Goodnews for the Ungodly (Acts 8:25) | Jared Betts

Seeing the Beauty in this Verse

This is one of those verses where it is very easy for us to quickly pass over without giving much consideration to its implications and, therefore, miss the beauty of it entirely. What often happens is that we swiftly move on to Philip’s interaction with the Ethiopian Eunuch and fail to appreciate the grandeur of Luke’s simple yet profound relaying of church history that the gospel was being preached to many villages of the Samaritans.

Now, to grasp the greatness of what is being conveyed here it is imperative we first familiarize ourselves with who the Samaritans were, and then we must turn our attention to who the “they” are in this verse who are proclaiming the message of life in Christ to this people. Once this is accomplished, we will see true love for neighbor epitomized, and be reminded who the good news of the gospel is for.

A Tale of Two Peoples

So, who were the Samaritans? For starters we should understand that the city of Samaria was positioned about forty miles north of Jerusalem and was the ancient capital of the Northern kingdom of Israel when the nation was divided.[1]

Due to its constant idolatry and rebellion against God, He eventually gave the Northern kingdom of Israel over into the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C., which not only resulted in many Israelites being dispersed throughout other gentile nations, but other gentile nations occupying the region of Samaria and residing among the Israelites that remained in the land. Intermarriage occurred, and this in turn resulted in a people who were a mix of Jew and Gentile, known as the Samaritans. They were a people that had taken pagan thought and attempted to syncretize it to Judaism. 2 Kings 17:33 describes them this way:

33 They feared the Lord and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile.”

Verse 41 says:

41 So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.”

 To sum it up, the Samaritans were an ungodly people, for they continued to partake in the very things that prompted God to use the Assyrians against them in the first place. They feigned worship to the living God, all the while clinging to dead ones.

Their syncretized belief and contrived worship, therefore, made them enemies of God and adversaries to His people. When it came to the rebuilding of the temple under the reign of Zerubbabel, the Samaritans asked to take part in the task but were swiftly denied. Ezra 4:1-3 says:

1 Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.”

In other words, request denied! The Samaritans then retaliated by attempting to thwart the Jews plans to rebuild. As the book of Ezra goes on to say:

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

There is much to say about the Samaritans and their history, especially with the Jewish people. What is important for us to understand is that Jews hated Samaritans, and Samaritans hated Jews. It is a tale of two peoples. It is the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. As one source says:

“The relation between Jew and Samaritan was one of hostility… (The Samaritans) rejected all the Old Testament except the Pentateuch, of which they claimed to have an older copy than the Jews, and to observe the precepts better. The Jews repaid hate with hate. They cast suspicion on the Samaritan copy of the law, and disallowed the steadfast claim of the Samaritans to Jewish birth. Social and commercial relations, though they could not be broken off, were reduced to the lowest possible figure. ‘The Samaritan was publicly cursed in their synagogues – could not be adduced as a witness in the Jewish courts – could not be admitted to any sort of proselytism, and was thus, so far as the Jew could affect his position, excluded from eternal life.’”[2]

The Disciples Were No Different than Jonah

We see the Jews hostility towards the Samaritan’s in New Testament times. People attempted to insult Jesus by calling Him a one in John 8:48 saying:

“Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”          

John makes the hostility between Jew and Samaritans evident when he records for us Jesus’ interactions with the women at the well who was one. John 4:7-9 reads:

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”

One of the clearest examples of Jewish hostility is seen with none other than the apostle John himself, along with his brother James. Take a moment to recall what they said when the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus. Luke records that:

54 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”[3] 

They wanted to watch their enemies be destroyed. Jesus’ response, however, was not what they had anticipated. Luke goes on to say:

55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”[4]

Peter and John were like Jonah with the Ninevites. Nineveh was the Assyrian’s capitol city, and they were a deplorable people. They did heinous and atrocious things to their enemies from ripping peoples tongues out by the root, flaying people alive and then stretching the skin out upon the city walls to strike fear in people. They would take joy in impaling people upon posts, or depriving people of their eyes or extremities. They found satisfaction in cruelty. As one of their kings boasted, “I entered that city; its inhabitants I slaughtered like lambs.” Truly, they typified ungodliness.

              Jonah, as with all Israel, therefore, hated the Ninevites. We should understand, however, that Jonah did not run in the other direction because of what he knew about the Ninevites. He paid the fare and fled to Tarshish because of what he understood about God. He knew that God was compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; and Onewho keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin, and He did not want them to experience any of this.

If you do not believe me, just listen to Jonah himself after he preaches to the people, and they turn from their wicked ways and from the violence which was in their hands and God refrains from reducing the city to rubble. In other words, He has compassion on them. Jonah 4:1-2 then says:

1 But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”

He did not want ungodly people to benefit from God’s benevolence. He attempted to circumvent God, thus making himself the arbiter of God’s justice and mercy.

Filled with rage at God, he says, “Take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”[5] God then asks him a simple question, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”[6] Jonah does not answer this question. Instead, he goes up on a hill and pouts like a little baby that has not gotten his way to watch and see if fire reigns down upon these deplorable people who have turned from themselves and to the living God for His mercy and grace. As Jonah 4:5 reads:

“Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.”

His hatred for them was so great that he patiently waited for them to be consumed by God.

            May we understand that the only thing God destroys in the latter part of Jonah is not a city, but rather a man’s pride, prejudice, and partiality. Jonah 4:6-11 tells us that:

The Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

In other words, “Who are you to be the arbiter of My mercy? Who are you to attempt to limit my pardon?” God said to Moses:

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”[7]

All of creation is His. By virtue of His being the Creator, He was the right to show mercy to whomever He chooses, and we are in no position whatsoever to determine experiences it.

            It is interesting to note several things about the book of Jonah. First, it has been traditionally understood that Jonah was the author of it. This is especially interesting given its ending abruptly. Jonah does not record for us his response to God’s question. Though there is not a written answer in the Scripture, we are not left without one altogether.

            In 2014, Jonah’s tomb was destroyed by the ISIS terrorist group. What is important to know is that it was destroyed in Mosul, Iraq. For those that do not know, Mosul is modern day Nineveh. The implications of Jonah being buried in a tomb here is tremendous, for it indicates to us that he did learn the lesson God had taught him. It implies that he went to live among the people he wished God would destroy. It tells us that he repented of his wickedness and turned his gaze upon God, and out of adoration for Him, went to live among his neighbor and to love them as he had loved himself.

  1. The Samaritans Hear the Gospel

This is where we really begin to grasp the greatness of God contained in this verse. Here the ungodly and underserving Samaritans are having the gospel proclaimed to them. They are having the message of Christ declared to them so that they might experience forgiveness and life, so that they too might taste of God’s compassion, and grace, and loving kindness.

The beauty is found in who the “they” are in this verse who were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. We know that the “they” were starting back to Jerusalem after they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord to the Samaritans who had come to faith under Philips preaching. Luke reveals to us who the “they” are in verse 14 of Acts 8. The first name we see is Peter. The second, and most important to our study today, is none other than John Zebedee.

The implication in our text is both significant and beautiful. It is that the very man who at one point desired to see these people get consumed with fire because of his pride, prejudice, and partiality towards them, now desires to see these ungodly people taste of the kindness of God and experience life.

This is so much more than Peter and John simply fulfilling the commission Christ gave to them. It is God’s gospel transforming them and renewing their minds so that they were no longer conformed to the thinking of the world. It is men being governed, not by cultural norms or sinful propensities due to their fallen nature, but by Christ, and Him alone.

  1. The Good Samaritan

You may recall a time in the ministry of Christ when a Jewish lawyer stood up to test Him, asking, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”[8] Luke 10:26-29 tells us that Jesus said to him:

“What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

His initial response is simple, “Love God with the totality of your being, and your neighbor without flaw, and you will live.”    

Now, many of us understand that Jesus was not teaching that one can made right with God by their adherence to the Law. His purpose was so that people my consider how fully they had actually kept the Law of God. As one person puts it:

“His in-depth explanation of the law in places such as the Sermon on the Mount,[9] as well as His words to the rich young ruler,[10] were spoken to get people to see that their estimation of their obedience was far greater than the reality, and that they would have to give up relying on their obedience for their justification.”[11]

This is important, because notice what Luke goes on to point out after Jesus essentially tells him to fulfill the Law and live. He says of the lawyer:

29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

To the Jew, one’s neighbor was understood to be one who shared blood. They were taught by the rabbis to love their neighbors and hate their enemies. Jesus then tells this lawyer a story of a man who was left in a helpless condition, and compassion was shown to him, not by blood, but by a notorious enemy. He said:

30 A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

What did Jesus teach in the Beatitudes? He said:

43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[12]

He said in Matthew 7:12:

12 In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Goodnews for the Ungodly

Do we realize that there is not a single person on this earth who is not our neighbor? All men, women, and children are. There is no ethnicity that eradicates this, nor class that invalidates it, nor age that abolishes it, nor gender that nullifies it. Every being that bears the image of the One with whom we have to do is our neighbor, and it is our duty to love them as we love ourselves to the glory of God. The question is, are you doing this?

May we never possess minds like Jonah where we look down upon the unbelievers that God has providentially paced in our lives as if we are somehow superior to them. Yes, we understand that mankind is totally depraved. What this means is that the fall of man has impacted all people in such a way that the totality of their being is tainted by sin. Though they bear the image of God, their whole person is affected by sin in such a way that everything, their body, soul, spirit, mind, and will is marred.

Total depravity, however, does not mean utter depravity. This is to say that people are not as wicked as they could possibly be. Realize that this goes both ways. Yes, this means that your neighbor has the capacity to be more evil then they actually are, but the very same thing can be said for you.

We can all says as Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”[13]If it were not for the gracious work of the Spirit regenerating us and sanctifying us, we would still be cut off from the life of God, dead in our sin, darkened in our understanding, and walking according to the futility of our minds because of the hardness of our hearts. Titus 3:3-7 says:

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness, but in accordance with His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He richly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”[14]

God has graciously shown in our darkened hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.[15] He has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son in whom we have redemption.[16] He has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that we might proclaim the excellencies of His mercy.[17]

Consider the words of a man who “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” He said:

15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”[18]

I appreciate the words of George Whitfield when he said:

“When you hear of a notorious sinner, instead of thinking you do well to be angry, beg of Jesus Christ to convert, and make him a monument of His free grace.”

We are not to love people because they are worthy of it. We are to love them because they are fellow image bearers of God. It was John Calvin who said:

“Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”

            May we, therefore, love our neighbors as our selves. May we do unto others as we would have others do unto us because we bear the same image.

May we take whatever power or possessions that God has providentially bestowed upon each and everyone us and utilize such means to care for those around us without hesitation, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.[19]

May we carry ourselves in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called and conduct ourselves with wisdom towards outsiders, making the most of every opportunity, and letting our speech always be seasoned with grace.[20]

Finally, may we all realize that the greatest way we can love our unbelieving neighbors is ultimately not by meeting their physical needs or being amiable with them, but by doing what Peter and John did with the Samaritans and giving them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their greatest need is Him. It does not matter how ungodly they are, the good news of the gospel is for them. Jesus did not come for the healthy, but the sick. He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Yes, wield the Law in such a way that reveals to them how far they have fallen from God’s glory. Once this leaves them in a helpless condition of ungodliness let them know that you serve a God who justifies ungodly people. He does so not on the basis of their works which they have done, but on the basis of faith alone in the One who became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The same means through which God saved you while you were yet helpless and ungodly is the very same exclusives means through which He will save them.

Give them Christ, crucified and risen again, so that He might forgive them for their sin and not take it into account and remember it no more because He has removed it as far as the east is from the west. Give them Christ so that He might give them the life they need!

[1] 1 Kings 16:24

[2] Merrill Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary; Page 959-60

[3] Luke 10:54

[4] Luke 10:55-56

[5] Jonah 4:3

[6] Jonah 4:4

[7] Exodus 33:19

[8] Luke 10:25

[9] Matthew 5:21-48

[10] Mark 10:17-22


[12] Matthew 5:43-48

[13] 1 Corinthians 15:10

[14] Titus 3:3-7

[15] 2 Corinthians 4:6

[16] Colossians 1:13-14

[17] 1 Peter 2:9-10

[18] 1 Timothy 1:15-16

[19] 1 John 3:16-18

[20] Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 4:5-6

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