In our last lesson, Stephen preached in the Greek-speaking synagogue, which led to his arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin. Instead of defending himself, Stephen indicted his accusers, showing their charges to be inconsistent with Old Testament teaching, and their resistance to God's Spirit to be entirely consistent with Israel's rebellion against God and His appointed servants. We saw his boldness and forgiveness even when he was being stoned to death. He received a standing ovation from the Lord as the first recorded martyr of Christ.
1) PERSECUTION AND SPREADING OF THE GOSPEL: Act 8:1-3 "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison."
It appears the persecution began the day Stephen was stoned. The mob intensified in fury. While the Scriptures do not say, there are various historical accounts as to how many believers were put to death. With this in view it is no wonder it is called a "great persecution". Saul was the chief player in this furious persecution of the believers. What was the major effect of this persecution?
a) The believers were scattered abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria. From Act 1:8, this will be in fulfilment of the word of the Lord; ". and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth". Despite the persecution, the eternal purpose of God for the spreading of the gospel of Christ was on course. What will you do in the face of persecution? Can you believe God to work it out for your good?
2) PHILIP THE EVANGELIST IN SAMARIA: Acts 8:4-8 "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city."
Vs 4, As the believers left Jerusalem, they continued to preach the Gospel everywhere they went. This is a practical example of our primary assignment as believers today. To preach the gospel anywhere we find ourselves. Matt. 28:18
Vs 5, the preaching of Christ was the focus of Evangelist Philip. We shall see the effect of his method.
Vs 6, the people with one accord gave heed to his message. We need to understand the historical background and relationship between the Jews and the Samaritan to appreciate the breakthrough God gave Philip. There was great hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans.The Samaritans were considered inferior because they were a mixed race. The Samaritan woman at the well was therefore shocked that Jesus would have anything to do with her.1 Kings 17, John 4:7-9. Why did Philip get the same result among them?
a) He was full of the Holy Ghost and Wisdom Act 6:3,8
b) They heard and saw miracles, signs and wonders which he did Vs 6-7, Mark 16:15-18, Lk 10:19
c) He brought great Joy to the city Vs 8.
You will always be accepted at the place where God has made you a solution. Men are looking for people with solutions everywhere. Rom. 8:19. Ask God to send you to the people that are waiting for you.
3) SIMON THE SORCERER PROFESSION OF FAITH: Acts 8:9-13 "But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done."
Before the coming of Evangelist Philip to Samaria with the power of God, Simon had bewitched the whole city with the power of darkness. Simon was a Samaritan "messiah."What broke Simon's hold over the people was the preaching of Jesus as Messiah. What an impact his "conversion" made on the people of Samaria. And not only did he profess belief and submit to baptism, he virtually attached himself to Philip, following him wherever he preached. No wonder the Samaritans were listening so intently to Philip.He was absolutely taken back with the power the evangelist had. Simon's amazement meant he was 'charmed' by the power present in Philip. Was he truly converted? Or was he trying to know the secret of God's power in the life of Philip?
4) THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST: Acts 8:14-17 "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost."
Now the big question: "Why could Philip not lay his hands on the people for them to receive the Holy Spirit?" There is no direct answer to this question in this chapter. There are several suggestions by scholars.
a)First, these new believers must be embraced as full-fledged members of the church by the Jewish Christians (Ephesians 2:11-22). Who better to validate their faith in Jesus than two of the apostles from Jerusalem? The Church was to be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ being the corner stone.
b) These new Samaritan believers needed the affirmation and confirmation of their equal standing in Jesus by the actions of the apostles sent from Jerusalem. Just as the Jerusalem Jews needed confirmation of the conversion of these Samaritans, so the Samaritans needed confirmation of their acceptance and affirmation by the Jewish apostles, as represented by Peter and John.
5) THE DECEPTION AND REBUKE OF SIMON THE SORCERER: Act 8:18-24 "And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me"
.... Of course Simon the Sorcerer never received the Holy Spirit himself. Our question might me, 'But it says he believed and was baptized.' We have to decide as to what was it was that Simon believed? Simon believed that the miracles were from God, and though he was baptized, his belief was not a righteous belief. To believe unto righteousness implies a repentance of the heart is in place. Simon had no sense of a need for a Saviour. His interest was power for commercial purpose. He wanted to market the manifestations of the Spirit as a commodity. Even when Peter directed Simon towards repentance, the sorcerer's reply reveals only a desire for self-preservation. He said, "Prayto the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me." We must beware of wolves in sheep clothing that will come to our camp Matt 7:15. 1 John 4:1 we must try every spirit. Acts 8:25 "And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans."