Paul, last week, took us through chapter 7 and the incredible story of Stephen. Stephen is a man whom the scripture describes as full of the spirit, wise, full of faith, full of grace and full of power. We saw that while he was assigned the role of making sure that food was distributed fairly he was also a preacher and declarer to the word of God. He had an amazing understanding of the Old Testament and was able to out argue some the Pharisees – even Saul. He exposed their history to them showing that they had consistently failed in their walk with God, rejecting the prophets sent to them, rejecting the spirit and rejecting the messiah. They’re the ones, not him, who have blasphemed God. Such was his brilliance, and his boldness in preaching what Jesus had taught he was killed. As he died, Saul looked on with approval.
WHEN DID THE PERSECUTION BEGIN?
On that day! The day of Stephen’s killing.
WHY DO YOU THINK STEPHEN’S DEATH WAS A CATALYST FOR PERSECUTION?
The line was crossed – the barrier was broken. The Jews had retrained themselves up to this point but Stephen caused such rage that they over-stepped the mark and killed him – but by killing once the gate was opened. Not everyone was part of the persecution – some devout men came and buried Stephen.
WHAT WAS SAUL’S STRATEGY?
To destroy the Church. The enemy is now adopting an unsubtle approach – lets just violently take the church out. The verb destroy, lumaino expresses a brutal or sadistic cruelty. Saul does not spare women in this and his passion was to see these people killed (9:1, 22:4, 26:10).
WHAT GOOD COMES FROM v1?
The great dispersion leads to the fulfilling of the great commission – the sending out of the church into Judea, Samaria and the entire world. It’s the dispersion of the New Israel.
Stephen’s speech was prophetic – Jerusalem and the temple now begin to fade from view as Christ calls his people out and accompanies them.
WHAT IS SIGNIFICANT ABOUT WHERE PHILIP GOES?
Philip goes to the despised and hated Samaritans – they were hybrids in both religion and race. It shows the change in people like Philip. Also Peter and John, who come later (remember John was the one who said to Jesus, regarding a Samaritan village, “shall I call fire down from heaven on these people”), are about to have their cultural thinking changed. We know Jesus’ compassion and love for the Samaritans through the Gospels but now the disciples have grasped it.
ANYTHING INTERESTING ABOUT PHILIP’S MESSAGE?
He preaches about the Messiah – the Samaritans were expecting a Messiah and so the Gospel was ideal for them. HE also performs miracles and signs and the people pay attention.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS STRANGE MAN SIMON THAT GAVE HIM HIS AUTHORITY AND POSITION?
He performed some magic/sorcery and proclaimed himself to be someone great.
HOW DOES THIS CONTRAST TO PHILIP’S APPROACH?
Philip does not proclaim himself but Christ. Philip declares himself to be nobody – he only declares Jesus Christ.
That is what all preachers should do – proclaim Christ not themselves.
DOES SIMON CONVERT OR NOT?
WHAT IS THE IMPLICATION OF THIS IN TERMS OF CONVERSION AND BELIEF?
John Stott says that there is no need to support that he was only pretending to believe – nor that he exercised saving faith because Peter in v21 declares his heart was not right.
Calvin would argue for temporary faith.
Simon believed in God but he did not believe God – he did not believe to submission. Hence his desire to pay for the Holy Spirit – he did not have the transformational experience of the Spirit.
Many in the church are in Simon’s position.
WHY ARE PETER AND JOHN CALLED TO COME AND INSPECT WOULD HAD HAPPENED?
WHAT IS SIGNIFICANT THEOLOGICALLY ABOUT V15 & 16?
Theologian Howard Marshall: the most extraordinary statement in Acts, especially in light of Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The visit of Peter and john to Samaria was exceptional. Samaria was the first occasion on which the gospel had been proclaimed post-resurrection, not only outside Jerusalem but inside Samaria. The Samaritans were a kind of halfway house between Jews and Gentiles. The conversion of Samaria was like the first fruits of the calling of the Gentiles.
It happens twice more but not on this scale: Cornelius’ conversion where the apostles ask Peter to explain what happened (11:1-18) and when the Greeks turned to the Lord in Antioch Barnabas is sent to scout out what happened (11:20-24).
WHAT DOES THIS ENCOUNTER BETWEEN PHILIP AND THE ETHIOPEAN TELL US ABOUT GOD?
God is concerned about an Ethiopian eunuch, who is a probably convert to Judaism who is reading Isaiah in his chariot.
God send Philip some 60 miles to make sure he encounters this man so that he can explain a passage in Isaiah, lead him to conversion in Jesus and then baptize him.
God’s compassion for us means he arranges some incredible appointments so that we can be exposed to Jesus.
WHAT IS REMARKABLE ABOUT THIS CONVERSION?
Chrysostom compares this to Saul’s conversion. The Ethiopian, unlike Saul, sees no wonders, or miracles, or visions. He believes purely on the word of God – from the scriptures. He is like you and I – we hear, then we believe, and then we experience the Spirit.