Lesson 17: Christ Preached in Samaria
Welcome back! I appreciate this opportunity to study with you again. If you have a New Testament in place, we begin Lesson 17 in Acts 8:4. We are beginning a new section in the book of Acts. At this point the scene shifts from that local church in Jerusalem to other places. You will recall our last study ended on a sad note. Verses 1 - 3 in Chapter 8 inform us that the church was scattered from Jerusalem by a great persecution, brought upon the church after the stoning of Stephen. This was brought on by those outraged leaders of Judaism. Some one might ask the question: Did the Sanhedrin council have the power to put Stephen to death? The answer is no! They took the power; riot power. This may have brought a frown or a rebuke from the civil authorities. That information is not given in our text. But, life was cheap in those days, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We do not know how long it was from Pentecost to the stoning of Stephen. At least several months, and possibly a few years. The Jerusalem church had grown consistently and rapidly, unity had prevailed. The apostles had used their time to make new converts but they had also taken the time, per Jesus' instruction, in the great commission, to train other teachers to preach and to teach Jesus, as was the case with Stephen. You will remember the Jews,
were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
Jesus had made it clear in the great commission they were to teach others to teach others to teach others. I suppose over the many months that had transpired, some must have sat in classes at the feet of the apostles and wondered when they would have the opportunity to teach. They were anxious to serve the master, to be fishers of men, and workers in his vineyard. This opportunity cane, not in the splendor they had hoped, I'm sure. Some scattered here and some scattered there. We do not know about their home life, and their families, it must have been a difficult time to say the least. But we do know some of the things they did. Verse 4, let's read;
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.
The church spread from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria on the north. Just as Jesus had predicted in Acts 1:8. Do you remember the words of Gamaliel?
If.. .this work be of men, it will come to naught; but if the be of God, you cannot overthrow it. (Acts 5:38)
According to that test, we'll call it the Gamaliel test, the Jerusalem church had passed the test. It was not overthrown. Instead, they went everywhere preaching the word. That church in Jerusalem was a school for missionaries. You see,
all things work together for good to them that love God. (Romans 8:28)
We do not know what the alternatives would have been bad they been able to continue in Jerusalem. Some have suggested the Lord was behind brining on the persecution to force the church out of Jerusalem because they were not missionary minded enough. That is very presumptive. There is NOTHING in the text to fault this model church in that way. They were doing a good job, the church was growing and it was Holy Spirit directed. May I encourage you to take this study seriously. Your time will come, just as these brethren found themselves in communities where they had not expected to go, you will find opportunities to teach and be a fisher of men that you don't foresee now. Sharpen your axe. Get prepared now. Take a lesson from the old wood cutter. The experienced wood cutter will anchor his old double-bit axe in a stump and spend about a half-hour filing, whetting and honing, the very first thing each morning. The beginner is impatient and anxious to get started. He wants to see the chips fly. He sees all that tedious sharpening labor of the old wood cutter as a waste of time. But, as the day wears on, the novice is using more labor to cut less wood. Each lick is shallow. When the sun sets, the old experienced wood cutter has harvested maybe two or three times as many trees as the beginner. He has done it easier, and with less labor. So sharpen up. Use your time now to improve your knowledge. Sharpen up your skills! Your time will come before you are ready, really ready, just like it did with those brethren in Jerusalem. They, no longer, had the apostles to lean on. Saving souls depended on them. But they passed the test.
They went everywhere preaching the word.
The rest of Chapter 8 is primarily about the works of one man. That man is Philip. Philip was one of the seven, a deacon that served tables in Jerusalem, NOT the apostle by that name. It would be interesting to know where the others went. I'm sure we would enjoy reading about their successes in preaching and teaching Jesus. But the Holy Spirit saw fit to give us just a glimpse of only Philip. Let's read verses 5-8;
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, come out of many that were possessed with them; and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
OK, Philip found himself driven out of Jerusalem. He went down to the city of Samaria. The city of Samaria was also in the province of Samaria. It is interesting to notice the word "down."
Philip went down to the city of Samaria.
Samaria is north of Jerusalem and Judea. We speak of going town south and up north. Some have thought this to be an inconsistency or an error in the Bible. But not so! When the Bible speaks of up or down, it makes reference to elevation, up-hill or down-hill, nor north or south. If you were to walk about 35 miles north from Jerusalem to Samaria, it would be down-hill all the way. That's the way they traveled, by foot, so the Bible states it correctly. According to v. 6 the people of Samaria were attentive, they gave heed to the things Philip taught. Philip did miracles. The only miracles mentioned here have reference to healing. Similar to Stephen, Philip did miracles and possessed miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit. And as was the case with Stephen, we are not told when or how he received these powers. Two diseases are mentioned, the lame and those taken with palsies.. It would be interesting to read about each case, and hear all the details similar to the lame man that Peter and John healed in the temple. But here several cases are merely mentioned in passing, not details. Now, unclean spirits seem to be listed separate from these other diseases. This same terminology is used to describe some of the acts of Jesus in the first four books of the New Testament. A classic example is the demonic man that Jesus healed in the land of the Gadarenes, east of the See of Galilee. That case is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. First recorded in Matthew 8:28-34. Also at the time Jesus gave the limited commission in Matthew 10:1, Jesus gave the apostles power against unclean spirits and to heal all manner of disease. Now that was before Jesus died and His resurrection. That was somewhat of an apostolic training mission, although it was more than that. You will remember also, the apostles healed,
them which were vexed with unclean spirits
in Acts 5:16. The miracles here accompanies Philip's preaching, similar to the way Jesus and the apostle taught before him. Now, I don't want to get side tracked here on demon possession, unclean spirits, exorcism, and all of that. But, if you haven't studied this before it probably ups your curiosity. So, let me say a few words to guide your thinking. It has never been absolutely clear to me what these unclean spirits or demons represent. It may be something we are no longer familiar with. In other words, it is extinct. Or, it could have reference to something we are familiar with but we do not recognize it couched in these terms. It's my judgement this phenomenon has ceased today. I'll give you some reasons why I believe that. First, it was prophesied near the close of the Old Testament (Zachariah 13:1-2) mat prophets and unclean spirits would pass out of the land. Prophets possessed the Holy Spirit and demonstrated their claims by miraculous powers. They had powers over unclean spirits. Now, Jesus, the apostles and those who received a miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit as Philip did; also demonstrated their power in this way to confirm the word, i.e. to establish authenticity as God's agent. But after the Bible was written and the word was confirmed, these miraculous powers ceased. Oral prophets have ceased. We'll get down to the miraculous part later in this lesson and in some future lessons. But, to clear just a little fog right now, demon possession as taught in the New Testament is NOT the same things as the power of Satan today. Satan DOES have power today! Some try to equate Satan's power today with unclean spirits, if you've seen the EXCORC1ST, but they are two different things. Satan will abide in us today ONLY if he is invited or permitted. The devil cannot take charge of you against your will.
Satan goes about seeking who he may devour. (I Peter 5:8)
But just remember,
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
I Corinthians 10:13 says,
God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.
So, for the devil to enter a man's heart, Satan must be an invited guest. Now, there's no question; he's always looking for an invitation. But, he can't force an entry into your heart. Now, I'm not saying that everyone Satan uses is aware of it. Some believe a lie,
because they receive NOT the love of the truth, that they may be saved. (II Thessalonians 2:10)
The next verse makes it clear those that don't have a love for the truth can be strongly deluded. But, if they want to know, i.e. the desire is there, Jesus said in John 7:17,
if any man will do his will, [i.e. God's will] he shall know of the doctrine.
The great hindrance IS most do NOT desire the truth. Thus, God permits THEM to be deluded in that case. Hebrew 11:6 says,
[God] is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
So, that old cliche 'the devil made me do it' is NOT legitimate. I repeat, Satan does not have powers today. But that is different from these unclean spirits Philip cast out. Now, back to v. 6. The giving "heed" in v.6 and the "great joy" in v. 8 make it clear Philip's teaching had its effect. OK, let's read verses 9-12;
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one; to who they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
The man Simon was what we call a magician, except that he falsely made it appear he had divine powers too. He had practiced this art for a long time , apparently was very skillful, and he had a great influence on the Samaritan people. But when they saw Philip's miracles and heard him teach about Jesus, they immediately recognized the difference between the magic tricks of Simon and the real miracles of Philip. The artificial and the genuine was very convincing. Notice here, the obedience of these men and women is summarized in the words,
they were baptized.
Whereas, the obedience of that company of priests in Acts 6:7 is summarized in these words: they
were obedient to the faith.
These two phrases summarize the same thing; thus, we see that faith and baptism were both involved . It was said of those people who were converted by Peter's sermon in Solomon's Porch that
them which heard the word believed. (Acts 4:4)
We are to infer that each group did exactly the same thing, i.e. took the same steps in obedience. Thus, we must analyze the sum total of these and all other such descriptive statements to get a cleat picture of the steps of salvation. You will recall we went over these steps in advance, so as to make this comparison as we covered each conversion. Lets read verse 13,
Then Simon himself believed also, and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
Philip's miracles were so convincing the old magician himself surrendered along with his clients of several years standing. It is interesting to note, he made no attempts to compete with Philip. This attests to two things; first, Philip's miracles left no room for doubt as to their source; and second, Simon's heart was not the rebellious type like the Pharisees we observed in Jerusalem. When he saw the evidence he surrendered, he admitted, he did not try to suppress it. After he obeyed the gospel, i.e. took action to have his sins remitted. (And notice, that action is consistent with every other conversation to this point.) Then he continued with Philip. He followed Philip around,
and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs
which were done.
He was awed by the miracles, just as I would be: Except, Simon's trade made him even more observant. OK, let's read verses 14-17,
Now, when the apostles which were in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John; who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost; (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
When the news of Philip's success in Samaria got back to Jerusalem where the apostles had stayed, you will remember, these men determined to send help and encouragement to Philip and the disciples of Samaria. Peter and John were selected as the team to send on this mission. We are not told why Peter and John were selected, they may have volunteered. They may have had better health than some other apostles. They may have been the only ones NOT highly involved at the moment in some other missionary activity, remember there was a lot of people who went a lot of places. Luke only follows the activity of Philip. Peter and John's activity in Samaria must have been about what we would call a gospel meeting. They must have preached and tried to convince more people. In addition to this, they prayed that some of the Samaritan converts would receive the Holy Spirit, i.e. in a miraculous measure. These disciples had already been baptized as indicated in v. 12 and v. 16. Consequently, they had already received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and had been added to the church as all believers are, according to Peter's sermon on Pentecost.
But this is the first time we are given ANY INFORMATION whatsoever as to how these miracle-working-powers were passed on, other than that received by the apostles on that Sunday morning of Pentecost. We have seen evidence that both Stephen and Philip possessed these powers, but nothing has been said up until now, as to how these powers were passed on. In the example here the Holy Spirit was passed on by prayer and the laying on of the apostles' hands. According to v. 17,at least some of the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit in a miraculous measure. There is no reason to believe the spiritual power passed on by the apostles for confirming the word and the faith of the disciples was a baptismal measure as the apostles had received. It might be worthy to mention at this point, there is no example or evidence in the New Testament that anyone other than the apostles, ever passed these powers on to someone else. According to v. 14-15 it would appear the primary reason for Peter and John's mission to Samaria was to impart spiritual gifts to them. If Philip could have passed on these powers, which he DID possess prior to Peter and John's arrival, then the primary reason for Peter and John's mission would have been unnecessary. Philip would have already had it done. Thus, we conclude ONLY the apostles were capable of passing on these powers.
Apparently, when the apostles died and those whom the apostles anointed with these powers died, inspiration and miracles ceased. As has been said before, these powers were used only to confirm the word and give US the New Testament. Any healing or other benefits derived from this power were a bonus, NOT a primary purpose of the powers given by the Holy Spirit. I recognize what I have said here does not agree with many creeds and doctrines taught in our big religious world today. I grew up in a community where almost everyone claimed to get the Holy Spirit at one time or another. They spoke in tongues, they shouted and rolled in the floor, testified, and made many other claims. It is not my purpose here to cast doubt upon those people or belittle them in any way. They were doing what they had been taught. The only problem was they had not been taught the Bible. And, I simply want to make you aware of the difference. If someone should ask: Why did the disciples of Samaria received the Holy Spirit in a miraculous degree and we today do not? Then the answer is simple. These powers were for the purpose of establishing the kingdom or church, confirming the word and putting the word in a permanent form. I speak of the Bible, which will perfectly or thoroughly furnish us to all good works. (E Timothy 3:17). The Samaritans did not have that advantage. They had essentially the same thing, as long as the apostles or Philip, endowed with power, were with them, but we shall find that these men departed shortly. Thus, that's the reason for the Samaritans receiving the miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit. It is evident that NOT ALL Samaritans did. For example, there is no reason to suppose Simon was in this group. Rather the circumstances would suggest otherwise as we shall see in v. 18 -19. But we'll save that for lesson 18.