world. It is certain that God intends for the gospel to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries. It can come with or without our cooperation. In the early church hardship and a great deal of suffering produced the explosion into the world around Jerusalem. So hardship and difficulty need not hinder the gospel. Indeed our reluctance to share the gospel may result in God forcing our hand at some point!

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