Scriptures

Acts 8

Introduction

“And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at 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 men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went”. Acts 8:1-4

The Church Persecuted And Scattered

In the previous chapter we read Stephen repeated with his dying breath the words of his Master Jesus, ‘forgive them’ and ’Father receive my spirit’ Luke 23:34. And in this chapter, so what Luke is going to share with us one of the most difficult times in church history.

Luke introduces us to a man named Saul as the person who gave the approval of Stephen’s death. This same Saul who later would become Paul and turned out to be one of the greatest apostles of Christ is the history of the church.

Remember Jesus had given specific instructions for the apostles to ‘go into all the world and preach the good news,’  Mark 16:15. Jesus also said that the apostles will be ‘His witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’, Acts 1:8.

Immediately following Stephen’s death, an intense period of persecution followed, headed by a young Jewish Rabbi named Saul. Luke tells us that ‘godly’ men buried Stephen and greatly mourned his death.

Now to me this is amazing, these God fearing men from among the Jews still had enough faith in God to openly bury a Christian who had died such a violent death for preaching the Gospel.

We may ask what is amazing about that? The Sanhedrin didn’t do anything about these God fearing men, why? Because they must have recognized how wrong their actions were since their custom would not allow an individual grave and lamentation for a person who had been judicially stoned. Yet again the Jews kill another innocent man and they know it.

Now it’s interesting to see the apostles remaining in Jerusalem, and the other disciples driven to every corner of Judea and Samaria. Why did the apostles stay behind?

Clement of Alexandria says, that the Lord told them to stay in Jerusalem for 12 years, others believe they thought they had to stay behind there, as that’s where everyone knew where they would be.

When the devil wants to destroy a church, he will usually use the form of divide and conquer and clearly that’s what’s happening here. If Satan wants to destroy a church he will also attack the leadership of that church because if he can destroy them, he usually ends up destroying the rest of the flock.

But what we can also see here is God’s divine intervention. We see God protecting and keeping His apostles’ safe, after all, in the mind of Saul everyone else who opposed the church was trouble, but God’s will, will be done. God doesn’t do evil but He can use the evilness of men to get His will done.

The Gospel was supposed to begin in Jerusalem where it did but it was also to be spread in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

But that wasn’t happening, the church was quiet happy to stay in Jerusalem but God wasn’t happy. And so what we see happening here is God allowing the terrible acts of wicked men, who were persecuting the church.

Why was God allowing this to happen? Because the Gospel needed to be heard in other parts of the earth and that wasn’t going to happen as long as the church stayed in its comfort zone.

The only persecution we’re really ever going to experience is rejection, but the faith of these Christians needs to be commended, because even in the face of death they shared their faith.

When Saul of Tarsus got wind of where Christians met, that sent fear throughout the whole church and they were frightened. They were frightened but they wouldn’t give up the faith.

Even though some were caught and thrown into vile prisons and then brought them before the elders in the synagogue, who tried to force them to deny Jesus, they wouldn’t give up their faith in God, Acts 22:4 / Acts 26:10.

These Christians would rather die than deny their faith in Christ. Paul said that he had many Christians beaten and punished but still they would not deny their faith in Christ, Acts 26:11.

It’s our faith in Christ which helps us through many difficult circumstances in life. God allowed the evilness of wicked men to happen so that the gospel can be spread and that’s what Luke tells us about next.

Philip In Samaria

“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city’. Acts 8:4-8

This is not the apostle Philip, Acts 8:40 / Acts 21:8, this is the Philip that is mentioned in Acts 6:5, as one of the seven. This Philip was an evangelist, he was a servant and now he is an evangelist and he is now in Samaria.

The city of Samaria was built by Omri, who was a wicked king in Israel and it eventually became the capital city for the ten tribes of the northern kingdom.

Now the Samaritans were of mixed descent coming from the intermarriage of Jews and Gentiles and the Jews saw the Samaritans as unclean, in other words, they were half Jew and half Gentile. Others saw them as being more Jew than Gentile.

If a Jew was walking down the street and he saw a Samaritan coming towards him the Jew would cross over the other side to avoid being contaminated.

Remember it was in Samaria that Jesus met the woman at the well and she was amazed that He actually spoke to her, never mind ask her to give him a drink, John 4:9 / John 4:19-26.

This Samaritan woman had no problems believing who Jesus claimed to be. In fact when she went back to Samaria and told everyone what happened when she met the Jesus, John 4:39-41.

And so despite of previous grievances against the Samaritans, Philip went to Samaria and watered the seed which Christ had already sown when he spoke to the woman at the well and the other Samaritans who believed in Him.

Now what exactly did Philip preach? He preached Christ, Philip preached Jesus as the promised Messiah, and as we have already seen with the words of the Samaritan women the Samaritans would already be very familiar with the Messiah, Deuteronomy 18:15-18.

The message which Philip was preaching hit home for multitudes of the Samaritans, and that message was confirmed as being true because God confirmed it came from Him by enabling Philip to work miracles.

People who were sick were made well, those paralyzed and lame were able to walk again, those possessed by demons had the demons driven out of them. And the message and the miracles which confirmed the message caused the city to be filled with joy.

Remember Philip had the ability to perform these miracles because the apostles had earlier laid their hands upon him and bestowed him with this gift, Acts 6:6.

Simon The Sorcerer

“Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced 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 the divine power known as the Great Power.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.” Acts 8:9-11

Luke now introduces us to a man named Simon who was a sorcerer. Simon uses magic and trickery to convince people that he was a spokesman for God. And he must have been doing this for some time because Luke tells us that both high and low classes of people were paying attention to him and thought he was from God.

I believe there is a lot of that happening in the religious world around us today. People are being drawn into believing anything they are being taught because of something they think they see happening.

But when we put our trust in the teachings of God and His Word as we find it revealed in His Word, that eliminates any fears of being misled by false prophets and false miracle workers, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

Some people say that we need some sort of supernatural gift to prove we’re a Christian and we have the Spirit, but Jesus doesn’t teach that.

He doesn’t mention anything about recognising people by their gifts but what He does say is that you can recognise those who claim to be Christians by their fruit, Matthew 7:15-17 / Galatians 5:22-23.

People claim they have some revelation from God need to ask themselves if God has revealed once for all the ‘faith’ or He hasn’t, Jude 3.

God has either given us ‘everything’ we need for life and godliness through our knowledge revealed in His word or He hasn’t, 2 Peter 1:1-3.

His word either is useful for the teaching, rebuking, correcting and training and we are ‘thoroughly equipped for everything’ He wants us to know and do or we’re not, 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

In other words, God’s Word is all we need or it isn’t. All in all, it seems to clear to me that God’s Word is all we need to know God, live like He wants us to live and if we follow His plan of salvation we will be with Him forever in heaven.

When Philip preached the good news about the Christ and His kingdom, with the accompanying signs people were set free from these false prophets.

“But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.” Acts 8:12-13

This is one of those passages where common sense needs to come into place. Philip preached the kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ, the text doesn’t mention anything about Philip preaching baptism.

But common sense tells us that this verse makes it clear that preaching belief in Jesus and burial in His Name is a crucial part of preaching about the kingdom.

Why would both men and women be baptised if Philip didn’t preach it? Why would Simon himself having been amazed by what he saw and heard, believe and be baptized?

Because baptism for the forgiveness of our sins is part of the good news. We’ve already established that baptism is for the forgiveness of our sins when we looked, Acts 2:38.

Baptism is part of the good news because it’s through baptism for the forgiveness of our sins that unites us with Christ and His baptism and His death, Romans 6:3-5.

The Samaritans had no trouble understanding what Philip was preaching to them concerning Jesus and what Jesus wants everyone to do.

“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into 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

When the good news about what was happening in Samaria got to the ears of the apostles who were still in Jerusalem, Luke tells us they sent Peter and John to the city. What we see happening here is the power of Jesus changing lives and people’s attitudes towards others.

It wasn’t all that long ago when John and his brother, James, asked Jesus to destroy Samaria. It wasn’t that long ago that the Jewish John wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy this Samaritan city that refused to receive Jesus, Luke 9:51-56.

But now the new Christian John is praying for them, and not only did he pray for them but he and Peter laid their hands on them that they might receive the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit.

And it’s here that we discover the real reason why Simon wanted to become a Christian.

“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.” 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. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages”. Acts 8:18-25

Before we look at Simon’s sin, let me point out a couple of important truths revealed here in this text. Clear evidence of a person receiving the miraculous gifts must have been present, because Simon was able to ‘see’ this being accomplished through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

Remember that Philip was numbered among the seven in Acts 6:5-6, and he was one of the men whom the apostle’s had laid their hands upon to bestow miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

Ask yourself this question, why didn’t Philip pass on the miraculous gifts to those who were baptised in Samaria? The simple answer is, he couldn’t because he did not have the ability to bestow miraculous gifts onto anyone. That’s why he sent for Peter and John to do it because he couldn’t.

My point is this, it was only the apostles who had the ability to pass on these miraculous gifts. And if we were around then and they bestowed these gifts upon us, then we, like Philip could perform miracles but we could not pass those abilities on to someone else.

In other words, when the apostles died, no one was left to pass on these miraculous gifts. And when those who had these gifts bestowed upon them who were still living after the apostles died, when they died all miraculous gifts died with them. Why? Because just like Philip they could not pass these gifts on, that’s why.

This is also one text of many texts that supports the fact that not all Christians were given miraculous gifts. Simon had believed and had been baptized, Mark 16:16, so there is no doubt he had been saved from his former sins, Acts 2:38.

Yet, when Simon was confronted with a power potentially so useful for dominating the city of Samaria, he reverted to a materialistic approach and tried to purchase the power from Peter and John. Not all Christians received miraculous gifts and Simon is one of those people.

Simon’s attempt to purchase this power with money led Peter to tell Simon he and his money would perish together if his heart was not changed. He could have no part in matters eternal so long as his heart was not right with God.

Some people become Christians for the wrong reasons and some become Christians for the right reasons. But every single Christians is tempted in many different ways. Simon’s temptation to be even more popular was so great; he was even willing to pay for it.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great in God’s kingdom, provided you’re willing to start from the bottom up, Matthew 20:25-28. We don’t become great in God’s kingdom by becoming a dictator, we became great by serving.

When we serve and become a slave for Christ and our brothers and sisters in Christ first, then we become great. Christianity is not a popularity contest, Christianity is a group of slaves who are willing to serve from the bottom up, Philippians 2:5-11.

And if we find ourselves wanting to become great by any means other than serving, then we must do what Peter instructed Simon to do, pray that God would forgive us.

Simon who became a Christian and was freed from sin and the power of sin allowed his heart to be bound by sin once again. And so Simon acknowledging to the apostles that he had sin in his heart asked the apostles to pray for him, James 5:16.

And so Luke tells us after Simon’s request, Peter and John had finished preaching the Word of God in Samaria, and then they returned to Jerusalem, preaching in all the cities of Samaria along the way.

And it’s at this point that Luke tells Theophilus that Philip was directed by an angel of the Lord to go south to a place along the Jerusalem to Gaza road where no people lived.

Philip And The Ethiopian

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road-the desert road-that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Acts 8:26-35

He was told to go south to the desert road which was a road by the sea. It was a coastal road that linked Egypt to Palestine. The desert road could also mean an unpopulated place, a place where there were no people, Matthew 14:15.

The word Eunuch means palace official and Luke tells us that he served under the great Queen Candace of the Ethiopians and his job was treasurer for her.

He was going to Jerusalem to worship. The Eunuch was obviously a converted Jew because not only did he have a copy of Isaiah’s prophecy but he was on his way home after worship in Jerusalem.

Remember eunuchs couldn’t worship in the inner part of the temple, they were banned from entering there, Deuteronomy 23:1. They couldn’t go any further than the court of Gentiles.

We also need to understand that the Jews didn’t have copies of the Old Testament as readily available as we do today. There were scribes whose job it was to copy the Old Testament Scriptures for Synagogues and for those who could afford to have one copied. Because he had a cop of a scroll, tells us that the Ethiopian Eunuch certainly had an important job with a good pay.

He was struggling to understand what Isaiah meant when he wrote, Isaiah 53:7-8. And so Philip ran alongside the chariot, and asked the Eunuch, ‘do you understand what you are reading?’

Now unlike the Jews who were listening to Stephen’s sermon, the Eunuch had an open heart, and I know he had an open heart because of his response to Philip.

He replies to Philip, ‘how can I, unless someone explains it to me?’ An open heart, is a searching heart and a searching heart is always going to strive to understand better.

Because when Philip accepted his invitation to sit with him in the chariot, the Eunuch asked the most important question of all, ‘tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’

When we’re studying with anyone, it’s always useful to start where that person is in their understanding of the Scriptures.

“Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” Acts 8:36-40

This is another good example of the Gospel being preached but notice the text doesn’t say anything about Philip preaching baptism to the Eunuch. Common sense again tells us that when a person is preaching about Jesus they have to include baptism into that preaching.

Philip must have preached baptism, why else would the Ethiopian nobleman ask Philip, ‘look, here is water. What’s stopping me from being baptized?’ And Philip replied, ‘if you believe with all your heart. The Eunuch answered, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’

Although verse 37 is omitted from some translations, like the NIV, it is obvious from other Scriptures that one desiring the Lord, to confess His Name before the Father will confess Jesus before men, Matthew 10:32-33 / Romans 10:9-10.

And so the Eunuch confessed Jesus as the Son of God in front of Philip and then ordered the chariot to stand still. It’s then that Luke tells us that both Philip and the Ethiopian went down into the water and Philip baptised him for the forgiveness of his sins.

And so the Eunuch became a Christian in the same way that all others became Christians in the first century church. And indeed in the same way that we all became Christians, by being baptised into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

And the outcome of such obedience is always the same, rejoicing in the Lord for what He has done for us, Psalm 13:5-6. And so immediately following their coming up out of the water, the Spirit caused Philip to be gone from the presence of the eunuch. And on his journey back to Caesarea, Philip preached in the coastal cities like Azotus along the way.

I understand that the Bible doesn’t tell us about what happened to the Eunuch when he got back home and I for one find that frustrating. I also understand the reason we are not told because it’s not that important for us to know.

Go To Acts 9

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

Proverbs 3:5

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