ACTS CHAPTER 8.
The Gospel Planted in Samaria. Acts 8, 1-25.
The burial of Stephen and the hatred of Saul: V.1. 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 Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. V.2. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. V.3. As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and, haling men and women, committed them to prison. The young man Saul had been a witness of Stephen’s stoning, and had considered it an honor to watch the clothes of the men that began the stoning, chap. 7, 58. It is here expressly stated that Saul consented to Stephen’s death; he felt great satisfaction, great pleasure over his death, he approved it with joy. And his feeling was shared by his fellow-Pharisees, who now started a persecution which involved the entire congregation, determined, if possible, to exterminate the Church of Jesus. The result was a general dispersal and scattering of the disciples from Jerusalem into the various Jewish provinces, especially Judea proper, the rural districts of the section about Jerusalem, but also to the regions of Samaria. Cp. chap. 1, 8. It was not the fear of martyrdom, of death, which caused these first disciples to flee, but the express command of Christ, Matt. 10, 23. “Had they fled through the fear of death, they would have taken care not to provoke persecution to follow them by continuing to proclaim the same truths that provoked it in the first instance. 25) Only the apostles remained in Jerusalem. The small remnant of the congregation that was obliged to remain in Jerusalem very probably consisted of such as had the greatest need of the teaching and the comfort of the Word. For a pastor to leave his post in time of persecution, when the danger threatens his members as well as himself, in most cases amounts to plain unfaithfulness. Meanwhile, however, before the general scattering of the disciples took place, the burial of Stephen was attended to in a proper manner. Devout, pious men from among his fellow-believers carried him out to his last resting-place and attended to all the matters pertaining to his burial, They then made a great lamentation over him, probably beating their breasts and their heads in token of their deep grief. It is altogether pleasing to the Lord if Christians bury their dead in an honorable fashion, and the lamenting over the death of loved ones, if kept within proper bounds, has been hallowed by the tears of Jesus Himself at the grave of Lazarus. But all these facts, even if they were known to Saul and were, in part, intended in the nature of a protest against the murder of Stephen, made no impression upon him. If anything, he became all the more unreasonable and furious in his enmity toward Christ and the Church. Without ceasing, continually, he laid waste, devastated, the Church, like a hostile army spreading ruin and devastation in its wake, Ps. 80, 13. In so doing, he entered into every house which was known to belong to a Christian, particularly into those which served as places for Christian assembly. And both men and women whom he found at such times he dragged forth, he haled them out as though preparing them for trial, and committed them to prison, with the consent of the authorities gave them into the charge of the keepers of the prison. This persecution was the first real test to which the members of the congregation at Jerusalem were subjected. Till now it had all been peaceful growth; but now the storm was to test the strength of the young plant, and of every branch and shoot on the tender stem.
The missionary work of the disciples and of Philip: V.4. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere, preaching the Word. V.5. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. V.6. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. V.7. 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. V.8. And there was great joy in that city. While the apostles remained in Jerusalem with the small remnant of the former large congregation, escaping personal injury probably only because of a superstitious fear of their power to perform miracles, the disciples that were driven from Jerusalem by the persecution were ever mindful of the command of their Lord Jesus. They journeyed everywhere; and wherever they came, they brought the joyous message of the Word, the gracious Gospel of the Savior. Note: The men that went out at this time were not members of the teaching staff of the congregation, they were so-called lay-members, and yet they brought the message of the Gospel wherever they went. Every Christian, learned or unlearned, can and should give testimony of the faith of his heart, and thus try to gain souls for the Savior. - But in all these missionary endeavors the work of one man stood out very prominently, namely, that of Philip, one of the seven officers elected by the congregation, chap. 6, 5. His work as deacon having been terminated by the persecution in Jerusalem, he became an evangelist. He made the journey either to one of the cities of the region of Samaria or, more likely, to the city of Samaria, or Sebaste, the capital of the district itself. The topic of his preaching was ever the same, the one subject that can never be preached too often or too fervently: Christ, the Savior of the world. And this simple Gospel-preaching concerning the Messiah had its effect. It received a better reception than in the case of the Jews, to whose self-righteousness the Word of the cross was ever an offense. The multitudes that gathered about Philip attended carefully to the things that were spoken by Philip, and were of one mind. The combined evidence of the preaching which they heard, and of the signs which he performed as a proof of the Gospel’s divine mission, was so powerful as to convince great numbers of them. For many demoniacs were freed from the evil spirits, the unclean devils that had taken possession of them, though the spirits protested with loud cries when they were driven out, and many paralytics and lame people were healed. Note the distinction made also here between the driving out of demons and the healing of sick people. Luke’s description shows that he was well acquainted with the nature of both afflictions, and that he distinguished with a reason. The consequence of all these events was that there was great joy in that whole city. It was a time of blessing for body and soul. Philip did not belong to the tribe of the modern sensational preachers with the knack of electrifying the masses; none of their tricks were employed by him. It was the preaching of Christ that brought about the new condition, the miracles serving only for further confirmation.
The conversion of Simon: V.9. 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 he himself was some great one; v.10. to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. V.11. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. V.12. 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. V.13. Then Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Luke here adds a bit of local history which makes the victory of the Gospel stand out all the more strongly. A certain man there had been before these events had transpired in Samaria, whose name was Simon, and who had practiced magical arts and had had the people of the city and of the region impressed to the point of stupefaction with his tricks and diabolical jugglery. He advertised himself, with the humility characteristic of the people of his type, as being something great, as possessing enchantments and powers beyond natural ability. He practiced the charms and incantations so extensively employed in the Orient by both quacks and true sorcerers, that are able to perform feats that have the appearance of miracles, by the aid of the devil. So deeply impressed were the people that they regarded Simon as a manifestation of the divine power in human form. They therefore called him “Power of God which is called Great,” one that was very prominently great and divine, possessing powers which are peculiar to God. 26) All this the Samaritans had done, because for a long time Simon had bewitched them with his magical tricks. They had put their own construction upon his acts, and they had believed his words. All this was changed with the coming of Philip. For when he preached the Gospel concerning the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ, when he brought to these benighted people the one message which could give them peace of mind and the blessed assurance of salvation, the Samaritans believed, faith in the Savior was wrought in their hearts, and they sought and received Baptism, the Sacrament which seals to both men and women the forgiveness of sins gained by Christ. Note: All magical tricks, even such as are performed with the aid of the devil, serve no beneficial purpose, being made only to excite idle curiosity. The miracles, on the other hand, both those that are narrated in Scriptures, and those which the Lord performs to this day, are in every case beneficent and worthy of the divine power. When Simon lost his former following so abruptly and thoroughly, he went to see and hear Philip, and was himself brought to faith. With the rest of the people, also, he was baptized and the promise of God thus sealed to him. There is no reason, from the account of Luke, to doubt the reality of Simon’s conversion at this time. It was a very striking proof of the superior power and of the divinity of the Gospel concerning Jesus the Messiah. And Simon, he that had caused astonishment in others, was here himself almost overwhelmed with stupefaction when he became an interested spectator of the signs and of the great wonders which were performed before his eyes. Note: The devil may often, by God’s permission, succeed in seducing men by means of his false miracles and tricks of jugglery, bat whenever the power of God looms up by way of contrast, he and all his servants are brought to shame before the Mightier One.
Special gifts of the Holy Spirit: V.14. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, v.15. who, when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost v.16. for as yet He was fallen upon none of them; only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). V.17. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. The apostles never undertook to exercise hierarchical powers and to assume a jurisdiction which they did not possess. But they had been commissioned by Christ as the teachers unto all nations and therefore were anxious to establish true unity of faith in all congregations, no matter where they might be established. It was an important point in the progress of Christianity that people outside of the Old Testament covenant should receive the Gospel and be added to the Church of Christ. When the apostles therefore received the news that Samaria had received the Word of God, that its people had professed allegiance to the Redeemer, they sent Peter and John as their personal representatives to find out the truth of the report and, if so, to establish the bonds of fraternal unity. The fact of the report being certified to, Peter and John not only extended to the Samaritan Church the hand of fellowship, but also transmitted to these new converts the wonderful gifts which they themselves had received. The Samaritans had been baptized, and therefore they were in full possession of the pardon of God, as well as of the Spirit which sanctifies, Mark 16,16; Acts 2,38. But now they were equipped with extraordinary gifts, with the power to perform miracles, to speak with strange tongues, to prophesy, and to give other peculiar evidences of the Spirit’s omnipotence and divine majesty. 27) These extraordinary manifestations had not yet been imparted to these believers, although all the spiritual gifts were theirs by and through Baptism. But now these powers were transmitted to them by the laying on of hands, for it was a part of the Lord’s plan in the early Church to use miracles and signs to confirm the preaching of the Gospel. “The design of such gifts, and the way in which they were exercised in the congregation, are fully set forth by Paul in 1 Cor. 12-14. These gifts served a temporary purpose, until the facts, doctrine, commandments, and promises of the new covenant were committed to writing by inspired men, when the prophecies, tongues, and miraculous knowledge of individual teachers gave place to the written Word.” 28)
The blasphemous demand of Simon: V.18. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, ha offered them money, v.19. saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. V.20. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. V.21. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right in the eight of God. V.22. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. V.23. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. V.24. Then answered Simon and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. V.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. The faith of Simon the Magician had undoubtedly been real enough in the beginning, and he had not acted the hypocrite when he asked to be baptized. But here there were two factors which were too strong for the young plant in his heart. In the first place, he was not included in the number of those to whom the extraordinary communication of the Spirit’s power was vouchsafed. And in the second place, his witnessing of this transaction had awakened the former love of money and influence over others in his heart. The combination of these facts was too strong for him, and he lost his faith. When he saw that Peter transmitted the miraculous gift of the Spirit by the laying on of hands, he brought forth money and offered it to the apostles, with the demand that they give him this power also, to impart the Holy Ghost by the imposition of hands. Simon was right in calling this gift a power, but he was wrong in thinking that it was a commodity of barter and sale. He may, in his former business, have purchased many a secret of sorcery from other masters, and therefore concluded that the same course might be followed in this instance also. But it was a blasphemous demand of covetousness, and his sin has ever since been known as simony. “This is simony, properly so called, if one buys or sells a spiritual office, possession, gift, or power for money, as Simon Magus did. When he saw that the Holy Ghost was given by the imposition of the hands of the apostles, he offered them money and said: Give me the power also, that, if I lay my hands upon some one, he receive the Holy Ghost; desiring thus that he might have the Holy Ghost, after having purchased Him for money, in his power, to have Him do what pleased him.”29) The infamous demand of Simon Magus aroused the impulsive resentment of Peter. Full of righteous indignation he calls out to him: Thy money with thee be into destruction! It is a violent expression of horror on the part of Peter that any one would even think of desecrating the most wonderful gift in the world by such blasphemous thoughts. That Simon should have gained the idea that a free gift of God might be purchased with money showed that he mistook entirely the source and meaning of the power which he desired. Peter therefore tells him that he has neither part nor lot in this matter, that he could not hope to share either the possession of the gift with the faithful, nor its ministry with any of the disciples. The demand of Simon put him entirely outside the pale of the Church; it showed that his heart was not sincere in his profession of Christianity, it could not stand without blame in the sight of God. There was only one course advisable under the circumstances, namely, that he repent of this wickedness, change his heart to a condition which would be well-pleasing to God. Incidentally, he should pray the Lord, with whom only there is forgiveness, that He might forgive him the blasphemous idea of his heart. The words of Peter do not make the matter of forgiveness after sincere repentance a doubtful thing, but he stresses the need for sincerity in regard to this grave offense. A mere lip repentance would not suffice before the eyes of the omniscient God. And the seriousness of the situation is further stressed when Peter says that he perceives Simon Magus to be in the intense, malignant, poisonous bitterness of gall and wormwood and held firmly in the bonds of unrighteousness. It seems to have been with Simon as in the story of the man that has turned out the unclean spirit, who returned with seven others worse than himself. Not the mincing of words, but the preaching of the Law in all its uncompromising severity was demanded by the situation, and Peter acted accordingly. Some effect this scathing speech of Peter certainly had, namely, that of thoroughly terrifying Simon, so far as the results of his sins, were concerned. He asks the apostles to pray for him that none of the things of which Peter had spoken might strike him. His words indicate fear of the results of sin, but no change of heart in true repentance. That is all the inspired record says of the matter, and although second century traditions have added much legendary material, this seems in no way trustworthy. The story as it stands contains some very earnest lessons. Simon Magus is a type of the temporary believers, of those that have turned to Christ in faith, but were not firmly established, and succumbed to the first temptation. The example of Peter shows how such persons must be dealt with when they are exposed. The wickedness and hypocrisy of their hearts must be rebuked with all severity in order that, by God’s grace, true repentance may be worked in them for the salvation of their souls. After this disagreeable incident the apostles turned back to the real work for which they had come down. They bore witness to Christ in the most convincing manner; they spoke the Word of the Lord, thus performing the work of both testifying and teaching, according to the Lord’s commission to them. And then, having accomplished the object of their journey, they started on their return to Jerusalem. But they made the trip in a leisurely fashion, which enabled them to preach the Gospel in many villages of the Samaritans outside of the capital of the district. Their hearts were filled with true missionary zeal, which permits no opportunity for spreading the Gospel to pass by. It was a time of cheerful harvest such as the Lord had predicted, John 4, 37. Such times of spiritual awakening and harvesting have been recorded since in more than one instance. In such cases it seems as though the Lord calls large masses of people simultaneously. The effect and the success of the preaching of the Gospel are in His hand, a fact of comfort to all workers in the vineyard of the Lord.
The Ethiopian Eunuch. Acts 8, 26-40.
The divine commission to Philip: V.26. And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. V.27. And he arose and went; and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, v.28. was returning, and, sitting in his chariot, read Esaias, the prophet. Through the visit of Peter and John the congregation of Samaria had been so thoroughly established and furnished with special gifts of the Spirit that Philip could well be spared for other missionary work. And so an angel of the Lord, one of those special messengers whom the Lord makes use or in carrying out the work of His kingdom, spoke to Philip, whether in a dream by night or in a vision by day, is immaterial. He had a special order for the evangelist. He who had just preached the Gospel to hundreds and to thousands was to be sent a long way to open the Scriptures to one individual soul. Philip was to arise, be ready at once, and journey due south from Samaria down to and along the road which led down from Jerusalem (at an elevation of about 2,400 feet) to Gaza, formerly a city of the Philistines, only a few miles from the Mediterranean. There was a Roman road, built probably for military purposes, which passed from Jerusalem almost due southwest and led over Gaza down to Egypt. For a large part of the way this road led through desert places, comparatively uninhabited districts, The obedience of Philip was immediate and implicit; he did according to the word of the angel. By God’s arrangement, Philip either struck the road or was traveling along the road designated by the angel when a chariot came along. In this vehicle sat an Ethiopian man, a eunuch, who was a powerful officer of queen Candace, being her minister of finances or secretary of the state treasury. Though he was a eunuch and as such debarred from actual membership in the Jewish congregation, Deut. 23, 1, he could very well have been a proselyte of the gate and admitted to the Court of the Gentiles to perform his acts of worship. He was in the service of the queen of the Ethiopians, the queen of Nubia, whose official title was Candace, 30) and had made the long trip for the express purpose of attending to his religious duties. It is difficult to say whether he had come up in the season without festivals, or whether the fall of the year, with its Festival of New Year, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles, had meanwhile come, the latter being very likely. In returning home, the eunuch was employing his time in the best possible manner. Sitting in his chariot, he was reading the book of the Prophet Isaiah, very probably aloud, after the Oriental fashion, v.30, and trying incidentally to get the meaning of the text. In this he gives an example which might well be emulated in our days. The Christians of our days, in many instances, read the Bible neither at home nor anywhere else, whereas this heathen proselyte was not ashamed to read it on the public road. It was not the original Hebrew text which he was conning, but the so-called Septuagint, or Greek translation, which had been made in Egypt almost two centuries before.
The text from Isaiah: V.29. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near and join thyself to this chariot. V.30. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the Prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? V.31. And he said, How can I except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. V.32. The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth; v.33. in His humiliation His judgment was taken away; and who shall declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth. Philip had followed the command of the angel; he had gone to the place to which he was directed, and was ready for further directions. These were given him by the prompting of the Spirit telling him to stay near the chariot as it moved along, within earshot or easy hailing distance. And as Philip ran toward the chariot, he could hear the words which the eunuch was reading to himself, and recognize the passage from which they were taken. The question with which he introduced himself was not an impertinent form of address, as has been stated, but one calculated to draw out the religious position and conviction of the man: Dost thou really understand what thou readest? It is a question which all Bible readers ought to keep in mind; for there is far too much superficial reading of mere words instead of the earnest attempt to get the connection and meaning of every passage. The answer was: How do you suppose I should be able to if no one shows me the way? This does not imply that the Bible cannot be understood without hierarchical interpretation, but simply shows that a beginner in the study of the Word, one that has not yet carefully compared prophecy and fulfillment, will do well to have the aid of some help in comparing parallel passages and in pointing out the connection. The few really dark passages in the Bible are due to our lack of adequate knowledge of the original tongues and similar reasons; but none of these passages concerns any assurance of the salvation of souls or any other fundamental doctrine. The eunuch now earnestly invited Philip to have a seat at his side in the chariot. The passage which was just then troubling the reader was the beautiful section from Is. 53, 7. 8. There it is said of the Messiah that He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, that, as a lamb before the shearer is voiceless, so He opened not His mouth. It was written of the great Lamb of God, in His ministry of taking away the sins of the world. In His humiliation His judgment was taken away: in His oppression, when the wrath of the Father had struck Him as the Substitute for all mankind, the full judgment was carried out upon Him, and thus we need no longer fear judgment and condemnation, their force was exhausted in the Christ. His generation who shall declare?: He has been exalted into heaven, and now, even according to His humanity, has no end of His days, has eternal glory in His possession; for His life is taken away from the earth: it was taken from Him suddenly, by the murderous death on the cross; but the result was eternal salvation, final glorification in the interest of His believers. This was the Gospel of the Old Testament, a beautiful and clear account of the Messiah’s sacrifice, but hidden before the eyes of the eunuch, because he did not know the fulfillment.
The baptism of the eunuch: V.34. And the eunuch answered Philip and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this, of himself or of some other man? V.35. Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. V.36. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? V.37. And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. V.38. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. V.39. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. V.40. But Philip was found at Azotus; and passing through, he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea. We may well imagine the scene: a fine autumn day, the comparatively uninhabited plain extending on either side, the driver of the chariot half-dozing over his lines, the two men poring over the sacred roll. Note that Luke refers to the contents of the passage of Scripture as of a fixed quantity, a book which was known by that name to all the Jews. Having read the passage in question together once more, the eunuch asked Philip whether the prophet was here speaking of himself or referring to some one else. His knowledge of prophecy and the teaching he had had did not enable him to decide this important point. And Philip, full of the joy of the missionary when he finds an eager inquirer after the truth, opened his mouth for a long discourse. He could hardly have found a more suitable text to expound his great topic, for his subject was Jesus and the wonderful message concerning Him. Beginning with the many clear and beautiful texts of the Old Testament, he had a fine opportunity of showing the fulfillment of prophecy in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. And he undoubtedly spoke also of the great commission of the Lord which He had entrusted to His disciples, “to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” Matt. 28, 19. And while Philip was still picturing the glories of the Christ in glowing colors, the chariot came near one of the small streams or pools which, even in the dry season, may contain some little water. And the eunuch, half in eagerness and half in fear, points to the water and asks whether there would be anything in the way of his being baptized. Philip thereupon put the question which is fundamental in every true formula for baptizing, saying that his wish may very well be granted if he believes with all his heart. And the eunuch, filled with the sweetness and beauty of the Gospel proclamation which he has just heard, utters his confession: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: a short, but comprehensive formula, amounting to a confession in the Triune God. The officer then commanded the chariot to halt, and both Philip and the eunuch went down to, or into, the water, where the latter was baptized, the method not being indicated, though it was probably either by pouring or by immersion. No weight attaches to the method or form of baptism, so long as water is used and applied with the words of institution. But when they came up out of the water, the Lord, the Spirit of the Lord, performed a miracle by suddenly removing Philip from the side of the eunuch and out of his sight. However, he was no longer dependent upon this teacher; he had heard the essential facts which enabled him henceforth to compare the Old Testament with the New, and therefore went his way rejoicing. The ancient tradition has it that the eunuch brought the glorious news of the Gospel to his countrymen, and thus became the founder of the Abyssinian Church. However true this report may be, it is certain that he, for his own person at least, had found his Savior. As for Philip, he was taken to, and then found at, Azotus, the Old Testament Ashdod, another former city of the Philistines. Beginning with this town, he leisurely journeyed up the coast of the Mediterranean, preaching the Gospel wherever he went, until he reached the city of Caesarea, which was about midway between the present towns of Jaffa and Haifa. Note: The exalted Christ fixes the course of the Gospel, whether it shall be preached in populous cities or in comparatively uninhabited places. Our task is to follow His hints and to be guided by the circumstances as He places them before us, for the end is the salvation of souls.
Summary. Owing to the persecution of the congregation in Jerusalem, the Gospel is spread outside of the city, Philip founding the church at Samaria, which is established after a visit of Peter and John, while Philip is sent to teach the Ethiopian eunuch the Gospel and to baptize him.