InterVarsity - Acts 8:4-25
I have been asked to speak about Acts 8:4-25. This is the story about the gospel being preached in Samaria as a result of persecution that came upon the church in Jerusalem. When this happened a man named Philip went to the capital city of Samaria and began to preach the gospel and many believed upon Christ.
This was a fulfillment of what Jesus had said prior to His ascension in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
You would think that the entire chapter would be one big celebration of this moment in history. There would be several reasons why this was cause for celebration.
First, the gospel is advancing into the world as Jesus had predicted. All the events up to this moment had prepared the church for this season. God has patiently prepared his disciples to move out with the gospel.
Secondly, God’s providential purposes are not thwarted by suffering; rather they are fulfilled in the midst of persecution, scattering and troubles (Acts 8:1-8).
Thirdly, God’s power is greater than any bondage that enslaves men (8:9-12). The gospel is able to overcome great spiritual darkness that might be present because of the absence of the gospel light. The gospel is able to deliver people from any sin and especially the hidden sins of the heart.
Every parent celebrates the first steps of their baby child. They wait for that day to come and when it arrives, they rejoice greatly. But those same parents are brought to tears when their child falls and hurts themselves. The same event that brings celebration is the same event that may bring tears when the child stumbles and falls.
This is one of the things that we see happening in Acts 8. Notice the occasion for grief.
The gospel has profoundly affected many people; but there is reason to grieve because it is not being lived out in one man. The gospel is personal and corporate. Even if there is reason to celebrate a large renewal and revival within the larger community, we still grieve over any individual who fails to receive the freedom brought by the gospel. And every individual ought to strive to participate with the larger congregation in what the Lord is doing.
There is a great reason to rejoice in this chapter because Samaria receives the gospel. Acts 8:4-6; 12 says, “Now those who scattered went about preaching the Word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord pain attention to what was being said by Phillip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did...they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
Samaria was a region of great spiritual darkness. They did not know the truth, they worshiped idols, they rejected most of the scriptures, and they had their own temple. Because of this spiritual darkness there was much oppression by Satan.
But the gospel was bringing about great freedom from this bondage. We see this in Acts 8:7-8, “For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.”
Yet, despite all of this the majority of this chapter speaks about a man named Simon who at first appears to have been saved but later is found to have been a false-convert (9-24). Listen to how Simon is described in Acts 8:9-11,
“But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.”
Notice that before Philip came, Simon was in the center of everything:
he amazed the people with his magic (9)
the people said that he was someone great (9)
he liked being the one who got the attention (10)
Simon let the people say of him, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great’ (10)