With the persecution of the church, the Christians scattered. Philip went down to Samaria…an interesting phrase since Samaria is to the North. Luke uses this phrase because Samaria sits geographically below Jerusalem so you literally go down to Samaria. Then Luke sets Philip and Simon the Sorcerer side by side.
Philip baptized Simon and many others in Samaria and carries on the progression Jesus told them in Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Peter and John hear of what has happened and come down from Jerusalem to Samaria. Something different happens here. The people have been baptized but not received the Spirit. When the Jews in Jerusalem were baptized in Acts 2 they received the Spirit. We teach that we receive the Spirit at baptism today. So why the absence of the Spirit at baptism here? Samaritans were second class citizens and many viewed them as half-breeds. There is some confusion here in the literature and even Fergusson Backgrounds of Early Christianity tells the story two different ways. Nonetheless, in order for it to be clear that God had really accepted these people who had been rejected for generations, he showed his acceptance in a special way – receiving the Spirit by laying on of hands. We see it again in Acts 10 with Cornelius, the first Gentile convert. Again, baptism and receiving the Spirit will be separated to show in a special way that God has indeed accepted these believers.
Acts 8:18 – Simon, the one who astonished so many people for so long was himself astonished when he sees them receive the Spirit at the laying on of hands and he is amazed! The one who spent so many years amazing the people is now himself amazed. He offered to buy this power from them! Peter told him what he had done was wicked and that he needed to repent. Still not getting it but at least a little terrified, Simon asks for their prayers for them, not for his sin but to keep him from harm!
Acts 8:26-40 Philip and the Ethiopian
Here is a story we normally turn to to talk about baptism. That is not exactly Luke’s point, although it is one component. This pious Ethiopian had been to Jerusalem to worship. He was in the middle of studying Isaiah and unwittingly was reading a messianic prophesy in Isa 53. Led by an angel of the Lord, Philip finds this man and rides alongside him. He answers his questions about this scripture and teaches him about Jesus and how He fulfilled it. The man was baptized and went on his way home. Finally the Gospel is on its way “to the ends of the earth.”
God has a plan and a purpose for his people. It was true then and it is true now. There are people to be reached if we will just listen and look. If we will be available to listen when people have questions. If we are willing to be patient with those who have not grown up in church. If we are willing to go when he says go. If we are willing to ride alongside of people and listen to their concerns and honestly and openly address them. If we are willing to share the hope that we have in Christ. If we are willing to see sin for what it is and see Jesus for who He is. Then we will be open for the harvest God has prepared because God is at work and all He asks is that we respond to His call. We don’t have to say “If God…” because He already has. He has done it all. How are we going to respond?