In our study of Acts chapter eight, we see how God uses the persecution of His people to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Many times we may ask why God allows awful things to happen to His people. Here, we are reminded that God works in all things (even the persecution of His people) and He is still in control.
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. 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.
We are told here that, on the day that Stephen was stoned, great persecution broke out against the church. We may ask ourselves why this happened but I believe that we can find the answer in the "churches" of today. You see, in many "churches" today, Christians have become comfortable and very few people are being told about Jesus. It is a natural tendency for us, as humans, in that we want to be in a place where we are liked and accepted. The same was true of the early Christians. Without persecution, the early church would not have reached out to areas outside of Jerusalem. The people would have stayed where they could be surrounded by other Christians. God knows the heart of all of us and He knew that as well. If you look at the world today, the areas where the Kingdom is expanding at the fastest rate are the areas where the rate of persecution is also the highest.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
You may have asked yourself why did God allow Saul to persecute the Christians in Jerusalem and drive them out. We get the answer in the verse above. You see, we as people can get comfortable in our surroundings and I am sure that it happened with the disciples in the early church. But God allowed them to be scattered and in so doing, the gospel was spread rapidly. We, like those early disciples, are called to preach the word wherever we go as well.
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.
Because of the persecution, Philip went to this town in Samaria. Keep in mind that the Jews of Jerusalem looked on the Samaritan people as lower forms of life. While he was there he proclaimed the gospel as well as met the people's needs through miracles. The people noticed that Philip was different and paid attention to what he said. We too are called to go to the people that others may look down on and boldly proclaim the gospel as well as meeting their physical needs. When they see that, they will take heed of the gospel that we preach.
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.
In this passage, we are told of a man that did signs and wonders but we see a stark difference between him and Philip. We are told that Simon boasted that he was great and did it all for himself. He thrived on the accolades given him by the people of Samaria. In sharp contrast was Philip who performed miraculous signs but it was all to glorify God and to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We, as Christians, must always keep our egos in check and realize that all we are able to do is only because of the power of God that is alive in us. It is easy to get caught up when people say good things about you and your actions but we must remember that all we do is to glorify God not ourselves.
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.
When the genuine is put alongside the imposter, it s always easy to tell the real thing. That is what happened here. Simon was using sorcery but Philip had the very power of God. When the two met, it was easy to tell the difference. Philip kept his message focused on Jesus and the kingdom of God while Simon had been focused on himself. The difference is clear and even Simon himself saw it. The same thing happens today with us as Christians. When you have the Holy Spirit working in and through you, it is easy to tell. Then, when people pretending to be disciples of Jesus come along, it is easy for others to see the difference.
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.
The people of Samaria believed in Jesus thanks to the teaching and example of Philip. Now, the people receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gives them the power to follow and to serve Jesus Christ. The same is true for us today. We can receive the same power and guidance from that same Holy Spirit.
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.'
Simon the sorcerer had money and after he saw the apostles lay their hands on people, he wanted to buy the gift like some cheap magic trick. He wanted to purchase the ability to give the Holy Spirit and did not realize that it was a gift from God. The same sort of thing happens in many churches today but it looks a little different. There are those who are willing and able to give the local church much money but do not want to be burdened with the whole following Jesus thing. The relationship with God is not for sale.
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.'
Simon wanted to buy the gift of being able to lay hands on someone and have them receive the Holy Spirit but he thought that he could buy it. Peter (the apostle) rebuked him and told him to repent of his sin. His whole answer is based on looking at the state of Simon's heart. The same is true of each and every one of us. God also knows and cares about our motives (what's in our heart). We may deceive each other but cannot deceive God. Do good works but do them for the right reason which is to bring glory to God not to yourself.
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.
This first verse should give us all hope. You see, after he was told of his sin and it's cost, he repented and asked them to pray for him. Forgiveness is always there and so there is always hope. In the second verse we see that Peter and John went back to Jerusalem. But, they did not just walk back to Jerusalem, they shared the gospel along the way. That is an example of what we are to do even today. As you are on your way here and there, don't forget that your main purpose in life is to tell others about Jesus.
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.'
This passage of scripture gives us an awesome example of being led by the Spirit. Philip was led by the Spirit to the exact place that God wanted him to be at just the right time. There Philip met a royal official from Ethiopia whom God had put there too. Isn't it wonderful to know that the same Spirit that led Philip in this passage is the same Spirit that can lead us each day. For good things to happen we, like Philip, have to be obedient and follow wherever the Spirit tells us to go.
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.
So, Philip was obedient to the Holy Spirit and went to the place where God could use him. As soon as Philip met the man, he knew why God had sent him there and why it was at that time. God knew that the Ethiopian official needed someone to explain to him about the savior. God is the same today as He was then. He can use anyone as long as they are obedient to His leading. You see, God is big enough to know where we should be and what we should do at any given time. When we are obedient to the leading of the Spirit, we get to see these little blessings just as Philip did. We at Enduring Freedom Ministries like to call situations like these our little "God moments".
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?' Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
What an example we have here of how we are to share the gospel. The Ethiopian was reading from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet. You have to understand that, at this time, there was no "Bible" like we have today. Even having a piece of the Old Testament such as this would have been a big deal. The eunuch had the scripture and could read it but did not know that it was referring to Jesus. Philip started with what the Ethiopian had and told him about Jesus. That is the same thing that we, as Christians, are called to do. The passage that the Ethiopian was reading is so powerful and describes Jesus' actions so well yet was written a long time before Jesus came to the earth. That, my friends, is what God can do!
As they traveled 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.
In this passage, we see faith put into action. When the Ethiopian heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, his heart was changed. Then, he immediately followed with obedience by being baptized. Notice that, in the passage, Philip did not have to tell him to be baptized. It was the eunuch that said "Why shouldn't I be baptized?" It is a good example for us in that, when we come to Christ, we should learn that is followed by obedience.
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 traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
In this passage we see that, after Philip had done what God wanted him to do in the situation, God took him to the next place where he needed to be. In this case, the Spirit took him immediately. Then, Philip went about his next task in his next area. That is much the same way that we should be. We serve where God has us until He tells us to move on. Then, we simply do what He asks us to in the next place or situation. In order to do that, we must first pray and listen to what God tells us to do.