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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)

Posted by Joe Ligon with

Acts 7





This chapter is a direct continuation of the previous chapter.  Yesterday we met Stephen who was one of the seven set aside and ordained for serving the church.  We also discovered that God equipped him with a passion for sharing the Gospel and then accompanied that sharing with miracles and signs.  Stephen was subsequently arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin.  He was wrongly accused.

As chapter seven opens, the high priest actually gave Stephen an opportunity to speak.  And boy did he speak.  This is the longest address in Acts and one of the most important.  Stephen is going to provide a quick but accurate history of the nation of Israel.  And as he does that he points out the history of Jewish religious leaders taking a stand against the plans of the Lord and the people He called to implement those plans.

This chapter is sandwiched between two important phrases.  In verse 2, as Stephen begins his speech, he speaks of “the God of glory”.  In verse 55, the Bible says Stephen saw “the glory of God”.  Much of the sad story of Israel has to do with their missing God’s glory and God’s glory departing from them.  That is even true about Jesus.  John 1:14 says that God’s glory had come in His Son, Jesus.  When the nation of Israel rejected Him, the glory of God departed from them one more time.

As Stephen came to the end of his speech, he was pretty direct in his accusation. The men that he was speaking to were guilty of betraying and killing Jesus. 

Stephen was given a magnificent vision before he died.  The heavens opened and there was Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Jesus stood no doubt in honor of Stephen who was about to be martyred for the faith.  But Jesus also stood to receive one of His own.

Although Stephen died in a different way than Jesus, there is much in common between those two events.  One, it was the same religious body that was responsible for both.  Two, beginning in verse 59, the last two recorded statements of Stephen were very similar to some of the last things Jesus said. 

There are two more things that I want to call your attention to in this chapter.  One, we first meet Saul here.  Although he didn’t participate in the stoning of Stephen, he consented to it by standing there and watching over the garments of those who were stoning Stephen.  He would never forget this.  (Acts 22:17-21)

The other thing is the statement about Stephen falling asleep.  This is not a literal sleep.  When believers die, their souls are immediately in the presence of God.  The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  But the body that is left behind looks like it is asleep.  And there is a day in the future when the souls of those believers who have died will reenter those bodies and those bodies will get up (be resurrected) as someone rising from sleep. 

So, the death of a believer is much more than sleep.  But we should be comforted by the fact that it can legitimately be compared to sleep.  We should be encouraged that our physical death is certainly not the end of our existence.

Posted by Joe Ligon with

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