Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ… So there was much joy in that city.
Acts 8:5, 8
Someone wise once told me, “Everyone divides the world into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. No one—not even the worst of humanity—ever reckons themselves one of the ‘bad guys’”.
Who are your “bad guys”? Think of all the people you have known throughout your life. Is there someone who you consider to be your nemesis? Do you live in dread of certain people groups? What part of town do you prefer to avoid? For the Jews of Jesus’ time, there was a palpable prejudice against the Samaritans.
The scattered preached. Persecution against the Jerusalem Church, led by Saul of Tarsus, caused a providential exodus of believers. Gospel seeds were being carried by the Spirit’s breath onto the fertile lands of Judea and Samaria. Persecution drove proclamation and Philip began preaching the Gospel of Christ to the Samaritans. The “city of Samaria” was the ancient capital of the northern kingdom of Israel and the animosity between them and the Jews in the south was deeply felt by all parties. About a thousand years before Jesus’ birth, ten of the twelve tribes separated themselves into an independent nation. For their sinful rebellion against God, Sargon of Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom and forced the tribes of Israel to intermarry with other people groups. As a result, the Jews of Jesus’ day considered the Samaritans to be racial and religious mongrels. Calling someone a “Samaritan” was an ethnic pejorative (John 8:48). For these reasons, it shocked the disciples that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” to speak with the woman at the well (John 4:4) and may have further surprised them to discover that they must do even more than “pass-through” Samaria on their way to the “ends of the earth” (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8).
The Samaritans paid attention. In a repetition of the Pentecost pattern, the Samaritans were in “one accord” (Acts 2:1). Why? The Holy Spirit was working among a hated, disenfranchised, foreign, unclean, and uncool people group to pave the way for the Good News. They paid attention to Philip’s preaching, but also saw many signs of God’s power among them. What they were receiving was not simply another religion, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ who came for all kinds of people without discrimination (John 1:7, 3:16, Acts 2:8-17). We must be careful here because the Samaritans were not yet repenting and believing in Christ alone, but that would soon come as the Spirit granted them the new birth. Millennia-old religious and cultural walls were collapsing, not because they fell, but because He pushed them. If “the gates of hell shall not stand” against Jesus’ Church, what chance do the powers of prejudice stand?
The city partied. Jerusalem was becoming a city of suffering and sorrow, but Samaria had become a city of joy. Luke’s history of the Church is truly a tale of two cities in the best and worst of times. How a person or a people respond to the Gospel is telling. Impenitence responds with hateful anger, but faith responds with joy. For a thousand years, the Samaritans were told God had abandoned them, that they were not God’s kind of people. Through Philip’s Gospel proclamation, God touched the untouchable, they received the message that Messiah came for people just like them, and they were thrilled to hear the news! Do you respond to the Gospel with joy?
Here’s a powerful principle: Our prejudices cannot survive His mission.
Jesus said, “You will receive power…and you will be my witnesses…in Samaria” (Acts 1:8, emphasis mine). Those who received the Great Commission found that they had to “lay aside every weight and sin” of prejudice which slowed their progress. The Holy Spirit was the power of their witness and the power which overcame their prejudice. Will the same be said for us? In two millennia, will the Church remember us as people whose biased baggage was laid down at the foot of Christ’s cross for the sake of His mission?
A teenaged girl was at odds with her family. After trying everything else, her parents asked her to talk to their pastor. Reluctantly and cynically, she agreed and went to see him one afternoon. When he asked about her troubles at home, she replied sharply, “I hate my mother!” What advice would you give? Should a course of counseling sessions be prescribed? Is there a process group for mother-hating daughters? Wisely, the pastor asked her to pray for her mother every day with specificity and detail for two weeks. When the girl came in for her follow-up appointment, her pastor asked how things were going with her mother. The words had barely cleared his throat when she began to sob. Her heart had softened and she was overcome with the love of Jesus for her mother. Perhaps the power to overcome our prejudices is closer than we know.
Jesus’ Gospel embraces the hated with a love that overcomes prejudice. And “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5). When Jesus overcomes our prejudices, it will be “the best of times and the worst of times.”