The Persecution of the Church by Saul, Philip Preaches in Samaria and to the Ethiopian

If you remember from last week, Saul was overseeing the execution of the death sentence of Stephen, the first New Testament martyr. We pick up there in Chapter 8 now:

    Vs 1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

“Stephen’s death is only the beginning. The floodgates of persecution have now been opened against the Christians…..In the same way, Stephen’s death might seem sort of meaningless at first glance. His young ministry of power and eloquence was cut abruptly short. His ministry also seemed to end in failure – no one was immediately saved, and all that came forth was more persecution against the church. But as always has been the case, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.” ~ Guzik

We’ve discussed this kind of miracle of God before. The Lord uses the crushing of His saints to advance His kingdom. Similar to the crushing of candy or the breaking of glass – when crushed, the church multiplies into many more believers. I’ve talked before about my friend and missionary Jay Erickson and his wife Katrina who died as missionaries in Zambia. As a result of their passing, the Gospel message has been spoken and God’s word has reached thousands upon thousands of people that wouldn’t have otherwise heard. (See “Jay and Katrina Didn’t Waste Their Lives”)

Here we see the same phenomenon in action. As a result of the persecution by Saul, the disciples “were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria”.

    Vs 2-4 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

As a result of horrible sin and persecution, God’s word is being preached. Converts and disciples are being made! What an awesome God we have. In one of those incredible twists that only God can do, Paul (earlier known as Saul) even teaches this idea:

    “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard.” Philippians 1:12-13

    “And not only that, but we also rejoice in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4

God uses evil in this world to work His will and further His kingdom.

    Vs 5-8 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.

Stephen had taught back in chapter 7 that God isn’t contained or limited to the temple or to Israel as a people. Jesus came for all of us!

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:18-19

    He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. – Mark 16:15-16

Philip is part of the scattering that we see. He follows the leading of the Holy Spirit and in effect follows what Jesus instructed them to do when He appeared to them:

    He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. 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.” – Acts 1:7-8

In going to Samaria, not only is Philip following Jesus, but God uses him there: “unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.”
While there, he also reaches out to an Ethiopian man that could read scripture but had never been taught. When we follow God’s leading, He does amazing things in us and through us!

    Vs 9-11 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.

I’ve worked in the business world my entire career. As businesspeople, we are taught to sell ourselves, to market and advertise how great we are, to push an agenda that is centered around ourselves or our business. Whether it’s on our résumé, or on our social media, or in our advertising – we are coached to tout how great we are. In marketing, it is not acceptable to be humble.

We see Simon show us here that he is a marketer extrordinaire. He knows how to put on a show and sell it! No humility with this guy, no sir. Simon “astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest”. Yep, Simon was The Man! A showman who knew how to make money, he lived his life by the power of the buck. But is that what God wanted for Simon?

    Vs 12-17 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

    Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Simon – The Showman himself – is amazed. Compare it to the account of Moses demonstrating to Pharaoh and his sorcerers God’s miraculous wonders through the ten plagues in Exodus chapters 7-10. The sorcerers could seemingly duplicate some of God’s miracles by trickery, deception, and illusion. But there came a point – by the third plague (gnats) – where they couldn’t duplicate the power and miracles of God.

    “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God’. ~ Exodus 8:19

That’s where our salesman Simon is now. He realizes these things are truly miracles of God. But he’s still a businessman at heart. God is working on him just like He’s working on me every day!

    Vs 18-24 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

    But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

    Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”

Simon is still learning here, and this is a useful rebuke from Peter. Peter sees that Simon’s heart, while he has believed and been baptized, God still has plenty of work to do in Simon’s heart. I identify with Simon! He has had a life and career bound up by The Show. He is jaded and hardened not only by what he has seen in life, but what he has done in his career. He is “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” God reveals Simon’s heart through Peter, and the Holy Spirit nails Simon with conviction! I love his response to Peter: “Pray to the Lord for me”.

Lord forgive me of my own selfish heart! Jesus, pray to the Lord for me.

    Vs 25-28 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans. Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.

    So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

I love Philip’s heart! He simply follows God. “He arose and went” He doesn’t worry or stress about the details, where he’ll stay, how he’ll eat, or who he is going to talk to. No agenda, just Jesus.

    “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.”
    ~Psalm 37:23

    But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
    ~ Matthew 6:33

God cares about us and about the small details of our lives, and He will take care of those things!

    Vs 29-40 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

    The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.”

    So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
    So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

I heard the testimony this week of a highly successful businessman who had never learned to read past the 3rd grade level. He had felt God tugging at his heart, and one night in his hotel room he took a Gideon’s Bible out of the drawer and began reading it as best he could. He kept reading it every spare moment he found. He kept reading, and reading, and reading. He became consumed with the Word of God. This man literally learned to read by reading the Bible. Lord let me be so consumed with your Word! And Lord, thank you for putting solid Bible teachers and preachers into my life.

“How can I, unless someone guides me?” Lord let me learn from those teachers, and when I teach the Bible- Lord let it be solid and true to your heart and your Word.

Related Links:
Let God Take Care of the Details

How Could a Good God Allow Evil and Suffering?

Our Omni God

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