This is part of an ongoing study of the book of Acts. If you’d like to catch up, you can read the previous studies here. Before you begin today, be sure to read the entire chapter of Acts 8 here, and don’t forget to sound off in the comments below.
We begin Acts 8 finding out that Stephen’s death causes quite a stir in the church. Well, not so much a stir as an outright exodus from Jerusalem. Because of the persecution of Saul, all the disciples flee Jerusalem.
This is an incredible passage that demonstrates the apostles desire to obey Jesus, even to death. Some have said that this was in fact God’s rebuke to the apostles for not taking the message of the gospel to Samaria and beyond, but we will clearly see in this chapter that the apostles must have believed God had not yet sent them to Samaria and beyond.
When all the disciples fled Jerusalem, only the apostles stayed. Stephen had just been martyred for his faith and Saul was hunting others down. By staying, the apostles were not acting out of disobedience or laziness. No, they were committed to obeying Jesus’ words even if it cost them their lives. It seems here that the apostles sent all the other disciples out of Jerusalem to face the consequences of staying by themselves.
For whatever reason, we are not told that Saul or anyone else immediately targeted the apostles. Perhaps it had something to do with their reputation for the miraculous, or maybe news of Ananias and Sapphira had spread well outside the church. For whatever reason, the apostles stayed, knowing it may cost them their lives and the Lord spared them.
Before we jump into Philip’s story, it is also important to mention the fact that the disciples mourned for Stephen. We all know that we will live forever at the resurrection of the dead with God in eternity, but that does not lessen the pain of loss here on this earth. We are a people caught between the surety and knowledge of eternity and the emotions of the temporal. It is okay for us to mourn, but we must not mourn like those with no hope, as we are told in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.
The disciples who fled Jerusalem because of Saul were not afraid to share the gospel wherever they went. What an amazing testimony! Chapter 8 is about Philip, one of the seven chosen with Stephen, who fled to Samaria during this persecution. Philip spoke boldly but he also performed signs before the people. He cast demons out of people and healed many and they listened to what he said and believed in Jesus. One of those new converts was a man who had been a sorcerer.
Simon the sorcerer chose to follow Jesus because of the miracles he saw Philip perform. This was likely no small change for him. To give up his whole way of life and lose the following he had must have been a big decision, but he made the right choice. But like so many people who follow Jesus, he did not give up everything. He held on to the bitterness and anger that affect so many Christians today. When Peter and John came to see what had taken place in Samaria because of Philip, Simon wanted to pay Peter for the ability to lay hands on people and bestow the Holy Spirit. Peter, with prophetic insight, told Simon of his bitterness and told him he had no place in ministry with such a heart.
We would do well to understand that just because we have accepted Jesus and been set free from the bondage of sin that we are not automatically free from all sin. We must seek God for forgiveness, healing and love to cover the multitude of sins that have been done to us. We must choose to forgive and seek God’s grace in doing so.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
The topic of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a contentious one. Some say that all believers are baptized upon receiving Jesus while others say that one is only baptized if there is the evidence of speaking in tongues. Those are two extreme positions, but both are made difficult by this passage.
When Peter and John came, they found that Philip has baptized the new converts with water, but he has not prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit. This troubled Peter and John so they quickly go about praying for them to receive Him, which they did. We are not told how that manifested here, but we know that it was dramatic enough that it caught Simon’s eye, whom we mentioned before.
We can assume that the new converts’ baptism consisted of speaking in tongues, but we must not carry that belief beyond assumption. What is infinitely more important is to realize that praying for the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a necessary part of accepting Jesus and it is not automatically received, as evidenced by this passage.
We will see this again later in Acts, so it is not an isolated incidence we cannot learn from. We need to know that being baptized by the Holy Spirit is as unique an experience as is being water baptized. We must quickly and diligently seek both for every new person who puts their faith in Jesus.
Obedience & Change
Whereas it is clear that the apostles did not believe God had yet sent them beyond Jerusalem when the persecution broke out, we see here that sometimes God speaks through circumstances. Because of Philip and the awakening in Samaria, the apostles realized that God had opened up that new area of ministry, which Luke will soon expand on.
For now, Luke stays with Philip to show some of the really amazing things He did through him.
An angel visited Philip and told him to go down to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza, a deserted place. Philip did as he was told, which when an angel tells you to is highly recommended, and we find that he encounters an Ethiopian man of considerable stature.
The Ethiopian is a convert to Judaism, and we find him reading from Isaiah. Philip quickly explains that who he was reading about was Jesus and the Ethiopian accepts the good news. Philip baptizes him and is instantly and supernaturally transported by the Holy Spirit a few miles away. Interestingly, we do not know if Philip prayed for the Ethiopian to be baptized in the Holy Spirit before he was whisked away.
From Azotus (the ancient Phillistine city of Ashdod), Philip traveled north to Caesarea continuing to preach the gospel.
Special Thanks To Luke
This passage about Philip and the Ethiopian has little to do with Luke’s natural storytelling progression through Acts. It seems Luke wanted to include this to show 1) that things like this can happen, and 2) that people not necessarily considered apostles may experience them. In this chapter Philip, under the hospices of the Holy Spirit, began a revival in Samaria, led an Ethiopian governmental official to Jesus at the direction of an angel and was supernaturally teleported somewhere else. Acts 8 may be the most amazing and concise list of supernatural events in the book.
We are in Luke’s debt to pause from the overall story of Acts to see the incredible things the God will do through those who follow and obey Him.