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The Book of Acts Series
Acts, Chapter 8
Acts 8 (New American Standard Bible)
Key events in Chapter 8:
- Saul and the persecution of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3)
- Philip carries the Gospel witness into Samaria (Acts 8:4-8)
- Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9-13 and
- Receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8: 14-17 18-24)
- Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8: 25-40)
With the slaying of Stephen, the beginning of the persecution of the church in Jerusalem by Saul begins:
Saul Persecutes the Church
1Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.
3But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
Chapter 8 begins the story of the persecution and scattering of the church. As chapter 7 ends, it is not difficult to hear the cries of those I the Sanhedrin as they rush forward in anger to murder Stephen. This is followed by the cries of those “devout men” who come to bury Stephen and express “loud lamentation” over his body. Where the Sanhedrin’s cries were anger, the devout men cry out in sorrow as they respond to the loss of a good man.
8 begins with Luke’s report of a great persecution against the church and a
scattering into Judea and
The holy spirit was with the church at Pentecost. It was with the church as Peter preached and thousands were added to the numbers of the church. It was there as Priests heard the Gospel message and joined with the believers. Luke indicates that the Holy Spirit was strangely silent during this period of persecution. It seems reasonable to ask, where was the Holy Spirit now? Was God in this?
The truth is that even in the chaos and crisis, God’s will was being accomplished. The interesting thing is that he was using a man (Saul) who was the enemy to accomplish His plan.
In Chapter 1 of Acts, Jesus charges the Apostles to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Through the persecution and scattering of the church by Saul, this charge was being accomplished. As difficult as it sounds, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth. The truth is that God works to use the very obstacles thrown in the path of Christians to advance his cause.
Eventually, God answers Stephen’s prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” As Saul pulls people from their homes and throws them into prison, there is no indication that Paul will become the planter of churches – the one who scattered churches across Asia like salt across a salad. There is no indication that Saul, who approved of Stephen’s death, would someday change the world as the apostle Paul. The suffering of these believers is not without purpose. In hindsight, we see that the persecution that scattered the church carried to places that it might not have ever gone, otherwise. God (The Holy Spirit) is in control and although we may not understand, even the persecution accomplished God’s will.
In short, God did not withdraw from the church during the persecution. Even during the terror and chaos, His purpose was served.
Looking back toward the persecution in Jerusalem from today, we know that that persecuted and scattered church went on to spread the Gospel around the world and fulfill Christ’s Great Commission.
It is also interesting that God makes the early church depend not upon the apostles but upon the gifts of the Spirit distributed to everyone. Those who were scattered abroad were not the apostles. Luke is careful to tell us that the apostles remained in Jerusalem. These witnesses who were scattered into Judea and Samaria were ordinary, plain-vanilla Christians (like us). They had gifts of the Holy Spirit, but might have never discovered their gifts if they had not been pushed out, and put to work. So God used this persecution to place them in circumstances where they began to develop the gifts of evangelism, of witnessing, of helps, wisdom, knowledge, teaching, prophecy, and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit that had been made available to them.
Philip Carries the Gospel Witness Into Samaria:
Philip in Samaria
4Therefore, those who had been
scattered went about preaching the word. 5Philip went down to the
If verses 1-4 of Chapter 8 represent the first scene of Chapter 8 (beginning of the persecution and the scattering), then the second scene is represented by Verses 4-8 with the carrying of the witness of the Gospel message into Samaria by Philip.
It is interesting to note that the new wave of witnesses, who carried the witness of the Gospel message out of Jerusalem, was not the Apostolic witness. Luke tells us that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. These witnesses were new messengers. They were second generation witnesses. Their work was accomplished without the Apostolic credential. They were not Seminary graduates, or noted theologians. Like most of us, they were common people.
And, so Philip arrives in Samaria proclaiming Christ. Luke tells us, “the crowds with one accord give attention” to what he says and gave attention to the signs he was performing. The Gospel message of Deliverance was preached. Miracles were witnessed and the result of Philips work was much rejoicing in the city.
There is one certainty about the Gospel message. When the words of Christ are shared (when Jesus is proclaimed), people listen and lives are changed.
Simon the Magician:
9Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, "This man is what is called the Great Power of God." 11And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.
12But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.
In New Testament times the Samaritans occupied the region between Judea and Galilee. They were descendents of Jews who had intermarried with foreigners during the Babylonian dispensation. During this time of intermarriage with pagans, their religion became a hodgepodge of Old-Testament texts and superstitions. Samaritans often collaborated with conquerors whose culture and beliefs they added to their own. The Jews, of course, stubbornly refused assimilation and despised their fallen cousins as spiritually defiled, superstitious, and worthless.
As Luke shares the story of Simon, he shares the spiritual vulnerability of the Samarian. Simon, a dramatic charlatan with promises of spiritual power and quick fixes was fascinating to them. Simon had named himself “the Great Power of God,” and the Samarians fell for his black magic and charismatic self-promotion.
The words, "practicing magic," mean that Simon was a seer, a prophet of the occult, a sorcerer. He dealt with evil spirits to work wonders beyond the powers of men. The religious community of Samaritans should have known from Deuteronomy, one of the five books of Moses, that they were to have nothing to do with this kind of activity. (Deut. 18:10-11). However Simon claimed to be "someone great," so that all called him, "the Great Power of God." While the Samaritans may not have been totally captivated by Simon, at least they were "astonished". He held their attention momentarily.
Many who live around us have been fooled by charlatans. They have a twisted, partially true version of the Bible somewhere in their head. They may know some of the lessons of scripture, perhaps badly taught. They may have listened to self proclaimed experts who told them that nothing in scripture could be known for certain or truly believed. They may have blended the promises of mystics into their beliefs. Eventually they have nowhere to turn for the truth. Their longing for God may be awakened but never satisfied. This is the relationship the Samaritans had with Simon the magician, a charlatan who proclaimed himself to be the Great Power of God.
Even Simon was moved by the witness message of Philip and was baptized. Luke tells us that Simon continued on with Philip watching and being “Constantly amazed” at what Philip was accomplishing.
Those in Samaria Receive The Holy Spirit:
14Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.
The strangeness of this account:
The formula for receiving the Holy spirit throughout the rest of Acts is that the Holy Spirit comes to those who believe, but this is not what happens in Samaria. It seems reasonable to ask why the Holy Spirit doesn’t descend on these people when they believe and are baptized.
Most of us understand that the Holy Spirit comes into us when we believe. Water baptism is an outward sign that we belong to Christ, and we expect the Holy Spirit to be present already. The only place we see a different formula is here in Acts 8.
It may be that this is the first time that conversion had occurred without Apostolic oversight and that their involvement through the placing of hands was required (unlikely). It might be that those in Samaria did not “Truly Believe” until the Apostles came to them (unlikely). Perhaps the Holy Spirit wanted to impress the unity of the church on those in Samaria; that it was not to be a church in Jerusalem and a church in Samaria, but one church, universal. Certainly there was some reason, because Luke plainly stated that the laying on of hands was required for those in Samaria, who had believed and had been baptized, to receive the Holy Spirit.
This is a question for which there is no ready answer. It might be appropriate to mention that the Bible can be a difficult book for us to fully understand.
We do need to understand that there is no Gospel and no life-changing message that is not apostolic. What we must hold to tenaciously and return to often is what Jesus’ apostles taught and that the teachings of the apostles is embodied in the New Testament, the authoritative, accurate, forever-preserved witness and instruction of the apostles. It is the Gospel and we must study and believe and teach it.
However, we must also note that the apostles themselves are not required for authentic ministry to take place. Philip and the others were excellent evangelists. God honors ministry in the hands of anyone who will tell the truth of the Gospel. He doesn’t require senior, ordained, credentialed people to do his work. While we don’t have a Gospel without the apostolic witness, everybody can and should preach that Gospel and God will honor their teaching if it is the truth.
Simon The Magician:
18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19saying, "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21"You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22"Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23"For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity."
24But Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me."
The Sadness of Simon’s Belief:
For whatever he believed when he accepted Christ and was baptized, Simon was still a charlatan. He still practiced black magic and was a self promoter. In his heart, Simon’s motives were wrong. He believed that with enough money he could accomplish what the apostles held as a spiritual gift from The Holy Spirit. He wanted the ability to share the Holy Spirit as a part of his magic act, never understanding that that was anything but the desire of the Holy Spirit.
As the apostles said, Simon’s heart was not right before God. What Simon needed more than obtaining the gift of placing of hands was forgiveness for his wickedness of heart and intent toward himself. Simon wanted the status that would come to those who could dispense the Spirit of God. He longed for, and wanted to buy, the authority to touch people with the touch of God and thereby exalt himself. He coveted power, authority, and spiritual electricity, never understanding that whenever there is an authentic spiritual encounter, there is real power.
There is no conclusion to Simon’s story. We don’t know what happens and can’t say with any certainty whether Simon ever becomes a believer or not.
The Ethiopian Eunuch Receives
An Ethiopian Receives Christ
25So, when they had solemnly
testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to
32Now the passage of Scripture which
he was reading was this:
34The eunuch answered Philip and
said, "Please tell me, of whom does the prophet
say this? Of himself or of someone else?" 35Then Philip
opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
36As they went along the road they came to some water; and the
eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 37[And
Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he
answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of
God."] 38And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both
went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39When
they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away;
and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. 40But
Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed
through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to
This portion of Luke’s story could be viewed as a very strange occurrence. To report the events is a very brief manner, Philip was sent to a specific location to address a specific person. Then after the man is baptized, Philip is spirited away and the man continues on. The incident is reported and then Luke continues on.
What does this incident tell us?
- There is much rejoicing in the life of the Ethiopian, just as in the city of Samaria. New life brings new Joy.
- Philip is led – first by an Angel and then by the Holy Spirit to an encounter with a very different person than he was accustomed to dealing with. The man was an Ethiopian – from Cush – a location considered by the Jews (and the Romans) to be out on the edge of the earth (a far-away place). The man was a very important Governmental official, representing the Queen of Ethiopia, accompanied by solders and a political entourage. He was a eunuch – a very much different in appearance, dress and speech.
- Philip was led specifically to this man and led to him for a very specific reason.
- Philip was open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He was willing to do whatever the Holy Spirit directed.
- Evidently it was the will of the Holy Spirit to lead this strange man into the kingdom of God, and that is what Philip did.
Then there is the scripture the eunuch is reading:
Out of all the text of the Old Testament, this court official is reading Isaiah, and in particular the passage that talks about One who suffers unjustly under the hand of God. Why does God cause this One to suffer? Who is he, and what does it mean? The official is anxious to know the God who speaks of a sin-bearing Sufferer. Hearing that text and Philip’s explanation, he realizes his heart has been changed and he has fallen in love with the suffering Savior.
The eunuch then asks an interesting question: “Is there anything that prevents me from being baptized?”
It is interesting that his question assumes the negative. A eunuch would never have been permitted in the temple, and certainly someone from the farthest ends of the earth would always be regarded as suspect. In all likelihood, he has encountered barriers in his search for God for his whole life, and so he asks, “Is there anything I can do to get past the last barrier so that I can belong to Christ?”
There is never a barrier to those who earnestly seek out a relationship with Christ and so Philip goes with him into the water. The eunuch makes public the proclamation of his faith and goes away singing God’s praises.
Today’s world hasn’t changed. God is attracting folks to himself who will surprise every one of us. There aren’t fewer angels in the world than there used to be--and angels will send you on missions if you let them. The Spirit provides opportunities for each of us, every day. There is a question that each of us must answer: “Are we willing to be used in ways like this? God’s ways are not our ways and the question becomes, are we willing to work His will in His way?
For each of us, there may be a day when we are sent to a desert road and find ourselves in a situation where we need to do something that has nothing to do with anything else in our life. At that time, we need to remember that God loves people (All people). God’s touch has no limit of selection. God reaches out to everyone and woos whoever will listen to the call of His Holy Spirit. We need to know beforehand that the limiting factor in these strange encounters is us. We serve Him best when we are always available to allow angels to send us where they will.
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