THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5
SCRIPTURE: Acts 8
Although we didn’t meet Saul until the end of chapter 7, his role quickly becomes more prominent in the Biblical narrative. This chapter begins with the statement that he approved of Stephen’s execution.
We also discover that Stephen’s execution was a tipping point and great persecution broke out against the Christ followers in Jerusalem. The Scripture says those Christ followers left Jerusalem to go to Judea and Samaria. That by the way is the progression that Jesus gave them in Acts 1:8.
God doesn’t bring persecution on His people. But He does allow it. When He allows it, He has a reason for it. Sometimes that reason is the purification of His people. Sometimes that reason is the rallying of His people to the Gospel. And sometimes that reason is to accomplish His greater goal of getting the Gospel to everyone.
In verse 3, we are told that Saul was creating havoc in or ravaging the church. Christ followers were going to prison for no other reason than they were Christ followers. But the Gospel was spreading like wildfire. The church always prospers when she is persecuted.
The story shifts to Philip who was one of the seven that were set aside and ordained to serve the church in chapter six. Like Stephen, Philip was an evangelist. He took the Gospel to Samaria. It is at this point that we encounter an interesting story.
Folks in Samaria heard the Gospel, believed, and were baptized. But they did not receive the Holy Spirit. In fact, they would not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John arrived and prayed for them and laid hands on them. Then they received the Holy Spirit. So what is going on here?
First, never doubt that it is possible to hear the Gospel and not be saved. It is even possible to believe things about Jesus and not be saved. And it is possible to be baptized and not be saved. The Bible says anyone that does not have the Spirit of God does not belong to God. (Romans 8:9). It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in us that is undeniable proof of our salvation.
So, why did Peter and John have to show up and do what they did for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit? The Samaritans and Jews had been bitter rivals for centuries. If the Samaritans had received the Spirit independent of the Jerusalem church, the rift would have continued and there very well could have been two churches: the Jerusalem church and the Samaritan church.
By delaying the giving of the Spirit until Peter and John arrived, God was preserving the unity of the church. Peter and John could go back and tell the Jerusalem church that the Samaritans did receive the Holy Spirit. And the Samaritan believers would learn that they too were subject to apostolic authority. (By the way, we will see a similar thing happen when the Gospel is preached to Gentiles.)
In many ways, the book of Acts is a story of transition. Christians are distinguished from being just a Jewish sect. From there the story transitions to Samaritans being saved and from there the story transitions to Gentiles being saved. Throughout all of that, God is sovereignly at work protecting the unity of His church. Today, people receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of their salvation. (1 Corinthians 12:13)