Skip Heitzig - Acts 8
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In the last time we were together, we saw a young man, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, on fire, very articulate, very knowledgeable in scripture, who had been a deacon, a servant, in the Church of Jerusalem. His name was Stephen. And he stood before the Jewish council in Jerusalem and was able, with incredible precision, to outline the history of the nation of Israel, the Jewish nation, and to prove that he was not against God. He was not against the Law. And he was not against Moses. But that he was very for God, for the law, and went right along with Moses.
And cleverly, by the power of the Spirit, drew out parallels of Moses, Joseph, and how Jesus was so similar. Not only was he similar to those two people that I mentioned, but the treatment of those two people by the nation was very, very similar to the treatment of Israel, of Jesus. And it didn't go well. It was an incredibly spirit-filled sermon. But the audience that day didn't like his preaching. And they killed him. We saw how the story ended. But we also saw that toward the very end of chapter 7, the chapter closes by introducing us to a character that will take prominent position the rest of the book. And that is Saul. They laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul, Saul of Tarsus, who becomes Paul the Apostle.
Now chapter 8 opens with that same person. It ends with Saul. It opens the next chapter with Saul. Chapter 9 will give us a little bit more. And we'll see his conversion in chapter 9. And the rest of the Book of Acts is going to highlight how not only did God get a hold of Saul of Tarsus and change him into the great apostle. But how the then went from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth, that's acts chapter 1, verse 8. That's the outline of the book. How the gospel, that began at the heart of Judaism, managed to make its way to the heart of the earth which was Rome because Rome was controlling, effectively, the world at that time.
Saul of Tarsus, Paul the Apostle, called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews in Philippians 3. We might have a chance to kind of refresh our memory there. A Hebrew of Hebrews, that is Hebrew speaking, born of Hebrew parents. He was a super Jew. I mean, he was a radical rabbi. He knew scripture. He knew the oral law. He was very zealous for the traditions of his fathers, as we will see in this chapter and in the next chapter.
But where this is leading, what Luke is doing is leading us to the pinnacle of this man's life which is his conversion on the Damascus road in Acts, chapter 9. It is, perhaps, the high point of the book. At least it's one of the high points of the book. To be fair, it's one of the high points in church history. In fact, it's so important that it is mentioned no less than three times in this book alone, the book of Acts.
So it becomes monumental. It becomes pivotal for the rest of church history, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. And I'm telling you all this because it answers a question that would be a fair question to ask at the death of Stephen. So imagine you as a young believer so excited at this young man with such promising gifts named Steven. And you're listening to him, and you're thinking this guy's going to go far. He's going to be used mightily of God. He has years of ministry left. The Lord has invested so much knowledge into him.
But then, when he breathes his last outside of the city of Jerusalem, to look at his dead, lifeless body you would think Lord, why? First of all, why would a God of love allow such suffering for one of his children who is so faithful to represent him? And then to allow his life to be ended so prematurely at such a young age. What a waste.
That's because you don't know the rest of the story. Augustine said we owe Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Once we see how greatly Saul of Tarsus was affected by the death of Stephen and the prayer of Stephen as he looked toward heaven and saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father, standing up, welcoming Stephen into heaven and then praying, Lord don't lay this sin to their charge. That must have greatly affected Saul. So greatly that on the Damascus road I believe that is what the Lord meant when he said, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. Goads of conviction, his heart was pricked, torn up.
He had never seen anyone die like this. He'd seen plenty of people die. He lived in the Roman Empire. But he had never seen anyone die like that. He didn't know it was possible to die with such a heart of love and an innocent outlook. And I think that just stuck inside of him. And he wrestled with it. And I think you see a man under conviction wrestling with those goads in the next two chapters until his conversion.
Having said that, you've heard me explain before that living with somebody who is under conviction is very difficult. If you have a spouse or you have a son or a daughter or a parent who is not saved, and they see you with your Bible, and they see you with your smiles, and they see your joy and your purpose and your meaning, you bug them. You are like sandpaper, man. You are like somebody picking at the scab. They've got no peace of heart. And they are fighting, and they're rustling, and they can lash out, and they can say things and do things that are unbecoming.
And it all begins with the stoning of Stephen and continues on into chapter 8. So verse 1, "Now Saul was consenting to his death." Kill him, kill him, throw another rock. Take his life away. Consenting, amening to it. "At that time a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout all the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him."
Please notice that the godly believers, the first Christian brothers and sisters, when Stephen was killed didn't go, oh well, praise God. He's in heaven. Let's just rejoice. They wept. They made great lamentation. They were grieving deeply. And I bring that to your attention because it bothers me when I hear Christians sort of minimalize somebody who has passed from Earth into heaven. Of course, they've gone into heaven. Of course, it's glorious. Of course, we all want to go there. But have a little consideration for the people who will miss their life's partner or their son or daughter or parent. We're not weeping for the person who is in heaven. We're not going, oh they're in heaven, what a shame. No, It's great for them. We're not them. And we're not there.
So that is what Paul meant in Thessalonians when he said, we sorrow but not like those who have no hope. Oh yeah, we have hope, but we still sorrow. There is still grief. There is a good grief. And so it is fitting for them to make "great lamentation over him." But here's something I want you to note. Acts, chapter 1:8 and Acts, chapter 8:1, they go hand in hand. If you take the scripture seriously and decide to take the gospel to the end of the world, you can experience persecution.
So Acts, chapter 1, verse 8 gives the outline of the book, the commission of Jesus to go from Jerusalem the city, Judea the county, Samaria the next region, and eventually to the uttermost parts of the earth, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost parts of the earth. That's Acts 1:8. If you do Acts 1:8, expect Acts, 8:1.
A great persecution broke out against the church. You can't penetrate this world with its ideologies and its aberrant value systems and its satanic outlook without expecting to have some kind of blow back, some kind of persecution. All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. So Acts 1:8 will guarantee Acts 8:1. A great persecution broke out against the church.
Now we are actually beginning to see how Acts, chapter 1, verse 8 is going to be fulfilled. And it is going to be fulfilled by persecution. Jesus did say Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria. But hey, it's all happening in Jerusalem. It's a great place to hang out. It's exciting here. I mean the, church is growing. There's thousands and thousands of people. There's healings taking place. A couple just dropped dead in church, Ananias and Sapphira. I mean, there's always something new and novel going on. What's going to happen next? Now things are multiplying even.
But the Lord doesn't want them all to stay in Jerusalem. He wants them in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. It seems that nobody is going. Oh yeah, I know he said that. Well, some day we'll do that. Well now they're doing it. How are they doing it? Why are they doing it? Because of the persecution. So it says, "At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem. And they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria."
That's what Jesus told them to do. They hadn't done it yet. Now they're doing it. So the persecution brings the dissemination of the believers which will cause the expansion of the kingdom. Because in Judea, in Samaria, and those who go to the uttermost parts of the earth, they're going to be telling the story, sharing the gospel.
So it is the persecution that the Lord is using as a catalyst to get them out. The apostles are staying back, evidently to give leadership to the church, until something is going to happen in Samaria which will cause a couple of them go out and follow up. But for now they're at home, staying in Jerusalem. "Devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him." Jesus said that the gospel is like a seed that is sown in soil. And if it's sown in the soil of good hearts, it brings forth fruit 30, 60, and 100 fold.
But people are the seed bearers. And so think of seed being thrown out on the field and then scattered by the wind. And as the winds of persecution are blowing through Jerusalem, the seed bearers, the seed of the gospel through their mouth, will go everywhere.
Now here's the great thing about the gospel. You just have to let it out. You know, there is a place to defend it. And we sometimes we're so afraid to just simply share our faith. Because we think, man, they're going to ask me some question I can't answer. So I'll just zip it and not say anything. But I've made some astonishing discoveries. I've walked into situations where I've just simply shared a few words of the gospel and just sort of let it take effect. And I've been amazed what it can do on its own without my help or my defense. It's like, wow.
Case in point, for years people in the West were trying to determine how many Christians were in mainland China. We figured there were about 800,000 before the Cultural Revolution of the 1940s, 800,000. The church at that point in that revolution went underground. They were greatly persecuted. And those of us in the West who observed it, church historian's and theologians, got awfully worried that the church is being killed. They're going underground. They're probably not even believing anymore.
So we thought it's going to dwindle down. We wonder now how many Christians are left. Once that curtain lifts, once there's freedom again, how many Christian believers will actually be in China after that great wave of persecution and scattering and so forth? And we made an astonishing discovery when that curtain finally lifted, and we were able to look inside. The best estimates is that there were, after the persecution, between 50 million to 100 million believers in China after that great Cultural Revolution that forced them underground and persecuted them. Fascinating, fascinating, gospel worked. It spread. It penetrated. So in the midst of great persecution, God has a great plan. We're seeing that.
As for Saul, verse 3, he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Havoc is a word that was used in antiquity in this language to speak of a wild boar rampaging through a garden or an army sweeping through a city and devastating it. Havoc, just disarray, not caring about the outcome.
I did mention a moment ago Philippians 3. And we have been looking at that on our weekend messages. But let me just refresh what it says in Philippians 3. Paul giving his background, his pedigree, "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, concerning the Law, a Pharisee, concerning zeal, persecuting the church."
Now he says that to his shame. But at one time he thought that was on his resume. I'm going to put that on my resume. I'm so zealous I will persecute people who aren't of my religion. I'll go after them. Concerning zeal, I was so zealous I persecuted the church. Concerning the righteousness which is of the law, blameless. So Saul of Tarsus is an agent of the devil, at this point before his conversion, to persecute the church. OK, think back to what we have read so far in the book of Acts. Here's a phrase you'll remember, "And they were all together and had all things in common." Remember that? Says that twice. They were all together. And they had all things in common.
Things were pretty good in the church in Jerusalem. It was comfortable. It must have been very exciting. It's the place to be. Until Saul comes on the scene making havoc of the church. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. So let's see what happens. "He committed them to prison," verse four. "And those who were scattered went everywhere." What are they doing? Preaching the word. That's the seed of the gospel. These are the seed bearers. The winds of persecution are blowing them to these other regions that were part of the plan of Jesus from the beginning. They were scattered. They went everywhere preaching the word.
"Then Philip went down to the city of Sumeria and preached Christ to them. And multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits crying out with loud voice came out of many who were paralyzed, who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed."
Stephen was one of the seven deacons in the Jerusalem church. One of the seven servants who served the tables when there was that complaint with those group of gals. Stephen was one of them. Another one of them was Philip. Philip starts out as a servant. By the time we get to Acts, chapter 21, he will already have a title. Here's his title, Philip the Evangelist. Philip the Evangelist, he will be known as that.
Now he is just known as one of those servants on the ministry team in Jerusalem. So everybody gets scattered. He's one of them. He goes to Samaria and preaches the Word to them. Now Jesus went to Samaria, right? John, chapter 4, do you remember how it opened? It said, but he needed to go through Samaria. Which is a funny line if you know the geography. It's like John is telling a joke. Because nobody needed to go through Samaria. Nobody needed to go through Samaria.
Samaria was off the charts. It was up in the hills, difficult to get to. The Jews had alternate routes when they wanted to go from north to south. Nobody went through Samaria. Not only because it was isolated but because there was animosity. Way back in the 10th century BC, I'm going to give you a little nutshell history. 10th century BC, there was a split in the monarchy. You know, there was Saul and David and Solomon and then Rehoboam. There was a split in that monarchy so that 10 tribes went north with the capital at Samaria. And two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, stayed down south with the capital Jerusalem. The kingdom split north and south; Israel, Judah; Hatfields and McCoys. There was this long-standing family feud, animosity.
As time went on, an empire in the northeast arose called Assyria. They took over the world. The Assyrians swept down into that 10 northern tribal area, Samaria, and took the 10 northern tribes captive with them to Assyria. It was a practice of the Assyrians to repopulate areas that they took over by placing people from other regions that they had taken over into those areas. So now the 10 northern tribal area, the 10 tribes of Israel, were now populated, though there were a few poor farmers left. They kept them in the land because they wouldn't cause trouble and it would keep the land going. They essentially repopulated it with non-Jewish people, Gentile people, from other locations they had taken over. They're in the land.
So what happens? Well, when you need to find sons and daughters for, You need to find partners, marriage partners, for sons and daughters. They're going to marry who is available. They intermarried with those people groups from those different regions and developed a group known as the Samaritans. By the way, just FYI, there are 802 Samaritans alive today. We know that. Interesting story, I wish I had a chance to kind of get into the modern history, but I don't.
So this group of people up north, because of the intermarriage, they're not pure Jewish bloodline now. They're producing children that are part Jewish, part whatever. So the people down in Judah, Judeans and Benjamites, saw the Samaritan northern population as half-breeds, not pure. And so this animosity developed and grew.
Now eventually, Judah will be taken captive, not by the Assyrians but by the Babylonians, 586 BC. Boom, they go. Tree deportations, that's the first one. By the time they come back 70 years later, they start rebuilding their temple down south in Jerusalem. As they rebuild it, some of the Samaritans say, we want to help you. Nehemiah says, thanks, no thanks. This is for the covenant people. So he refused cooperation with the Samaritans, the people in Judea. That furthered the animosity even more.
So in 303 BC the Samaritans built their own temple, very similar to the one in Jerusalem, on Mount Gerizim up north. And they had sacrifices on Mount Gerizim. And they even said, this is where Abraham brought his son Isaac and almost sacrificed him, not down south, not down in Zion, not down in Jerusalem but up here. So they retold the story similar to what Muslims do when it comes to Abraham and Ishmael. So this rivalry developed.
Yet, here's what I want to really get to, Jesus had to go there. Come on, boys, we're going to Samaria. Why? I got to go there. No, you don't. Uh-huh, I got to. There's a woman I got to meet. You can meet her, too. And so by a well, he spoke to her. It got very personal into her life. But by the end of it, not only does she believe but many, it says, of the Samaritans believed in His name. So they had heard the gospel through Jesus being there.
Now Philip gets the idea. Hey, I think I'm going to go where Jesus went. He did that and there were people who believed in him. I'm going to go back and preach the gospel up there. So he does, very successfully. He preaches the gospel. Multitudes, verse six, "with one accord", this is amazing, "heeded," listened to, the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. "For unclean spirits cried out with a loud voice came out of many who were possessed, many who were paralyzed and lame were healed." This is pretty amazing for the, let's call him, the church janitor in Jerusalem to become this mighty, miracle-working, articulate preacher, sent out on a mission with incredible results.
Now there is a principle. And the principle is that of faithfulness. Jesus talked about being faithful in little. If you're faithful in little, you'll be entrusted with much. And you'll be faithful with much. Because you're tested on the little. Some people fail right here. Oh no, no, no, no I can't do the little stuff. God has called me to bigger things. And God never will call you to bigger things unless you're faithful with the small thing. That's his principal.
You start small. You work your way through it And you let the Lord humble yourself before the mighty hand of God and in due time he will raise you up. So that's the story of Philip. He humbled himself. The Lord used him.
Many years ago, and since the passage of time has gone, nobody will remember. But many, many, many years ago, not in this building, not in the other, but in previous buildings, I had a worship leader here for a very short time. And it was a short time because I was straightening chairs in the sanctuary one day and making sure they were fitted together right. And I asked him to come and help me.
And, you know, he kind of hesitated like, I don't know if I know how to do that like it takes skill. But I said, no, I'll show you how. This is how we do it. And so he started working with me for a couple rows. But then he walked away. And at the end of the day he goes, you know what, I didn't come here for this. God didn't call me to this. God called me to do great things. I said, I think you could actually put a period, just God didn't call me here period. I don't think God called you here. Because part of the ministry is doing what I'm doing right here, just straightening those chairs.
And, you know, in the book of Zechariah, So the long story short is that was his last day. I wanted him to go where God felt, I didn't want to hinder him to do the small things that he wasn't called to do. God forbid that I would stand in his way. So in the book of Zechariah, the people have been back building that temple I told you about, down south in Jerusalem. They were discouraged. And it was off to a poor start. Zerubbabel the governor laid the foundation, but it kind of looked meager and meek. And even when it was done, some of the people that remembered the previous temple, they wailed and cried. It didn't look as good as the old one. And other people were rejoicing. So just a cacophony of confusion emotionally.
So the Lord gave a vision to Zechariah the prophet in chapter 4. And he sees a menorah, a seven branched golden candlestick, in this vision. And above it he sees this vessel, this pot of oil, and seven pipes going to this lampstand, the menorah, sort of like an automated menorah. It was automatic. The oil was coming from this big vessel into the pipes, filling up the menorah that the priest would usually have to do once a day. But it was just filling it, keeping it going, keeping it supplied so that it could stay lit. This is all a vision he had.
Next to that vessel with the oil there were two olive trees. So you have a direct feed of olive from the tree even though you have to go through a process of breaking down the olive, typically. In this vision, you know how visions and dreams are, they don't always make sense. So there's two olive trees supplying the vessel with the pipes supplying the menorah so it stays refreshed. And so the Lord said, do you know what you're looking at, Zechariah? And, you know, he's like a typical, uh, no.
He's saying, you are seeing, this is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel that it's not by might, it's not by power, it's by my spirit, says the Lord. Zerubbabel laid the foundation of this temple. And he's going to finish the temple. His own hands that laid the foundations are going to finish it. And then the Lord says, don't despise the day of small things. It looks meager to you now. It looks so small. It looks so little. Well, just hang in there. One stone on another, it'll finish. It'll go. It'll be successful.
And I love that story. And I think of guys like Philip who said, yeah, I'll serve tables. I'm not too good for that. I want to serve. I want to get my hands dirty. That was the great thing God called him to do that day. But on this day he went to Samaria. And the Lord, the same spirit that gave him the gift to serve the body of Christ in those little capacities, now adds to it.
And look at verse 8, "And there was great joy in that city." That is always the result of the gospel, great joy. We've been talking about joy on weekends, Sundays and Saturdays, the epistle of joy. God is not a killjoy. God is the king of joy. He's the giver of joy. When you come to know him, if you walk with him, your life should have joy. Doesn't mean you'll always be happy at the way things are turning out. But no matter what's going on, even with physical ailments, even with the loss of employment, even with difficulties relationally, you can have, it is possible to have, the joy of the Lord as your strength.
There was great joy in that city. But, Now you know the story's going to go a little south when you read that word after what you just read. People came to Christ, joy in the city, but there was a certain man. There always is a certain man. Every generation there's some guy, there's some gal, or somebody is going to do something to kind of mess it up. Am I right? So God's moving, but there's this guy. Every church has them. Every movement has them. Every period of church history has a certain man.
Now you see this word "but" because it introduces a contrast. You go from a powerful preacher to this false practitioner named Simon Magus. That's how he is typically known, Simon Magus, Simon the magician or the sorcerer of the city of Samaria. "But there was a certain man called Simon who previously practiced sorcery," magic, "in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying this man is the great power of God. And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time."
This guy is an occultist. He's practicing sorcery, an ancient form of magic, a very primitive science along with astrology, what they would have called astronomy. But it was astrological nonsense, reading clouds, reading entrails of animals. But obviously, something worked. Because there was a release of power even though it was from the dark side, from the evil side. There was power. Things happened. Miracles happened. And that shouldn't surprise you. 2 Corinthians says, concerning Satan, he can transform himself into an angel of light. It should be no wonder to us that his ministers can transform themselves into ministers of righteousness.
They all look good. They all sound good. They're doing amazing things. Listen closer. In fact, listen to what is said to the preachers on TV. Listen to the doctrine. Listen very closely and carefully. They said, this man is the great power of God. Now let me tell you a little bit about Simon Magus, this guy. Because you may have never heard of him except here. Church history actually writes about him.
A guy by the name, second century guy, by the name of Justin Martyr, who happened to be from Samaria actually, said that Simon Magus was considered to be a God not only by people in this region but even some in Rome worshipped him as one of their deities and that there was a statue in honor to Simon Magus in the city of Rome. That his influence had gone that far.
Irenaeus, in the second century, said it was Simon Magus who developed a doctrine called gnosticism, that he was the founder, you church history buffs, of gnosticism. That was later on developed by Cerinthus and others but that it began, its nascency, began with him. So just a little back fill on that.
Verse 12, "But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the Kingdom of God in the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed." Before you get your hopes up, oh awesome, because that's what we do when we hear somebody famous, some rock star, some actor who just drops God in a sentence. We go, oh he's saved even if they say they believe in God.
So it says he believed, but watch. "And when he was baptized, he continued with Philip and was amazed seeing the miracles and the signs which were done." Now we're going to be questioning his salvation by the end of this chapter because of the things that the apostles will say to him. But he's amazed seeing the miracles and the signs that were done.
I'll just put it out there. I think it was a fake conversion. I think he's losing business. He's losing adherents. His church isn't growing. His group is dwindling. People aren't looking to him anymore. They're looking to Philip with this new message of the gospel.
So he comes along, and he looks, and he's amazed also at the miracles, genuine miracles, not sorcery, genuine healing miracles. He's getting a little jealous because his business has been dropping off. The basis of Simon Magus' faith seems to be, not in the God who does miracles, but in the miracles of God. It's the miracles. It's the signs. It's not God.
This is not different from Acts, chapter 2, where it says when Jesus goes to Jerusalem, Acts, chapter 2, the end of the chapter. And many believed in His name when they saw the signs which he did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them because he knew all men. And he had no need that anyone testify of man for he knew what was in man. He could tell true faith from shallow faith. I think Simon Magus has this shallow faith.
"Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. Who when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet, he had fallen upon none of them." We covered some of this in our little prequel to the book of Acts, our three part series on the Holy Spirit. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
So it's time for follow-up. The crusade have been very effective. A lot of people have come to make decisions to follow Christ. But, you know, a deacon did this. So let's send out the big guns, the apostolic big guns, Peter and John, to kind of validate this, give it the sanction. So they left Jerusalem. They go up to check it out. And when they come to Samaria, these two apostles start praying for them, in favor of them, that they might be filled with the Holy Spirit. Now here's why I'm smiling. Because you know this, you're just not remembering it right now. But there's a little background you need to know about, especially with these guys.
So let me read it to you. This is out of the Gospel of Luke. "It came to pass when the time had come for him," Jesus, "to be received up that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem and send messengers before his face. And they entered a village of the Samaritans to prepare for him. But they did not receive him because his face was set for the journey to Jerusalem."
Remember the animosity that's been going on. And when the disciples James and John, so John was there, same John who was with Peter in Acts, saw this they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" Just as Elijah did. So they've gone nuclear. They're ready to push the red button. He turned and said, rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the son of man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them. And so they went to another village."
Isn't that amazing? The apostles who were praying fire come down from heaven are now praying that they would be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. They once wanted them scorched, now they want them saved. Very different and humorous because at one time they thought, I think it would be good just to wipe them off the face of the earth, don't you, Jesus? Isn't that in your heart of love to do? Oh no, OK, we'll just go on then, I guess.
So I wanted to bring that to your attention because here's the deal. Aren't you glad for second chances? You blew it the first time. You come back the second time, you say, oh, thank you, Lord. I'm glad you didn't honor my prayer when I said kill them all. I love it, second chances. So they prayed. They landed their hands on them and they, verse 17, received the Holy Spirit. "And when Simon saw that through the laying on of hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, now listen to Peter here. I think this sort of gives us our verdict.
"Your money perish with you." I'll tell you in a moment how strong that actually is. "Because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money. You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent, therefore, of this your wickedness. And pray God that perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me that none of these things which you have spoken of may come upon me." Again, it's all about the consequences and the power, not about the changed heart.
Now what we just read is where the idea of a word comes from. There is a word in our language called simony. And simony, you could look it up in your dictionary. Please don't do that right now on your little phone. But simony is a word that means to buy or to get, to obtain, an ecclesiastical office by paying money, to get some church position. You know, I want to get ordained. I want to pay money so that I can become an officer in the church. That phenomenon known as simony comes from Simon Magus of Samaria saying, hey, I got some money here. I want to buy the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now simony became a problem in church history. If you know your church history, you know that sometimes the office of pope was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Sometimes there was not one pope, but there were three popes duking it out, fighting for power. And the guy who won had the biggest pot of money. So simony has marked the history of some portions of the church. In fact, Benedict the Ninth who was a scoundrel pope, a very profligate individual, sold his position as pope to another guy, Benedict the Sixth. It was John somebody else, but he took the name Benedict the Sixth. And so he took the money, the guy, and just retired with the money. It was just all done, it was simony.
So notice what Peter says. Peter says, "And your money perish with you." Now, one of the translations of the Bible, called the JB Phillips translation, it's a very colorful language, it's a very modern language, translates this verse, I'm quoting now the verse so don't get mad at me, "To hell with you and your money." What Phillips is trying to do is show the strength of the original language in English. You get the point with that translation. So here he says, your money perish with you. It's a very, very strong rebuke. And he got the message. And all the people at Samaria went, whoa, don't mess with that dude.
Have you heard the name Jerome in church history? Jerome founded a monastery in Bethlehem. Jerome said when you preach, always aim at pricking the heart not stroking the skin. Well, Peter didn't know Jerome, but I bet they would have been buddies. I think Peter would go, yeah, what he said, because that's how I preach. Then in church history, there was a guy named Billy Sunday. I talked about him a couple of weeks ago on a weekend service. Billy Sunday was a baseball player turned evangelist. He was filled with joy and filled with life, and at the same time, very, very pointed in his preaching.
So on one occasion he said, they tell me that I rub the fur the wrong way. I don't. Let the cat turn around. He was calling for repentance. He goes, I'm not going against the flow. You just need to turn around and it'll be all right. "Repent," he says, "therefore, your wickedness. And pray God that perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I've seen," verse 23, "you are poisoned by bitterness and bound with iniquity." How did he know that? How could he say that?
Well there is a gift of the Holy Spirit called the gift of discernment. It's the same discernment this man Peter had in chapter five within Ananias and Sapphira. Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? You haven't lied to men. You've lied to God. Bam, you're dead. Wife come in. Why did you lie to the Holy Spirit? Bam, you're dead. Take them out boys. Bury them.
How did he know that? How did he know it here? Gift of discernment, he had insight. And let me just say, the gift of discernment is not a fun gift to have. It's a very unfun gift to have. Because if you're one of 10 people, and you're the guy or gal with discernment, and you see what with nobody else sees. Oh, it's a wonderful ministry. It's a great church. It's a great book. It's awesome. One goes, eh, no it's not.
See the gift of discernment is like the liver in the body. The liver detects the poisons and filters it all out and keeps the body clean. But yuck, it's not a fun organ to be. I'm a liver. And so those with the gift of discernment are like the liver in the body of Christ. At this point, the liver is Simon Peter. Verse 25, let's try to finish this up. "So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans. Now, an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert.
"And he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury and had come to Jerusalem to worship." Ethiopia, the ancient kingdom south of the Nile, south of Egypt, was considered by the Greeks and Romans the outer limits of the world, the outer limits of civilization. But it was a great empire.
Now when it says Candace, the queen, Candace is not a name like her name would be candy for short. It wasn't a name. It was a title. There were many Candace's in the history of the Ethiopian nation. So the name Candace isn't a name, it's a title, like pharaoh or Caesar. She was the queen, Candace. She was a Candace, a queen. So a eunuch, that word actually means a bed keeper. And you can guess what this guy did. In antiquity, kings had lots of gals, a harem of women. And the eunuch was the one who was in charge of the apartment, the housing complex, for the gals, for the harem.
And here's a guy, but it says under Candace. Why is that? Because Ethiopian kings were considered to be incarnations of the sun-god and government was beneath their dignity to actually do administrative work. That's for the chicks. That's what they thought. The women can do that. So the government was actually administered by a Queen Mother, one of the kings, his mother was a Candace, a queen. And she administered it. But there was a King of Ethiopia but they just thought it was below the dignity of a sun-god to actually do any work. So his mom did it all for him. He was a mama's boy.
The Ethiopian eunuch was the Secretary of the Treasury under this queen, Candace. But what's interesting is he must have been a Jewish proselyte. Because he has come all the way from Ethiopia to the feast to worship in Jerusalem. Now he's going back. It's a long journey. He was probably a Gentile who came to believe in the God of Israel. So he's a proselyte, a convert, from Judaism, or into Judaism. And so he has come back. He has come to worship. And he's leaving like so many do who are into their religion. He is coming back empty.
Religion always leaves you empty. You're going to see he's empty, and his heart's going to be filled because he's going to hear the gospel. But religion always leaves you empty. It might be beautiful. It might have ornate practices and traditions and songs that make you feel good. But at the heart, religion doesn't satisfy anybody. And he's returning having converted to Judaism, having relinquished the foreign gods of Ethiopia. He would have to do that to be a Jewish proselyte. But he's coming back. Something's not settled. And enter now, Philip.
So he's returning, verse 28. "Sitting in his chariot," and he was reading Isaiah the prophet, "and the spirit said to Philip, go near and overtake this chariot. So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah and said, "Do you understand what you're reading?" That's a good opening line. He's reading the scripture. You see somebody in Starbucks, hey, do you understand that? Now they might go, yeah, but like better than you do. OK, but maybe not. Maybe he's going to say to you or she's going to say what he says.
He says, how can I unless somebody guides me? And he asks Philip to come up and sit with him And the place in the scripture which he read was this, "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, as a lamb before a shears is silent. So he opened not his mouth in his humiliation. His justice was taken away. And who will declare his generation for his life is taken from the earth?"
He just happens to be reading isaiah, chapter 53, the great messianic text. So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning at this scripture preached Jesus to him. Now as he went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, see here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? And Philip said, if you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and he said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Philip sees the chariot. He starts walking toward it. His heart is pounding. But he's got to know this is a setup because the Holy Spirit said, go, go, go, you got this, go. Talk about a setup. Here's a Gentile convert to Judaism with a copy of the scriptures, unheard of. First of all, a copy of the scriptures is in a synagogue. Nobody privately owns them unless they've got a lot of bank. Moreover, Gentiles were never allowed to have a copy of Hebrew scriptures, proselyte or otherwise. But he had one because, you know what? Money speaks louder than tradition. So he has one. He's reading his own copy. And his heart is open. He's teachable. So perfect, right time, right place, right person, right attitude just all came together. He said, I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Beginning with that scripture, he preached Jesus to him." They see water. He wants to get baptized. "Philip said, if you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered, and he said, I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. So he commanded the chariot to stand still and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water. And he baptized him."
Signifies immersion, they went into the water. Not just like, here let sprinkle this on. He went into full immersion. I know it was full immersion, by the way. I'll explain in just a second. "When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away." I'll explain that next time. "So that the eunuch saw him no more. And he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found." Wouldn't you love this as a transportation method? "Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities until he came to Caesarea."
To be a convert to Judaism, number one you need an instruction. Number two, if you are a male you needed circumcision. Number three, male or female, you needed full immersion into water as a symbol of cleansing. And Jews afterwards had several cleansing before they went to worship. That's why there were these pools of water in Jerusalem. And in gatherings where Jewish people met, it's called a mikveh. Mikveh means a collection of water. They would go into the mikveh and come out of the mikveh. And they would be cleansed.
If they had touched a dead body, they would have to go through a ceremonial washing. If there was a bloody flux, through a washing. If they defiled themselves, through a washing, et cetera. So baptism was actually Old Testament before it became New Testament. But it speaks of, for us, buried with Christ, united with him in resurrection. And so Paul says, Romans, chapter 6, even so we should walk in newness of life. Just Trying to end this up quickly because I'm a minute over time. So it speaks of your new status in Christ.
When we baptize people, we tell them we're going to bury you in the water. But then we're going to bring you back up. We're not going to leave you there. All right, we take them down. And we bring them up. And that going down and coming up is like death, burial resurrection. Now walk in newness of life. It symbolizes the reality of what Jesus has done. You are identifying with his death, burial, and resurrection. Now we walk in newness of life. That's the symbolism of it. If you haven't been baptized, get baptized. Don't wait 20 years. I always ask people, so when did you get saved? Oh, 40 years ago. And you're waiting, why? I don't know, just never got around to it.
In the New Testament, it was pretty immediate. You get saved, you get baptized. In other countries you get saved, you get baptized. And they often will give them a new name. They will often do it in the town square so that their are other neighbors will know that guy's a Christian now. He is making a public declaration. So let me encourage you, if you're a saved man or woman, and you haven't been baptized as a knowing convert to Christ, in the words of Nike, just do it.
Father, thank you for what you've done for us. Lord, thank you that in the Book of Acts we are seeing the continuation of the work of Jesus. It's what Jesus continues to do and to teach even as the Gospel of Luke is what Jesus began to do and to teach. Thank you, Lord, that we could have a night together in the Word. Bless us, Lord, as we go our ways. And for the Afterglow, Lord, just make your presence, the power of your Spirit, reside and work in Jesus' name, amen.