Stephen’s martyrdom changed everything for the early church.
Until this time, persecution of the church focused mainly on the leaders. Then Saul’s participation in Stephen’s execution and passionate commitment to destroy the church signaled a new attack. Now, believers and leaders alike could be arrested, imprisoned and even killed (see Acts 7:58; 8:1-3).
So, the persecuted and Spirit-baptized church was scattered from Jerusalem, and it was time for Philip to get out of town. He fled to the “ends of the earth,” becoming an evangelist and a cross-cultural missionary (see Acts 8:4-5; 21:8) when God sent him to a Samaritan city.
However, the Samaritans and the Jews hated one another. Philip was probably raised in this hatred and prejudice. He chose to minister to the Samaritans irrespective of these huge and offensive differences. Philip intentionally crossed cultural and religious boundaries to evangelize Samaritan people.
To the Jews, Samaritans were a mixed Israelite-Assyrian people who were considered impure and non-Jewish. They worshiped in their own temple at Mount Gerazim, and this was such an offense to the Jews that they destroyed it in 127 B.C. Jews and Samaritans disagreed on the text of the Scriptures, on religious history and on the interpretation of the Scriptures.
The apostle John was significantly understating the Jewish-Samaritan hatred when he commented that Jews do not associate with Samaritans (see John 4:9). But Luke reveals the depth of this loathing as he tells us that both James and John wanted to call down “fire from heaven” on a Samaritan village that refused to welcome Jesus (see Luke 9:51-56).
Philip proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Samaritans, and apparently they listened. “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said” (Acts 8:6, NIV). He proclaimed that Christ is the Messiah, and this would have made sense to them, for they were looking for Him to come (see John 4:25).
Luke tells us that there was great joy in the city, because Philip did more than preach; he declared that the Messiah has come with healing and deliverance for all who believe. And, the Messiah healed and delivered people even as Philip spoke!
Church leaders in Jerusalem were astonished when they heard that the Samaritans accepted the word of God. So much so, they sent Peter and John to join Philip. The Lord used John, one of the men who wanted to “call fire down” on a Samaritan village, to minister the baptism in the Holy Spirit to these Samaritans. Imagine how far John had come since that hateful request in Luke 9.
God is so redemptively confrontational.
Jesus promised that His people would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. He said they would be His witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. With this worldwide call in view, it’s important to realize that this Samaritan city was within the borders of Israel.
The call was global; yet Philip was an evangelist and cross-cultural missionary at home.
Likewise, we have “Samaritans” within our borders today. We need to become more cross-culturally aware if they are to hear the Good News and be touched by the love of God. These people are different by their look, their religion or their birthplace. They are sometimes hated because of their politics or the policies of their nation of origin. Yet they are here—God has brought them here—and Jesus is asking us to be His witnesses among them.
It is a witness of word, and because we have received power, it is a witness of God’s mighty acts through us. As in the Samaritan city where God used Philip, the days are coming when we will experience great joy in our cities.
God’s promise is to heal and deliver when we choose to go!
By: Jim Scott, vice president of Foursquare Global Operations and director of Foursquare Missions International
Share your journey through Acts. Comment below to share what God is showing you personally as the Foursquare family reads through Acts together this year! You can also subscribe to the weekly Foursquare Leader Prayer e-mail to receive insights on Acts from Foursquare leaders around the world.