Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Witness in Samaria

Acts 8

Saul Persecutes the Church

 1 Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

[Now if you remember from the crucifixion of Christ, the Jews had lost the right to execute capital punishment on their own, they needed approval of the Roman Governor. Without that approval the martyrdom of Stephen was murder, a lynching authorized by the council. Saul a Pharisee of some standing gave his personal approval for this killing. The persecution which followed was mostly against the Hellenist or Greek speaking Jews like Stephen. But even as fear swept the church, devout men made a great lament over Stephen, the first man slain for preaching the gospel. Yet Saul would take Christ followers, jail and beat them until they recanted their profession of faith in Jesus, sort of undoing Baptism by forcing people to publicly deny Christ.]

Christ Is Preached in Samaria

4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.

[If you refer back to Acts 6 you will see Philip was the second deacon chosen after Stephen, to serve the church. Like Stephen, his faith leads him to witness in Samaria as Jesus had foretold in Acts 1:8. Also like Stephen, Philip has the spiritual gifts of healing and exorcism. We are given the added detail here that the only defense these demons could mount against the Holy Spirit was to cry in protest as they were cast out. As always the signs provide the opportunity to preach and people received the gospel with great joy.]

The Sorcerer's Profession of Faith

9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God." 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

[The people of Samaria were very superstitious, practicing a form of Judaism but adding to it whatever type spiritualism became popular. Like Christians who read horoscopes or call the psychic hotline, their religion was corrupted by their fears and passions. The man Simon would combine whatever occult practices and tricks he could learn with some false theology to persuade the people that he had power from God. But when Simon saw the true miracles done by Philip, and all the converts turning to Jesus, Simon also professed his faith and was baptized. After this Simon would just follow Philip, continually amazed at the spiritual signs.]

The Sorcerer's Sin

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

[Now here we have an odd situation in Samaria. Philip filled with the Spirit was preaching, and healing, baptizing the converts in Jesus name. But none of the Samaritan converts we yet filled with the Holy Spirit. Then Peter and John travel from Jerusalem, pray for the converts, laying hands on them, only then are they filled with the Spirit. So why was this necessary? If you remember from the beginning of Acts I told that the signs of the Holy Spirit were confirming two things, 1 – Jesus resurrection from the dead, and 2 – The Apostles leadership of the church. Now Philip was filled with the Holy Spirit, but he was not an Apostle. Historically Jews had no fellowship with Samaritans; remember how surprised the woman-at-the-well was when Jesus spoke to her? Here it was necessary for the Apostles to come from Jerusalem to Samaria, confirm the work of Philip, and endorse the conversion and Baptism of the Samaritans so there would be no division in the church. Having done this, they were all filled with the Spirit.]

18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

[Simon had continued to follow Philip still amazed at his power. But now Peter and John demonstrate a new power, that they can give other converts the Holy Spirit when they lay their hands on them. It seems Simon's conversion was motivated by a desire to continue his business as a spiritualist. To be credible to people who had seen what the apostles can do, he needed this power also. So he offered them money in exchange for this new spiritual power.]

20 But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity."

[You see Peter shocked at Simon's offer both rebukes and curses him. Peter rejects him as a believer "no part of portion" in the Holy Spirit, telling him his heart is "not right" with God, then telling him to repent, and pray for forgiveness. To this day the purchase of a religious office is called Simony. We see something similar to this every election cycle as politicians suddenly get the urge to get Holy, and be seen at all the big churches in their area. You also see in when famous people are caught in some sexual immorality, they find a high profile spiritual advisor to counsel them. But we are never quite sure if they repent of their sin, or just lament over getting caught.]

24 Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me."

[Again confirming Simon did not know God, he would not even pray for himself, instead asking Peter to pray for him, not that he would really repent, but that nothing bad would happen to him.]

25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

[Now that the apostles had confirmed the conversion of Samaritans, they joined Philip in preaching there, before returning to Jerusalem.]

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