Acts 8:3–9:18. Three Converts:
a Magician, a Eunuch and a Terrorist.
Key Notes: Samaritans believe. The Gospel to N. Africa. Interpreting Isaiah 53. Simony and gnosticism. The Holy Spirit at work. Saul persecuted Jesus. Reluctant Ananias. Spiritual assignments.
The death of Stephen and the scattering of the believers would appear to put an end to the Church. Like hot ashes scattered, they would be too weak to be stay afire. Then let us watch God at work.
8:3–25 The scattered believers went out preaching, lighting fires wherever they went. Philip the deacon preached in Samaria, cast out evil spirits, healed the sick and caused great joy in that city. Among the believers was a powerful man named Simon (Magus) who was a magician. He was also baptized and listened to Philip's teaching.
The apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaritans were being saved. They sent Peter and John to confirm them, and lay their hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Simon wanted this power and was willing to pay for it. Peter was incensed and denounced Simon's ambition as wicked. He advised Simon to pray for forgiveness, but Simon asked Peter to pray for him. He had not really changed his mind.
8:26–40 While the apostles returned to Jerusalem, Philip was directed by the angel of the Lord to go to Gaza. There the secretary of the Ethiopian treasury, headed home from worshipping at Jerusalem, was reading Isa.53 aloud—reading aloud as everyone did in the ancient world. The Spirit of God told Philip to go up to the chariot. Philip was careful: "Do you understand what you are reading?"
The eunuch requested assistance and Philip explained the Messianic content of the passage. Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Christ: His lowly origins, His vicarious suffering for all lost people, His Death and Resurrection. [Many Jewish authorities wrongly say that the subject in Isa.53 is the people of Israel, suffering for the sins of the world.] The eunuch believed, requested baptism and received it on the spot. He went on his way rejoicing. The Holy Spirit had another errand for Philip, and he went up the coastline to Caesarea preaching.
9:1–10 The third convert was Saul, a fanatic Pharisee who had recently devoted his life to stamping out "The Way". A terrorist, he had been ravaging the church (8:3). He had letters authorizing him to seize any believers found in Damascus and was near the city when struck down. A voice from Heaven demanded to know why he was persecuting--not the Christians--but Jesus Himself. Saul could not reply, but got up and was led into the city, blinded and in shock.
Now Jesus Himself spoke to one of his disciples, Ananias, and commanded him to go to Saul and lay hands on him so that he could see again. Ananias was reluctant to approach the church's mortal enemy. But the Lord told him that He had chosen Saul to carry His Name to Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel.
In an act of great personal discipline, Ananias went to "Brother Saul", laid hands on him, and he was able to see. He resumed his life after three days of fasting and profound distress.
The three converts were Simon, a Samaritan (?); the treasurer of Ethiopia; and a Jewish terrorist, Saul of Tarsus.
We are least certain of Simon's conversion. He appeared to be interested in power and money and we wonder if he was prepared to give up his magic arts. Legend connects him with the start of Gnosticism, a heresy of the early church that resembles New Age philosophy of today. Not every convert turns out well. He is called "Simon Magus" in Gnostic literature. Simon's name also comes down to us in the word "simony" which means winning a spiritual position by bribery. Simony was a common corrupt practice of the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages.
Nevertheless, Samaritans, the despised half-breeds of northern Israel, coming to Christ was news, and the apostles came to confirm it. The filling of the Holy Spirit was proof that God loved Samaritans and included them in His Kingdom.
The Ethiopian eunuch comes with a tradition dating back to Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. To this day, Ethiopians have food customs like orthodox Jews [personal communication]. The eunuch's worship in Jerusalem suggests that he was a convert, a proselyte in Judaism. His conversion introduced the Gospel into North Africa and he is widely regarded as the founder of the Ethiopian church.
The third convert has been considered one of the most important persons other than Christ who has ever lived. He had a gift of eloquence rarely matched. (ICor.13, Eph.1, Phil.2). He was a genius, humanly speaking, writing 13 world-famous letters. He elaborated Christian doctrine and set the agenda for Christianity. He was driven, in spite of great hardships, to take the Gospel from Jerusalem across Asia Minor, through Greece, as far as Rome, and some believe to Spain, introducing Christ to Europe. The Gospel thus went south into Africa with the Etheopian, north into Asia Minor and west into Europe with Paul.
A problem of the passage is that the Holy Spirit did not come upon the Samaritans until the apostles laid their hands on them, because they "had been only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus".
- Only in the 'Name' of Jesus? (Acts 19:5) That was Peter's formula at Pentecost (Acts 2;38) and for Cornelius and his house. (Acts 10:48). Later, Corinthians that had been baptized in the name of John, would be baptized in the name of Jesus. (Acts 19:5). Jesus said his disciples should baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matt.28:19). A baptism to "Jesus, Father, Son and Holy Spirit" has been used by Uunitarian Oneness Pentecostals.
- Is laying on of hands necessary to receive the Holy Spirit? No. Cornelius and his party were filled with the Holy Spirit while Peter preached. Acts 10
- Did the Holy Spirit come upon people at baptism? It is not recorded.
- Is the presence of the Holy Spirit separate from salvation? No. Whoever does not have the (Holy) Spirit of Christ, does not belong to Him. Rom.8:9
- Is a further filling of the Holy Spirit separate from salvation? Yes. The Holy Spirit fell upon believers already filled with the Holy Spirit at prayer. (Acts.4:31). Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. Eph.5:18
The Holy Spirit cannot be contained, manipulated, or commanded.
This passage shows Jesus at work using His servants, Peter, Philip and Ananias, in critical tasks to bring in His chosen ones. The disciples were on call for the Lord; they got clear instructions and wonderful results. Like them, we may be on assignment. Be ready for an appointment today.