“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city” (Acts 8:6-8).
Because of Saul’s violent outburst against the Jerusalem church, Philip went to Samaria and proclaimed Christ. The Holy Spirit authenticated his message with signs, such as healing the sick and casting out demons. The miracles were not the manufactured manipulations such as are common on television today. They were verifiable miracles granted by God.
While some today will focus on the miracles, the Scriptures uniformly center on Christ and His gospel of grace. Notice that “the crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.” The crowds did not give attention to the signs, but to the message. The signs drove them to the gospel as they were designed to do.
To be sure, the signs were captivating, people who’d been oppressed by evil spirits were set free. Those who’d been paralyzed and lame were made whole again. The release from guilt and shame, plus the unknown causes were wiped clean. No wonder “there was much rejoicing in that city.”
Still, the greater joy was knowing why they were cleansed and healed – Jesus had saved them. The removal of the consequences of sin is incidental to the destruction of sin itself. Sin demands God’s wrath. Loss and illness are just reminders of that fact. To stand before Holy God in one’s sins is most terrifying. To have that guilt and shame buried in the righteousness of Christ is most liberating and joyful.
Rejoicing is to be joyous, not simply pleased or content, but enthusiastic with the news. The Samaritans had lived in idolatrous darkness for ages. Now, the light of gospel grace had come to them in the name of Jesus with evidence to prove that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Of course, they were glad to be healed, but Luke is clear to point out why they rejoiced – because of the gospel Philip proclaimed.
Today, many hold to the idea that the gospel is only a stepping stone to reuniting them with loved ones or to gaining marvelous treasures to whet their appetites. Such people are still steeped in the darkness of their idolatry. They trample underfoot the precious name of Jesus while clinging to the hope of reliving some dream lost in this fallen life.
Churches need, whether they know it or not, pastors – men who are saturated with the Word of God, who will proclaim the pure gospel of God’s grace to save sinners by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Churches need shepherds who hold to the reforming principles of Scripture alone and Scripture interpreting Scripture. These are the men who will build churches for the glory of God alone.
Far too long and too often, churches today are held hostage by false teachers, hirelings who’ve jumped the fence to make a name for themselves among Christ’s sheep. Many have filled the pews with unredeemed and unregenerate religious hypocrites just to say, “Look how many we’ve baptized.” Those goats fight against everything Christ’s church stands for. They think they have a better way because they have a secular business experience. Often, the Christians left in the church will simply let the bullies take over. The church’s carcass has already begun to decay.
Sometimes, God allows a man to step into such a situation and, by grace, begin to turn things around. It’s never easy and there are no short cuts. In such instances, it’s a cause for great rejoicing indeed as people are released from their idolatrous traditions and autonomy. There are a number of success stories across our nation where some of the least likely shepherds were called to churches because the power brokers thought they had a lamb they could control, but God revealed a lion who was strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10).
God grant us men like Philip, who will proclaim Christ in the most unlikely places, where there will be much rejoicing in Your grace.