Jesus had commanded Peter, along with the other disciples, to go into all the world with the good news. They were to begin in Jerusalem, because that's where they were, and that's where it all began. Then they were to go throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. It soon became obvious that the apostles were not leaving Jerusalem on their own. Step-by-step God increased the pressure on them until finally they were driven into hiding for a time. While the apostles were hiding the church was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. One of those who was scattered was Philip who was very successful in reaching people for Jesus. This concerned the apostles at Jerusalem.
Let's read that account beginning in…
Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
Do you remember Samaria? Once Jesus took the disciples there on his way from Judea to Galilee. After sending his disciples away for food, Jesus was waiting at Jacob's well so that he could meet a woman who needed him very much. You can read the full account in John chapter 4.
The Samaritans were, and still are, a people group who recognize only the first five books of the Bible and worship God at a temple on a mountain near a village called Sychar. During that visit, Jesus not only led the woman at the well to faith in him as Messiah but also, led many Samaritans to a like faith.
Now, two or three years later, the Samaritans (perhaps some of the very same ones) would hear the gospel and respond in faith. You see…
Philip, along with Stephen and five other men, was chosen by the early church to lead in feeding the poor. They were men filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. As Philip taught the people…
Signs of God's approval accompanied his teaching. Let's look at Luke's account. Acts 8:4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 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.
It could very well be that some of those in Sychar were in the city of Samaria when Philip arrived. They would have remembered the visit of Jesus to the region. So far as we know, Jesus did not perform any miracles on his visit to Samaria. When Philip came to preach he proclaimed Christ and miraculous signs confirmed his preaching.
The Samaritans were familiar with magic because they had Simon the magician living among them. Because of his magic he was considered a great man of God. Yet, quite obviously, Simon did not even know God.
That would soon change as…
Many Samaritans came to faith. Again, let's return to the account in Acts 8:9 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. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when 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 field that was "white unto harvest" and only needed laborers to gather it in. Like all spiritually hungry people they were open to anything that they thought God was in. So the local magician had a large following of spiritually hungry people. When Philip came on the scene everything changed for them. They heard, and recognized, the truth driven home by the Holy Spirit who convicts and converts sinners.
The Samaritans not only believed but they acted on their belief! They heard the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result of that, they were baptized, both men and women.
Not only did the people believe but…
Simon the magician also believed. Listen to this! Acts 8:13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
The man who had amazed others was now amazed! Not only did he believe but he also was baptized. After his baptism Simon stayed with Philip trying to understand how all of this worked. After all, he understood his magic but he certainly couldn't understand what Philip was doing.
The normal response to salvation is baptism. When the grace of God moves in an individual's life and they place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ then they desire to be obedient and they submit themselves for baptism.
This sermon series is about Peter but, in this sermon, until now I have only talked about Philip and the Samaritans. Now, that is about to change. You see…
Peter and John followed. Apparently Peter and John spent a lot of time together in the early days of the church. They, along with the other apostles, were the pastors of the Jerusalem church — The Mother Church!
The mother church in Jerusalem was concerned. Later we'll see how this plays out when Paul and Barnabas brought back to Antioch a report of the Gentiles coming to salvation. This caused an immediate conflict in the Jewish church. Let's look ahead to Acts 15:1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
Up until the last generation or two church councils were convened to solve problems within an individual church. That helped keep the churches on the right track. I'm sorry to say that, at least among Baptist churches, there is very little submission to outside authority. So, if a church gets out of line in teaching or practice it is up to the local members to pull it back into line.
It was extremely important, in the days of the beginnings, for the churches to be on the right track. When conflict arose, the more mature churches could send a delegation to resolve any problems.
The apostles in Jerusalem, upon hearing of the gospel going out in Samaria, immediately decided to make sure these new churches were founded on the truth. So…
They chose their best to investigate. At least ten times, in the Gospels and the book of Acts, Peter and John were named together and in that order. It was Peter and John, along with John's brother James, who were allowed into the room when Jesus brought Jairus' daughter back to life. Peter and John, again with James, were allowed to be on the mountaintop when Jesus was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah. On Easter morning, after hearing the report of the women, it was Peter and John who ran to the tomb. They were among those who held the Christian community together between the ascension and Pentecost. It was Peter and John, on their way to the temple to pray, who commanded the man who was lame from his birth to rise and walk. For that kindness they were arrested and became the first of Jesus' disciples to be arrested from the Gospel's sake.
Now they were called upon to check out the church of Samaria.
They prayed for the Samaritans. When they arrived and began to hear the testimonies of the people discovered that the Holy Spirit had not come upon them! This was a serious problem. The apostles' understanding of salvation was fairly clear. On the day of Pentecost, Peter had said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The Samaritans had repented and been baptized and yet showed no evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no evidence in the text that Philip had a deficient understanding of the gospel. Certainly, he believed that these people had received Christ just as the people of Jerusalem had! Otherwise he would not have baptized them!
So, what's up? Up until this time everyone in the church was Jewish. Either they were born Jews or they were converted to Judaism. There were no Gentiles in the church! Certainly there were no Samaritans in the church. The Samaritans were a mixed race who were looked down upon by the Jews as the lowest of the Gentiles. It was very important that God establish the Samaritan churches on an equal footing with the churches of Jerusalem and Judea.
The church in Samaria was established.
God had withheld the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit is evidence of salvation. Not some particular gift of the spirit such as tongues, or prophecy, but a manifestation of the Holy Spirit's presence was important to salvation. Jews and Gentiles would be brought together into one body. All races and all social classes would be equally represented. See what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Just as the apostles and disciples of Jesus had to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high came upon them to confirm their salvation and energize them for ministry, just so the Samaritans also needed an outpouring of the spirit to prove their equality in the body of Christ.
With the power came confusion. Look at what happened! Acts 8:18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon, as a new convert, had a lot to learn. No doubt in his previous work some magic had been empowered, or at least approved of, by Satan himself. Now the devil moved in to divide the church — or destroy it! Simon saw the apostles praying for the new converts and laying hands on them and as a result the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit.
Wow, that's what he wanted! Not just to have the Holy Spirit himself but to be able to lay on hands and impart the Spirit to others. Following his past experience and practice he simply offered to pay the disciples for this spiritual gift.
Now that the devil has played his hand God could use his servant, Peter, to deal with this in a manner that would be redemptive and not destructive. So…
Peter dealt with it. Let's read on Acts 8:20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
First, Peter strongly rebuked Simon. In the strongest possible language Peter rejected the idea that money would have any impact on the ability to receive a spiritual gift. Peter could see into his soul and be able to say that Simon had no part in what they were doing. Peter could see that Simon's heart was not right with God. That being said, Peter did not reject Simon as a person. What he did say to Simon was that he should repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord that the intentions of his heart may be forgiven.
Peter could see what Simon successfully hid from others. He could see that Simon had a bitter spirit. In Hebrews we are told to see to it that no root of bitterness spring up and cause trouble. When that happens many people are defiled. Simon was possessed by bitterness and bound by iniquity.
There is some evidence that Simon did repent. At least, he asked Peter to pray for him that he would be delivered. He didn't say the formula, "that I be delivered from bitterness and iniquity,” but what he did say was that nothing Peter had said should come upon him. There is hope that we may see Simon at the throne in heaven. Our God is a God of compassion and grace.
Remember, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. It is by grace through faith that we are saved. No one is ever saved by works of righteousness because all unrighteousness is like filthy rags to God.
It must've been hard for Peter to go to Samaria to minister. We will look later at how hard it was for this proud Jew to associate with Samaritans and other Gentiles. I thank God that he was willing! We must also be willing to go wherever God commands.
The book of Acts is a book of history, not theology. It's important to remember that fact while reading the book. We are told what happened but are not always told why it happened. Jesus had commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until power came upon them. They did and it did! This showed the approval of God on the establishment of the church. Now it was time for the expansion of the church into Samaria. It was important for that church to be recognized as equal to the church in Jerusalem. Therefore, we have the "Samaritan Pentecost"to prove the validity of their faith. The Spirit of God convicts people of sin, righteousness and judgment. That Holy Spirit brings people into the body of Christ. Have you answered his call? If not, today is the day of salvation!
All scripture quotes are from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.