Jesus geographically outlined the Book of Acts (Acts 1:8). He predicted the growth of the church would take place in Jerusalem (vv. 1-7), all Judea and Samaria (vv. 8-12), and to the ends of the earth (vv. 13-28). Acts 8 is the “near-far” chapter in the New Testament. The Samaritans were geographically near the new believers, but they were far away religiously. The Ethiopian Eunuch was geographically far from the new believers, but he was religiously near in faith and interest in the gospel (Acts 8:26-40).
God used the persecution that happened after Stephen had been stoned to scatter the church farther into the land of Israel (Acts 8:1-3). For whatever reason, the apostles stayed behind in Jerusalem while the other believers evangelized as they went (v. 4). The rest of the chapter highlights the ministry of Philip who, like Stephen, was a Hellenistic Jewish believer and was one of the original “seven” selected to wait on tables in Acts 6:1-6. What happened when the gospel spread into Samaria?
Heaven and Earth Collided
Philip went “down” (north) to a city of Samaria (probably Sebaste, Shechem, or Sychar). This was not a long trip in terms of geography, but it might as well have been across the globe because “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9, English Standard Version). More than bad blood existed between these two ethnicities. From the Jewish perspective the only good Samaritan was a dead Samaritan. But a biblical understanding of the gospel causes all kinds of borders to be crossed.
Philip had great success in preaching and power. The content of his preaching was about the identity of Jesus (Messiah and Christ). The evidence of the truth of his preaching was in miracles (both the casting out of demons and the healing of the lame and paralyzed—Isaiah 35:6). The joy of God filled the city.
Heaven collided with earth when Simon the Sorcerer also became a believer. This religious magician had mesmerized the people of Samaria for some time. He practiced magic (basically this means that he played for the other team—see Leviticus 20:27), proclaimed himself to be great, and would later try to purchase apostolic power and position. But even Simon could tell the difference between his counterfeit ways and the real McCoy of the gospel. He believed and was baptized. These words are Luke’s way of talking about Christian conversion. Heaven and earth had collided.
The Holy Spirit Went Wild
“Went wild” does not mean being out of sorts with the Bible nor does it mean being chaotic and disorderly (1 Corinthians 14:33). It simply means that when the church takes the Great Commission seriously, Holy Spirit phenomena usually results (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19). This, of course, counters the efforts of the devil to nip the growth of the church in the bud (Acts 8, 13, 16, 19).
Peter and John were dispatched to Samaria to check out the revival efforts of Philip. In one of the strangest doctrinal passages in Acts we read that the apostles prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Had they not already received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized in the name of Jesus? What is going on here? Some suggest that conversion comes in two stages (initial and confirming). Some suggest that there was something inadequate in their baptism since they were simply baptized in Jesus’ name (no use of the Trinitarian formula as in Matthew 28:19, 20?). Some suggest that while they had received the Holy Spirit as a result of their conversion (Galatians 3:3) they had not received the miraculous powers of the Spirit. (After all, Simon saw something later and evidently apostolic hands were necessary for passing on miraculous gifts).
Or, could it be that God in his wisdom decided to (albeit momentarily) delay the coming of the Spirit in the conversion of the Samaritans to make clear to the apostles that God had accepted the Samaritans? Maybe Acts 8 is more about the conversion of the church (Peter and John and the mother church in Jerusalem) than the conversion of the Samaritans.
Spiritual Immaturity Was Confronted
Perhaps Simon was not a true convert. Or perhaps he quickly slipped back into his bad past. He saw the apostles serve as instruments of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and he wanted to cash in. He even offered money to have this power (a practice later in church history known as simony). Peter had harsh words for Simon and urged his repentance. Simon seemed sincere and made a prayer request to the apostles. True conversion for Simon (and us) demands the conversion of head and heart.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.