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)
The people paid attention to him for a long time (11)
These types of entrenched sins are not always quickly overcome, as we will see.
Now, contrast that with Philip who did not come preaching himself; rather he preached Christ Jesus. We read in Acts 8:5, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.”
Philip was a humble servant. The contrast between these two men would have been very noticeable to the people in Samaria. And yet, the people did not receive the gospel simply because Philip was humble but because the Spirit was mightily at work through the preaching of the Word of God. This is evident throughout this passage (Acts 8:5-7, 12, 14).
Here is a helpful tip: If you want to avoid false teachers and their false teaching then avoid those who are self-centered, self-seeking, those whose message is about themselves and not Christ, and who speak more about this world than the heavenly kingdom (12).
In our culture today, we would call Simon a narcissist. Notice Peter’s diagnosis: he had a wicked heart (22) and he was entrapped in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity (23).
What is the remedy for such a person who is entrapped in these hidden sins of the heart? Peter’s prescription for Simon was that he needed to repent (22).
There are two motivations for Simon to repent quickly. We find that in Acts 8:20-21, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought that you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.”
One motivation is positive. His heart is not right before God. He ought to desire to be found in God’s presence by faith, being clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
One is negative. Peter says, ‘May your silver perish with you...You have neither part nor lot in this matter.’ Simon’s thoughts and the sinful desires of the heart will alienate him from eternal life.
Simon understands the negative motivation of what Peter is saying here. He says in 8:24, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me. Yet, he seems to be not understanding the aspect that he is supposed to come to God in repentance. Instead, as we will see, he wants the apostles to do this for him.
Note: In Acts 5 we saw the immediate judgment of God come upon Ananias and Saphira. Here Peter speaks of something that will come upon Simon if he does not repent. There is no comfort to be found in either case. Too many people put off repenting right now because they believe immediate judgment is not upon them. In this sense Simon is better than most!
However, we find this error in Simon. He found repentance for himself to be too difficult to do. Instead Simon says to Peter, ‘Pray for me to the LORD’.
As a pastor, I will tell you that I am always surprised at just how often people will refuse to pray for themselves when they come to me. They always insist that this be done by the pastor. All too often we are asked to pray for someone who never finds the time to come to the prayer meeting themselves. (And yet, ironically too few call upon the elders to pray for them when they are sick and need prayer.)
We don’t read that Peter actually prayed for Simon and I am not inclined to read it into this text. Repentance of this nature is personal. You must repent to be saved. No one else can do this for you. Humble ministers, like Philip and Peter, are to preach Christ and it is those who hear who have the responsibility to repent.
A minister pleads passionately for them to do this. Peter always preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Consider Acts 2:38, 40, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’”
I often hear people in the church speak about narcissism and then they say that the one who is a narcissist needs to see a psychologist. Narcissism is an appropriate word but our prescription is often wrong. The cure for sin is repentance.
Paul speaks of narcissism when he says that people will be ‘lovers of self’. He does this in 2 Timothy 3:1-2, ‘But understand this, in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.’.
What was the answer for all of the sins listed in 2 Timothy 3:2-5? It is the same answer that Peter gives to Simon in Acts 8– Repentance.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 – And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
When the gospel came to Samaria many of the people believed and were baptized. Can you imagine the joy that was in the city? Luke gives us a description of this in Acts 8:8 when he says, “So there was much joy in the city.”
I have a son who wants to move to a bigger city. He wants to experience the city life and have all of the options that a big city can give you that a small town like Stevens Point can’t. Let me be clear, the city cannot offer any joy that compares to what the gospel can bring to a city whether it be a large one or a small one. The light of the gospel brings more joy than the night life and opportunities that a large city can offer.
Philip preached in the big city of Samaria but look at Acts 8:25, “Now when they (Peter and John) had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” Every city, and every individual, needs the gospel.
The gospel was destined to spread throughout the world. The gospel was bound to make a great impact upon many families, in every town, in every city, in every nation, and on every continent. When the gospel comes it can impact every institution, every culture, and every belief system.
All of this is worth celebrating! Yet, one of the things that I appreciate about the gospel is that it is a personal call. It calls every individual to respond in repentance for the forgiveness of sin. And if it is discovered that a man, like Simon, is still in bondage it will call out to him again.
Matthew Henry wrote something that applies to Simon. He said, “Where the principle of men’s profession of religion is carnal and worldly, and the serving of a secular interest, the very same principal, wherever the wind turns, will be the bitter root of a vile and scandalous apostasy.”
Here is my fear, you do not live in a world like the first century. All too often you see in the news about some of the most well-known Christians who have compromised the gospel message when pressure was applied. There seems to be too few who are like the apostles, or Stephen, or Phillip.
There are too few who will confront these sins like Peter does in our text. But there are some who will because the gospel is still working and the Spirit is still applying the gospel in our times.
Be in the Word of God and let it work in your heart.
Be going to God often in prayer as you allow the Holy Spirit to work by the Word.
Be around Godly people. This is something Simon should be commended for. Acts 8:13, “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip.”
Know that even when the Gospel reveals our deepest, darkest and most profound sins that there is still a remedy - repentance.