We see now the result of opposition to the Gospel. Saul, empowered by the authority of the Sanhedrin not only gives approval to the execution of Stephen who had just proclaimed the truth about the Resurrection. Saul is empowered to go throughout Jerusalem looking for believers to cast into prison.
Saul was zealous in this task, husbands taken from wives, mothers from children, men and women murdered as evidenced in Acts 9. If ever a man was to be hated in the early history of the Christian Church it would be Saul. He would be the Osama bin Laden – literally a terrorist so bent on his twisted view of who God was that he justified injustice and the taking of human life.
You might have noticed in verse 1 that many believers, except the Apostles, were scattered by this persecution throughout Judea and Samaria. This is not a mistake. It’s not an accident in God’s plan. It’s not plan B. With God there are no Plan B’s or backup plans because God knows the beginning from the end and guides everything by the invisible hand of Providence.
You see, in Chapter 1 of Acts, Christ had commanded the Apostles to wait for the Spirit but that, eventually, His Church would expand from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the outermost parts of the earth. Up to this point the Church was thousands strong but it was confined to Jerusalem. It turns out that God had a plan to expand the Church beyond the borders of Jerusalem but it’s not what we might have expected.
In fact, it is persecution that causes believers to move out from the confines of Jerusalem and the Gospel is spread with them.
There is an un-Biblical notion of what it means to be in God’s perfect will these days. When someone asks what the Will of God is, they normally think today of what kind of job should I have, should I marry this man, and those kinds of things. What they are doing, however, is trying to peer into the hidden things where God commands us not to pry. The hidden things belong to God but the revealed things to us and our children (Deut 29:29). God commands us not to marry an unbeliever but don’t expect to get divine revelation about the name of your future spouse.
You see Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together for the good for those that love Him and are called according to His purposes. This means that sometimes things that are worked are not very pleasant to believers: in this case persecution has been used of God to spread out the Church but who benefitted from this? Those who heard the Gospel when the disciples left Jerusalem. God does not make a wicked man sin, but our confidence is that even when the wicked hurt us that God is working even their wicked deeds to our ultimate good.
Notice, finally, that Stephen was mourned and buried by the disciples. Jewish law would have prevented them from doing so because stoned people are considered accursed. Not only does this show that the Sanhedrin had put to death a righteous man but that this ceremonial aspect of the Law no longer bound those who were in Christ. A new era had dawned.
The Gospel first expands to Samaria, which used to be the location of the Northern tribes but, following their being conquered by the Assyrians centuries earlier, they lost their tribal identities. They were despised by the Jews as sort of mongrels with a sub-standard worship that still had pagan elements in it.
Yet, Samaritans weren’t quite as bad as Gentiles. When it came to those that were considered scum by the Jew it went downhill from Samaritan to God-fearers to Gentiles at the bottom of the food chain.
The Samaritans received the Gospel in large numbers and even a magician by the name of Simon was impressed and became a disciple. Simon was apparently famous. He was so well known and respected for his power that the Samaritans called him the “the power of God that which is called Great.” In other words they were giving him worship and he was an idol to them.
We tend to wink at witchcraft and sorcery and things like palm reading and other aspects of the occult. These things are condemned in the harshest of terms in the Old Testament and Paul says that those who practice such things will not inherit eternal life.
And so it is great to read that the Samaritans turn in large numbers away from their superstitions and to the living God and salvation in Jesus Christ and even the object of their idolatry seems to be willing to die of himself and become a disciple of Christ. Acts says he believes and becomes a disciple.
But there is something suspicious about the way he is following. Luke notes that Simon follows Philip around and is amazed by his power.
Simon’s motives seem to become clearer when the Apostles Peter and John come to lay hands on the Samaritans. Let me get back to that in a minute.
What is extremely important for you to understand first is why Peter and John came here to perform this act. What occurs is that Peter and John lay hands on the Samaritan converts and the Holy Spirit comes upon them in power.
This happens in a few places in Acts and there has been some improper teaching on the meaning of this event from Pentecostals that insist there are two classes of Christians: those who have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and those who do not. The problem with the Pentecostal view is that the Acts gives its own interpretation to the event and you’ll see this in Acts 10 when Peter is challenged about visiting the House of Cornelius.
In effect, what is happening here is that the boundary markers for God’s Covenant people are being expanded. In the Old Covenant, God placed His favor on a particular people and, if you did not live among or identify with this national people, you were not of the people of God. But, in the New Covenant, the Gospel is expanding outward and the boundary markers are being expanded. No longer will the Samaritan be another variety of scum. Now, there is no longer Jew nor Samaritan among God’s Covenant people. And how does the Church recognize this? Because the Holy Spirit had come upon them in power just like it did for the Jewish disciples. Do you understand? The laying on of hands and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not an individual thing in the Acts but a corporate event. Entire people groups receive the Spirit to show that God now includes all people groups in His Covenant people.
Well, let’s get back to Simon then. Remember Simon is following this Philip around because he’s amazed at his power. Simon was powerful after all but the miracles that Philip could perform made him realize that he better hang it up. But then Peter and John roll into town and he witnesses them lay hands upon people and they receive the Spirit with power and now his true colors seem to emerge.
That’s the power that Simon wants and so he does what a man who is seeking power in that time would naturally do. He asked if he could buy that power from Peter and John. In fact, because of this verse, whenever someone purchases a religious office it is still called simony to this day in reference to this event.
But Peter rebukes Simon in the harshest of terms telling him that his attitude reveals that he is far from the Kingdom of God. I wish that the false teachers on the Trinity Broadcast Network or other prominent Church leaders that teach that the Gospel is about prosperity would read this passage and have their eyes opened to the dreadful warning that Peter gives to Simon.
The Gospel is not about us receiving power. The Gospel is not about us being exulted. The Gospel is not about us receiving riches or wealth. The Gospel isn’t about us receiving adoration for the great things we can command or how we can pack out a stadium and overawe with our power. This is the way of the world. This is idolatry.
The Way of the Cross is humiliation. It is being made aware of our sin before a Holy God and His power to make our hearts alive to run to the Cross and cling with all our might like beggars. Beggars are what we are before God. We bring nothing to Him and get no glory for our salvation. The riches we inherit are the inheritance of Salvation and eternal life. Our citizenship is with another country and not becoming in love with the country and possessions that we have now.
Simon repented in tears to Peter and John. It is my prayer that his repentance was born of genuine faith. Even sinners like Simon can be saved by the power of Christ.
Some time later, we’re not sure when, Philip is commanded to take a southern path from Jerusalem to Gaza. Did you notice how it said: “This is a desert place?” It’s not the smartest path to be taken but Philip obeys.
Do you remember what I talked about God working all things together for the good? Anyone who has walked in the desert knows it’s miserable but Philip just so happens to encounter a Eunuch who just so happens to be taking that path and just so happens to be reading Isaiah 53!
Do you ever just stop and marvel that God saved you? Do you ever just stop and marvel that one day you were doing something else and, out of the blue, the Gospel found you? Do you ever just stop to praise God that His Gospel saved you even though you know very well He could have saved someone much nicer, much smarter, and much better than you?
This Eunuch was reading out loud and, of course, Philip recognizes this passage. There is more to this. It is the prophecy of Isaiah about the Christ. It is not about how Christ came as a powerful man. It is not how Christ was adored for His power the same way we just saw Simon desiring. It is about Christ, who deserved service, who deserved adoration, became a sacrifice and underwent the worst kind of humiliation, scorn, and agony for those of us who deserve that from Almighty God:
Let us meditate as we too consider again what was read and explained to the Eunuch:
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
“Do you understand what you are reading?” asked Philip.
“How can I unless someone explains it to me?” invited the Eunuch.
Oh, how my heart just beats with excitement as I think about this. The Eunuch was searching for Truth in the Scriptures and here now was a Preacher with Good News! Not with promise of Power but with news of a Savior. He told Him of Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh. He told him of a life lived in poverty and no place to call home, no place to lay his head. Despised and rejected even by his home town and family. He told him of Christ being nailed to a Cross and becoming a Curse for us. So humiliated was He that only one disciple and some women dared to be near Him at His death. So afflicted for our sins that He cried out in agony: “My God, My God Why Have you forsaken Me?!”
And such a perfect Savior that when He cried “It is Finished!” that He had once and for all paid the debt for sin. He had once and for all taken away the wrath of God for all who believe. He told of the Son of God who rose again in Power to secure our Eternal life and the promise of resurrection for us all to live with Him. He told of His ascension into heaven where He lives to intercede for all who believe.
The Ethiopian’s heart must have been pounding out of his chest at this point. Can this be for me? Can I believe and be saved? What is that? In the middle of the desert they happened to come upon water!
I don’t think the text expresses the pleading of the Eunuch. “Look, water, is there anything preventing me from being baptized? I believe this report. I want to cling to this News. I want to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Is there anything preventing me?”
This man is a Eunuch. If Philip was a representative of the Law then the Eunuch would have no part of this because the Law barred Eunuchs from the people of God.
But Christ had torn down those barriers and Philip was a bearer of the Gospel that allowed the unclean to come near!
No! Nothing prevented him! He was baptized and went away rejoicing. And why not rejoice? He was lost and now was found. He was blind and could now see. He was in the middle of a desert and God had found Him and sent His Gospel to save Him.
Beloved, the Gospel has come to you this day. God has given you much grace that you hear it today again as you have heard it before. Have you believed it? Be amazed again at the grace of God toward you that you would believe upon Jesus Christ for the salvation of your souls. Believe and be saved.