February 8, 2013
In Chapter 7, Saul was introduced to us, and we see more mention of Saul today. Let’s take a look at what happens, now. We see that on the day of Stephen’s death, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles. Do you remember Acts 1:8? Jesus tells those gathered, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Those who scattered “preached the word wherever they went.” Persecution is certainly not a pleasant event, but through that horrible occasion, the will of God began to be fulfilled. This persecution of the church in Jerusalem actually helped to spread God’s Word to Judea and Samaria. What events are used in our lives, to get God’s will accomplished? I pray that we can “count it pure joy” whenever we face trials because the testing of our faith brings perseverance (James 1:2-3).
In verse 3, Saul began trying to destroy the church. He was putting people in prison because of their faith. And we will get further information about Saul on another day.
We also see Philip begin to proclaim Christ. He goes to Samaria. When the people heard him and saw the miracles he performed, it caused great joy. He was healing and driving out evil spirits. We see that these people had been previously amazed by a sorcerer, a magician, and the people had actually declared that this man, Simon, must be the Great Power. They were easily swayed, but as Philip began to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, they believed and were baptized. Simon himself, believed and was baptized. He began following Peter and was “astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”
When the apostles heard that Samaria had accepted the Word, Peter and John went to minister to them, also. When they got to Samaria, they realized these people believed, but the Holy Spirit had not come upon them, so Peter and John laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now, Simon was watching this and could “see that the Spirit was given” and he wanted this power. He tried to buy the ability to do the same thing. Peter then tells Simon, “may your money perish with you because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Peter is clear here that Simon will perish. He has a belief, but he has no understanding or fruit. His heart is not right before God. He is full of wickedness and bitterness, and is captive to sin. Peter tells him to repent and pray to the Lord, but poor Simon still doesn’t “get it!” He asked Peter to pray for him. This has given me more evidence that “belief” is not enough. Our hearts must be right before God. Our hearts cannot be right until we have “repented”- turned from our sin. Verse 24 is a very sad statement, to me, because Peter’s prayers can’t give Simon the repentance or the power he needs. We have to remember that our parent’s faith, our pastor’s faith, our friend’s faith, will NEVER bring us to Christ. It has to be the grace, through faith given to us, by God. (Ephesians 2: 8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”) Each of us has to be responsible for his/her own repentance.
I have to share with you that I have struggled with this section (verses 9-25) and have spent much time reading, re-reading, and praying (and discussing with my husband) before I felt I could sufficiently post on this today. I find myself wanting to look for motivation in Simon’s belief, but God’s Word says, he believed. It doesn’t give us the motivation. During prayer, I was lead to another scripture, (James 2:19) “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” I struggle with this because, while many pastors (and laymen) who teach, “you only have to believe” or “just pray this prayer to receive Christ”, may not literally mean “this is all you have to do”, there are those who hear that and believe it. I have people very close to my heart, who have based their whole “salvation experience” on this prayer they prayed, or because they believe in Christ. Some of them have never shown any evidence of having the Holy Spirit in them. Over the years, I have tried to understand how God’s Word tells us we are to live holy lives, we are to turn from our sin, and to bear fruit, and not all who profess “Christ” show this evidence. When faced with the reality of Scripture, they often become bitter or angry, and will not accept that this “belief” they have had for so long could be anything other than a complete life in Christ. I also feel hurt and saddened that while I served in positions of ministry (youth, children, as an elder) I have evangelized and had people “pray a prayer”. I have felt the great need and have had to repent of my ignorance, of my misleading them into possibly believing a falsehood. I pray, now, that those, with whom I shared the Gospel, many of whom I don’t even know, have grown from a seed that was planted and have not relied on that “prayer” as the assurance of their Salvation. I pray that those who are still teaching this, will see the Truth of God’s Word and give the WHOLE picture, that living a life for Christ is about sacrifice, totally giving of oneself, turning from the sin in life, striving and desiring to live a holy life, that wickedness and bitterness and evil desires are not holding these “believers” captive to sin.
Now, back to Acts. In verse 26, we see Philip, being led by the Lord, to go on a desert road. I think at this point, he knew there was a plan and he was watching for it. Can’t you just imagine, hearing this Ethiopian sitting in a chariot, reading from God’s Word. And then the Spirit told Philip to go to that chariot. I love Philip’s response: HE RAN!! I pray that when we are led by the Spirit, we can be enthusiastic enough to run!! The Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip to explain what he was reading. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (v.35) I pray we know God’s Word well enough to begin anywhere in Scripture and tell the Good News of Jesus. This was the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah, and it led a man to have a desire to follow Christ. After he had been baptized, even though Philip left him, he went about his way rejoicing. I pray that no matter where God takes me, no matter the people he allows in my life, or takes from my life, I can continue to rejoice in Christ and the gift He has given.