Summary: The story in Acts 8, that tells of Philip's preaching in Samaria resulting in an Evangelism Explosion, contains 3 puzzles that many folks overlook. What are these puzzles and what can they teach us about our walk with Christ?
OPEN: People have created puzzles for centuries. There’ve been crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, Rubik's cube, and scads of others in all shapes and sizes. The better the puzzle, the more difficult it is to solve, and by that standard, one of the Holy Grails of such puzzles is this one: (https://goo.gl/images/2cMYwY). It’s called “Solomon’s Seal”, or more appropriately - “The IMPOSSIBLE Japanese puzzle” because unless you know the secret … it will impossible for you to solve it. I found a YouTube video that explained the puzzle and its solution - and it started out telling the story about a Japanese man who spent 10 years trying to solve this specific puzzle (apparently he didn’t know how to do a google search):
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hmnzcsi-WK8. Play from time marker: 0:48 to 3:35)
Did you notice: that unless you know the answer to the puzzle it’s ALMOST impossible to do. There’s only ONE way to solve the puzzle and you need to know the secret in order to solve it,
In our Scripture this morning, we’re faced with a set of 3 “puzzles”. They are riddles in the text that are almost impossible to figure out unless you understand what lies behind them. Unless you understand the "secret"… the story makes no sense.
BUT (before we get to that) let’s take a look at the story itself. The early church has been in existence for about a year or so now, and it has grown so dramatically that it now numbers in the 1000s. Everything seems to be going extremely well… but then the church meets with serious opposition.
A Godly Christian named Stephen has preached before the Sanhedrin and his message was so powerful and “in your face” that the Sanhedrin became furious and they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. This stoning of Stephen began the great persecution of the church.
One of the catalysts of that persecution was a young Pharisee named Saul (we know him as Paul) who saw this Christian group as a threat to the faith of Israel and thus made it his mission to destroy it. Acts 8:3 tells us that he “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
Facing prison and even death, Christians scattered and ran away to find safety. One of those men who ran away was a Godly Deacon named Philip. He went north into Samaria and began preaching there about Jesus. And he was so powerful and convicting in what he preached that… “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said…. (and) 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.” Acts 8:6, 12-13
Shortly after this we’re told that “when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then (Peter and John) laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8:15-17
AND THAT IS ESSENTIALLY THE STORY. There are other side issues to consider, but this basically sums up what we’ve read this morning. And in this simple story there are 3 puzzles here. What are those puzzles?
• 1st puzzle – what right did Philip have to preach? He’s just a deacon. He’s not even an Elder. He’s never been to Bible College and he’s not even ordained. It wouldn’t seem that he was qualified to get into a decent pulpit and preach about Christ.
• 2nd puzzle – why hadn’t the Holy Spirit come upon these new believers? I thought that’s what happened when folks believed, repented, confessed Jesus and were baptized. Isn’t that what you thought Scripture taught. Of course it does. BUT this time it seems they needed the Apostles to come lay hands on them for them to have the Spirit come upon them… what gives?
• 3rd puzzle – why couldn’t Philip lay hands on these folks so that they’d receive the Holy Spirit? WHY did he have to wait on Peter and John to do it? It would seem Philip was more than qualified to do something like this. We’re told he is a man filled with the Spirit himself and he’s able to do all kinds of cool miracles and healings. But he apparently can’t do this. Why?
ILLUS: Now, when it comes to puzzles like Solomon’s Seal or Rubik's cubes and such. I’m fairly lazy. If I can’t solve a puzzle in a reasonable amount of time, I’m not interested. I don’t know the secret. I don’t care enough to learn the secret. So eventually I just set these puzzles aside because I JUST DON’T CARE.