I. Saul (8:1-3)
A. The death of Stephen
- In chapter 7 we read about the boldness of Stephen, preaching to the Sanhedrin concerning their rebellion against God. Because of his boldness, Stephen is stoned for the preaching the name of Jesus Christ to these Jewish leaders. The last we read about this event is found in Acts 8:2, “But devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. “
- What a horrifying scene for the Christians in Jerusalem as one of the men selected to be a servant of the Jerusalem church is dragged out of the city and stoned by the Jewish leaders. One can only imagine the terror that would have struck the Christians as the Jewish leaders have not only managed to put to death Jesus, which He predicted, but also killed one of their evangelists and servants.
- But there is more for us to know. We are introduced to a man named Saul. The first verse of chapter 8 tells us that Saul approved of Stephen ‘s execution. We become quickly aware about the motives of Saul. On the same day of Stephen ‘s, a severe persecution against all the Christians in Jerusalem breaks out. So severe is the persecution that the Christians are fleeing for their lives to other areas in Judea and Samaria.
- Saul, the one who approved of Stephen ‘s death and held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, ravages the church. Saul begins to devastate the Christians by entering into their homes, dragging off men and women, and putting them in prison. Saul ‘s work would have been easy because these Christians did not gather for only an hour on Sunday. These Christians were zealous and passionate, meeting daily in the temple courts preaching the risen Jesus. These Christians were teaching and preaching in each other ‘s home, eating meals together, and spending time doing the will of God. Saul is wrecking havoc on the church in Jerusalem.
II. The Samaritans (8:4-17)
- The Christians fleeing Jerusalem went on preaching the good news of Jesus Christ as they went. Philip is one of the men fleeing from the persecution. He also is one of the men selected in Acts 6 to serve the Jerusalem church by overseeing the daily distribution to the widows. Philip goes to Samaria and preaches the Messiah to them.
- In Samaria, Philip is performing signs and the people are paying attention to what Philip is speaking and working. Unclean spirits are being cast out and many paralyzed and lame men were being healed. This is the same that we saw with Stephen in Acts 6:8 who was also performing great signs and wonders while preaching the message of Christ.
B. Conversion of the Samaritans
- But there was a man named Simon who had been practicing sorcery in the same city where Philip is preaching. Simon had come in and astounded people with his sorceries. Simon claimed to be someone great and the people declared Simon to have the great power of God.
- But this is a contrast between the sorceries of Simon and the miracles of God through Philip. The people had been astounded by the sorceries of Simon, but those tricks were nothing to the power that Philip shows to the people of the city. The people believed the words and works of Philip concerning the kingdom of God and the authority of Jesus Christ.
- What we read about the salvation of the Samaritans is very important. If we can determine how people in the first century received the forgiveness of sins, then we know what we need to do today to receive the forgiveness of sins. So let us carefully read this section of scripture so we can know what we must do.
- The men and women in Samaria believed the good news concerning the kingdom of god and the authority of Jesus Christ and were baptized. This matches what we read in Acts 2 when Peter clearly declared that forgiveness of sins comes from God through baptism. In verse 13 we read that even Simon himself, a person able to perform sorceries, was amazed at what Philip was able to do such that he also believed what Philip taught and also was baptized. This is how one became a disciple of Jesus in the first century. This is how one received the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins. We are not going to read any other way to receive God ‘s grace as we continue our study in the book of Acts.
- It is also important for us to see here that Luke records that men and women were baptized. Children were not being baptized in Samaria. Why not? Children were not baptized because they could not believe in the kingdom of God and the power of Jesus Christ. Little children do not understand these concepts. It is not possible for them to believe. Infant baptism was added hundreds of years later and is not found in the scriptures. If you were baptized as an infant, you were not able to believe in what you were doing and you were simply given a bath. If you were baptized as an infant, you did not receive the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins because infants were not part of this process as we read in the scriptures. According to Ezekiel 18:20, children do not bear the sins of their parents. By definition, sin is a violation of God ‘s law. But children have not violated God ‘s law and therefore have no sin. This is the simplest explanation as to why we do not read about infant baptism. Infant baptism is unnecessary. Adults need to be baptized because they are under God ‘s law, have violated God ‘s law, and require forgiveness of sins.
C. Miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Before we leave the Samaritans, there is another important piece of first century example that we need to grasp. Philip is preaching and baptizing the Samaritans. But we are told that the Samaritans had not received the power of the Holy Spirit. According to Acts 8:2 the apostles are in Jerusalem. When the apostles heard that the Samaritans had obeyed the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. Why did Peter and John come? Verses 14-15 declare that the reason was to pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon these Samaritan believers. After praying, Peter and John lay their hands on the Samaritans and they received the Holy Spirit.
- Now we need to ask an important question: why did Peter and John have to go all the way to Samaria to impart the power of the Holy Spirit? Philip was already in Samaria and had baptized the people there. Philip had the power of the Holy Spirit as seen by the signs, miracles, and wonders he was performing. Why did not Philip simply give the Samaritans the power of the Holy Spirit?
- The answer should be logically obvious to us: Philip could not impart the power of the Holy Spirit to others. Only the apostles had the ability to impart the power of the Holy Spirit. No one else was able to give that power to another. Verse 18 proves our conclusion, “When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles ‘ hands …. ” Look at this verse carefully. How was the power of the Holy Spirit given? Only by the laying on of the apostles ‘ hands was the Holy Spirit given.
- Friends, this is why we do not see miraculous powers at work today. This is why we do not see people being healed from paralysis. This is why lame men are not being healed today. The miraculous powers ceased to continue once those who had been given this power died. Those given the power of the Holy Spirit could not lay hands on another pass the power on. Only the apostles had this ability and it is an ability that Simon wants to have.
III. Simon the Sorcerer
A. Simon ‘s sin
- When Simon sees that the power of the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of hands by the apostles, Simon offers the apostles money, desiring to be given the ability to give the power of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands.
- Peter immediately rebukes Simon for believing that he could purchase the gift of God with money. Peter makes the critical point: Simon ‘s heart is not right with God (vs 21). Peter further says that Simon is poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.
- Peter tells Simon to repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord for forgiveness of this sin. Simon asks Peter to pray to the Lord on his behalf so that nothing Peter said would come upon him. This section of text also has some key points that we must notice as we try to pattern our lives to what we see in the first century.
B. Key applications
- Salvation can be lost. Simon had believed and had become baptized for the forgiveness of his sins. Simon was following after Philip constantly and observing all that Philip was doing. But Simon fell back into sin. Now there are two ways that most of the denominations try to deal with this passage, because they teach salvation is never lost.
- Some teach that Simon was never saved in the first place and that he was never a true believer. There is nothing in this text that suggests such. To assert this point is only as a matter of convenience to hold their doctrine. No one suggests that Peter was not a true believer of Jesus when he denied the Lord three times. Sins are committed after we become disciples of Christ and those sins severe us from God.
- Others say that Simon did not really sin. But it is clearly stated that Simon did sin because Simon is called to repent to be forgiven of what he has done. Further, Peter said that Simon ‘s heart was full of bitterness and bound by sin (iniquity). Peter bluntly tells Simon that he has sinned.
- This is a great reminder to us. Our salvation can be forfeited by our own actions. If we choose to be disobedient after coming to the Lord, then we have severed ourselves from God.
- After baptism, only repentance is necessary for forgiveness. Peter does not tell Simon that he must be baptized again to receive the forgiveness he needs. Peter tells Simon that he needs to change his heart before God. Simon was responsible to change himself so that he became more aware of God ‘s will and would obey what God required. Further, Simon is told to pray to God for forgiveness. Simon is not told to pray to Peter, pray to Mary, or pray to any other person to receive forgiveness. God is the one who forgives sins. No man can forgive sins. Therefore we must pray to God and ask God to forgive us. This is exactly what 1 John 1:9 teaches us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ” The context of 1 John is clearly talking about confessing our sins to God and the restoring the relationship we need to have with God. Baptism symbolizes our covenant with God and repentance is how we renew ourselves to that covenant when we have transgressed God ‘s law.
- Others can pray for our spiritual condition. I find Simon ‘s word interesting. Nearly every book I have read says that verse 24 is Simon copping out from what he was supposed to do. If this were the case, I would expect Peter to rebuke Simon again. Further, does not Simon sound truly upset and desirous of forgiveness at this point? I do not think it is a fair assessment to assume this was a cop out. Simon desires Peter to also pray for him. Simon had committed a sin and he wanted others to call upon God to extend him forgiveness.
- This is not foreign to the scriptures either. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. ” We can ask others to pray for us so that we can conquer the sin that has ensnared us. God listens to the prayers of the righteous and can ask other Christians to pray on our behalf so that we can become what God wants us to be. Peter could not forgive Simon ‘s sin. But Peter could pray to God that God hear Simon ‘s plea for forgiveness. The same is true today. We do not confess our sins to each other believing that a person will forgive us. Only God can forgive sins. But we can confess our sins to each other so that we will be in each other ‘s prayers and we can go to God on behalf of another and ask God to extend mercy to them.
- People became disciples of Christ and were forgiven from sins by believing in Jesus Christ and becoming baptized. We will see more details about this in the rest of Acts 8. Children were not baptized, only men and women. Once a person became a disciple, when the person sinned they needed to ask God for forgiveness and repent of the sin.
- We cannot become a Christian and then turn our back on God ‘s commands. If we do, we have return to being lost in our sins. Salvation could be lost, as seen with Simon ‘s actions. We can pray to God for one another as help to overcome our sins and to ask God to be merciful to one another.