Persecution speeds up evangelism. So far, the story of Acts has focused on Jerusalem and what is interesting is that mission to the nations is not the result of endless praying meetings, or strategic planning sessions, or setting smart goals, its good old fashion persecution. The pressure has been building and it now comes to boiling point where the lid has come off.
And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. ~Acts 8:1-3 (NIV)
The bold preaching has escalated the conflict and the apostles are first arrested, threatened and released. Then arrested again, imprisoned and escaped. Then arrested beaten and released.
In Chapter 7, Stephen is stoned to death with the approval of Saul. We have the first man to be killed for Jesus and the first man to kill Christians. Now its ratchetted up, the attack led by Saul is vicious and violent and the goal is clear: to destroy the church. This time it’s not just apostles but just ordinary men and women, mums and dads are dragged out of their homes and
thrown into jail. The result is that Jewish Christians are dispersed into other nations. Yet again, we see God using evil for good. Persecution becomes the gateway to evangelism.
Tertullian in the 3rd century speaking about the persecution of
Christians wrote “…as often as you mow us down, the more we grow in number. The blood of the Christians is the seed [of the church].” (Apology 50)
Instead of killing off Christianity persecution grows the gospel and builds the church.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. ~Acts 8:4-8 (NIV)
The apostles are now trying to catch up to what God is doing. The message is outrunning the apostles, one of the 7 chosen to wait on tables is Philip and like Stephen, he was full of the Holy Spirit and like Stephen, he was a Greek-speaking Jew. Persecution has taken Philip to a city in Samaria and this is the next stage in the plan of God. Remember what Jesus said
… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8b (NIV)
Jerusalem, done. Judea, done. Samaria, now in progress.
When the Communists kicked out the missionaries from China in 1949 everyone feared that it would be the end of Christianity in China but it gave birth to the house church movement, the number of Christians tripled over the next 30 years. In the last 30 years 80 million Chinese became Christians.
Philip is now breaking new ground for Jesus. Samaritans were the hated feral cousins of Jews and they were ethnically impure. They were the result of 10 tribes intermarrying with their Assyrian victors. The venom between a Samaritan and a Jew is like the venom between an Arab and a Jew. The worst thing the Jews could call Jesus
“… you are a Samaritan and demon possessed” ~John 8:48 (NIV)
They were spiritually impure, they opposed the building of the temple and they only held to the first 5 books of the bible. The real clue they were spiritually bankrupt was when they let Simon the sorcerer became so popular.
Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery ~Acts 8:9-11 (NIV)
He claimed to be great, he acted like he was great and they believed he was great. He was persuasive and all levels of society followed him. He practised in the dark arts, from sorcery to magic spells.
We had a former white witch come to Christ, she was into wicker, casting spells. I asked about her experiences and she said ‘I had a sense of peace when I did the chants, but the moment it was over the peace would leave me’. Coming to Christ gave her a permanent sense of peace.
God did not leave Samaria in the dark, He had a future for these people
… I will restore the fortunes … of Samaria and her daughters, ~Ezekiel 16:53 (NIV)
They had given up on the true God but God had not given up on them, He sent Philip to preach the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and with it came real signs and wonders, not your mickey mouse counterfeits.
But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women ~Acts 8:12 (NIV)
What Philip offered was not the works of men but works of God, not the words of men but the word of God, believing that Jesus is alive and Lord and King. The Samaritans went from “Simon says” to “Jesus says”. Simon himself repents and believes and is baptised. Simon who amazed others is himself now amazed
Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. ~Acts 8:13 (NIV)
Simon, this self-appointed great one bows before the greatest one – the Lord Jesus. But things are not quite right with his heart.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. ~Acts 8:14-17 (NIV)
Can you see the problem? I hope you can! We have a surprising delay between faith in Jesus and the baptism of Spirit. It did occur again in Acts 10 and 19. Why here and why now? For the first time the gospel has gone to the Samaritans. New barriers were broken down. Could Samaritans become Christian? Would they be equal with Jewish Christians?
In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Samaritan. For that reason, the Spirit is withheld until the Apostles lay hands and pray for them and only then does the Spirit come on them. It was absolutely crucial that the apostles could verify. The delay was not setting a pattern for all Christians. Be careful in turning a description into a prescription and confusing what is and what should be. The delay was to confirm once for all that Samaritans were in the kingdom. What happened to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem now happened to Samaritan Christians in Samaria. To prove it the section ends with Apostles preaching through the cities of Samaria.
This passage has been seriously misread and the real question is this: when and how does a person receive the Spirit of God?
- Roman Catholics/Orthodox and some Anglicans say that you are not baptised in Spirit until your Confirmation by a bishop. That is why the hats of a bishop are shaped like flames of fire – Pentecost
- Pentecostals say that there is a 2 step process in the Christian life. Step 1 Repent and Believe in Jesus and Step 2 Baptised by the Spirit, confirmed by speaking in tongues.
Only then will you have victory over sin and Satan, and the only proof of that is speaking in tongues.
Can you see why it’s appealing? Which Christians don’t want more power, more joy and more victory in their life? But the bible is clear, speaking in tongues is a gift given to some not all and there is no mention of tongues in this passage. For others, it’s an attempt to find words to describe wonderful experiences that are given by the Spirit.
So, it’s a real experience but the wrong language, God`s Spirit does many works and it may be tied to gifting or godliness or grasping Christ love, but the language of Baptism of Spirit is not the right language. The Bible language is filled with the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit. Lifelong work of the Spirit in the Christian life.
Traditional Pentecostals see two classes of Christians, those Christians who are baptised with the Spirit and those who are not. Its ironic that the reason why God delays in giving the Spirit to the Samaritan is to affirm that there are no 2 classes of
Christians. Peter already said it on the day of Pentecost ‘Repent and you receive forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit’
Paul is also clear
For we were all baptized by one Spirit …—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. ~1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)
No Christian has missed out, which is not to say that every person who claims to believe are genuine believers. Time sifts out those who are real and those who are not.
Simon the Sorcerer was one who believed and was baptised but there is something wrong with his faith.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” ~Acts 8:18-19 (NIV)
Simon saw the Spirit come when the Apostles laid hands on them and he thought it was a kind of magic. Simon wanted to have access to that power and be great again. You could say that he wanted a good thing, to give the Spirit to others but Peter is not so kind.
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” ~Acts 8:20-23 (NIV)
Peter calls on Simon to repent and for Simon to pray for himself. He does not say, you have an evil spirit which needs to be delivered, he wants Simon himself to pray for mercy. Why is Peter so tough? Simon claimed to be on the inside as a believer in Jesus, if unchecked, Simon would do more damage than Persecution.
Simon wanted to buy his way into ministry in a way that Schumacher bought his way into Formula 1. We already saw the clues, he was overly impressed by signs and wonders and he came from a world of power, and self-glory. It still ran deep in his soul that was full of bitterness because the apostles were the focus and not him.
Peter knows what it’s like to be on the end of a stiff rebuke, remember when Jesus rebuked Peter “God behind me Satan you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men”
How do you receive a rebuke? It will determine how your Christian life will go, so many get one small negative comment or correction and they leave church. Don’t judge me!!! not every correction is right and not every right rebuke is done well but its how we grow brothers and sisters.
Simon needed to learn that you can`t buy your blessings from God. If a second baptism of the Spirit is a serious error then those who moved into Prosperity doctrine have reached a new low.
Is it not evil when we are told we can buy blessings from God, you can`t manipulate God to bless because He doesn’t need your money and He knows your heart.
If you have pledged thinking God owes you then take your pledge back or Repent. Give because you’re thankful or don’t give at all, give for God`s glory or don’t give at all, give because you want the lost saved or don’t give it at all.
Today we saw the Samaritans believe, and they were baptised, next time we resume Acts we will see the first Africans come to faith.