June 27

Acts 8:1-25

Acts 8:1-Saul (who would later receive Christ and become known as the Apostle Paul) was completely in agreement with the Council’s actions.  However, he wasn’t satisfied with the death of this one follower of Christ, but with hyper religious fervor began his own personal campaign to root out all believers in Christ and purge them from Judaism (:3).

Acts 8:2-Intense persecution began to come upon the "church in Jerusalem", such that believers were forced to scatter to other areas to save their lives. As they scattered...they continued preaching the word (:4).  Philip went to a city in Samaria (:5).  There, he preached and performed many signs...causing rejoicing in the city.  Many of the Samaritans accepted the good news and were baptized, both men and women.

 

For information on the relationship between Jews and Samaritans see: May 12, John 14:1-30

 

In that city there was a man named Simon who had claimed to be someone of significance (perhaps a messiah) for a long time and who had performed acts of magic to substantiate his claim.  The people called him "the Great Power of God" (:10).  When Simon heard Philip preach, he believed in Jesus, was baptized, and followed Philip…”and as he observed signs and miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed” (:13).

Acts 8:14-17-When the Apostles heard what was happening in Samaria they sent Peter and John to investigate and to tell them about the Holy Spirit..."For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (:16).  The Apostles began laying hands on these believers and as they did so they were receiving the Holy Spirit.

 

Ryrie, 8:14-17 The Samaritans have been baptized in water (v. 12), the gift of the Holy Spirit was delayed until Peter and John came in late hands on them. Normally the Spirit is given at the moment of faith (10:44; 19:2; Eph. 1:13). In this instance, however, it was imperative that the Samaritans be identified with the apostles in the Jerusalem church so that there would be no Bible Samaritan Christian church.

 

News reaches the apostles in Jerusalem that Samaria has accepted the word of God (compare Lk 8:13; Acts 11:1; 17:11). The apostles send two of their number, Peter and John, to Samaria. When they arrive, they discover that the gift of the Holy Spirit has not been given. They immediately pray to the Lord (compare Lk 11:13) that the Spirit may fall on the Samaritan believers. As they lay hands on them, the Samaritan believers receive the Holy Spirit.

The clear teaching of the apostles and their customary practice is that the giving of the Spirit is a birthright of every Christian, received at conversion (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 12:3, 13). Acts gives no consistent pattern for a second-stage giving of the Spirit by apostolic laying on of hands, as Roman and Anglo Catholic teaching on confirmation would assert, or with extraordinary manifestations such as prophesying and speaking in tongues, as Pentecostal and charismatic teaching on baptism with the Spirit would contend (Acts 8:14-17; 10:44-48; 16:31-34; 19:1-6). Therefore the Samaria experience must be viewed as extraordinary, not normative.

But why does God sovereignly delay the coming of the Spirit in this case? In order to preserve the unity of the church and the integrity of the church's crosscultural mission to all nations in the face of the inbred animosity between Jew and Samaritan. If God had not withheld his Spirit until the Jerusalem apostles came, converts on both sides of the cultural barrier might have found Christ without finding each other. Neither Samaritan nor Jewish Christians would have been assured that the Samaritans were truly regenerate and the spiritual equals of regenerate Jews (compare Acts 15:8-11). What Luke teaches us, then, is that the unity of the church and the unhindered advance of its mission into all cultures is so important to God that he will delay giving to a converted people what is their birthright, the salvation blessing of the Spirit, in order to ensure that these realities will be fully preserved. So the church today should deal with the matter of the Spirit's coming from the same standpoint.

(IVP New Testament Commentary, http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Gospels-Power-Includes-All-Cannot-Be)

 

Acts 8:18-24-When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit came upon these believers through the laying on of hands (:18), he  offered to pay money to the Apostles if they would give him the ability to do the same thing.  Verse 13 tells us that Simon was amazed by what he saw the Apostles doing.  Peter rebuked him for thinking that what was taking place was just another cheap parlor trick that could be purchased and tells him to repent of his sin.  Simon has a hard time seeing that what was taking place was of the Spirit's initiative, and not something that he could manipulate (as he had done before).  Perhaps he wanted to serve God, but he was still thinking of matters from a physical perspective, of the flesh and not of the Spirit.

 

When Simon sees the technique and the office involved in the granting of the Spirit, he makes a syncretizing request. He brings the apostles money and asks for "authority" (NIV is less exact with ability) to grant the Holy Spirit to whomever he lays hands on. What Simon is seeking to purchase is an office, a priesthood subordinate to that of the apostles. Purchasing a priesthood was not uncommon in the ancient world, even in Israel (Suppl. Epigr. Gr. IV 516B-, cited in Derrett 1982:61; 2 Maccabees 4:7-10). It reflects the typically idolatrous and pagan understanding of the way to acquire supernatural power that one would then control (Derrett 1982:61-63).

Peter's condemnatory reply tells Simon the truth about what God thinks of his request and what that request reveals about Simon's spiritual condition. In a "curse formula," ironically similar to those found in pagan magical papyri (Haenchen 1971:304), Peter places both Simon and his money under a ban, consigning both to eternal destruction (compare Josh 6:17-18; 7:13-15). His rationale is Simon's presumption that he could obtain the gift of God through money (compare Acts 2:38; 10:45; 11:17). To pay money for God's power violates its essential nature as the gift of a sovereign God who always has the receiver in his control and is not controlled by any human (Derrett 1982:62). But worse, such an approach reveals one has not left the "authority of Satan" (see 26:18).

Peter declares Simon unregenerate. He has no part or share. For Luke this can refer to either salvation (26:18) or ministry (1:17). Peter's further references to a heart . . . not right before God (8:21) and being full of bitterness and captive to sin (8:23), as well as his call to repentance (8:22), which the early church normally addresses to the unregenerate (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20), and the earlier mention of destruction (8:20), all support the view that Simon is not regenerate.

Peter's remedy is repentance from the wicked disposition and the evil stratagem it generated. Simon must pray to the Lord for release—forgiveness—of the sin that now holds him in bondage to unrighteousness (compare Is 58:6, 9). His continuing syncretizing thought, which is no different from continued participation in idolatrous false worship, can issue in no other result than the bitter fruit of final destruction (Deut 29:18).

The uncertainty in Peter's promise of forgiveness is based not on doubts about God's ability but on a recognition of Simon's current disposition of heart. Simon's request was so presumptuous that to promise certain forgiveness would allow him to continue in the mindset that God's free grace is indeed cheap grace. Simon's repentance must cast him totally on the mercy of God. He must not even presume to immediately appropriate God's promised forgiveness to himself. Peter may also be warning Simon of the seriousness of his lost condition. Humanly speaking, there is no way that he can, and therefore that he necessarily will, extricate himself from this captivity to sin.

It is uncertain whether Simon's request for the apostles' intercession is a sign of true repentance. Is he sensing the seriousness of the sin and asking the apostles to join in intercession? In humility does he feel so incapable of praying or so distrustful of his own prayers that he must ask for the intercession of others? Or do the content of his request—to be spared the consequences of his sin—and the very fact that he asks others to intercede indicate that here is remorse and not true repentance (Williams 1985:143)? What is clear is that the apostles conclude their mission to Samaria with the preaching of the gospel, including a warning about the consequences of not embracing the gospel wholeheartedly (compare Acts 2:40; 10:42).

In our day some nominal Christians have syncretized their faith with cultural religious ways. They may be Christopagans in Two-Thirds World traditional societies or practitioners of Western spirituality accommodating consciously or unconsciously to postmodern New Age thinking. Like Simon, they must realize the seriousness of their condition. Those who think they have "the best of both worlds" must repent, or in the age to come they will experience the worst of all possible worlds.

(IVP New Testament Commentary, http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Gospels-Power-Includes-All-Cannot-Be)

 

Prayer: Lord, Simon the Magician wanted to accomplish spiritual works through physical means...he wanted to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit and then control what You do.  Please don't let me try to accomplish spiritual ministry through physical means.  Lord, You have purchased me...You own me, I don't own You.  I don't control You, You control me.  Help me to be an instrument in Your hands.  Use me for Your glory.

 

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