4 “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.
6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles, which he did.
7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.
8 And there was great joy in that city.” Acts 8:4-8
In the previous verses of Acts we have recorded the stoning of Stephen, and are introduced to the great persecution in Jerusalem that scattered the church throughout Palestine. One of the Christians that had to flee was the Deacon Philip.
Though little is said about Philip in Acts, what is said reveals a man of great faith, ability, bravery and dedication to God. He was also a preacher, teacher and his ministry included miracles and healings. Try to imagine yourself a Samaritan living in the time of the Apostles. Since you could remember, the Jews hated you and you hated them. This hatred was so deep that devout Jews even refused to walk through Samaria when travelling from Jerusalem up to Galilee.
Now comes this man named Philip and instead of rejecting you and hating you and belittling you he begins preaching the love of Jesus for you. And as proof of that love he becomes the catalyst through which God begins a ministry of healings and miracles on behalf of the people. According to verse seven even the unclean spirits fled from the people they had possessed and the result was “there was great joy in that city.” (v. 8)
I wonder how you and I would have felt listening to Philip and seeing and experiencing the miracles that accompanied his ministry? Now this is where things become very strange in the narrative. In verses nine through thirteen we are introduced to Simon the sorcerer who is so impressed with Philip’s ministry that he is baptized (v. 13) along with a host of others. (v. 12)
So far so good – Philip preaches about Jesus, the people experience the miracles and healings that accompany his ministry and they receive baptism as a result.
Now come some of the most surprising words in the entire New Testament. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.
15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 8:14-16
Did you catch this? Philip has been preaching Jesus to the Samaritans, they had experienced the miracles that accompanied such preaching and the result was they were baptized. However, now verse fifteen tells us, that Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans so that, “they might receive the Holy Spirit.” And if that wasn’t enough verse sixteen throws this dinger at us, “the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
What is going on in these verses? How is it possible to accept Jesus as your personal savior, be baptized and experience the miraculous workings of God and not have received the Holy Spirit?
The Apostles prayed (v. 15) for the people that they “might receive the Holy Spirit (v. 15) since the Holy Spirit, “had not yet come on any of them.” (v. 16)
So, what is Luke, the writer of Acts, trying to tell us in these verses about redemption, the laying on of hands and the Samaritans relationship to the Holy Spirit? First of all we must not think there is any formula in these verses such as receiving Christ and then later receiving a second baptism of the Holy Spirit. The reason I say that is because in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch baptism, conversion and the falling of the Holy Spirit all take place at the same time, In Acts 10:44 the Holy Spirit precedes baptism.
Luke is not trying to make a statement regarding the timing of receiving the Spirit. He instead is presenting to his Jewish readers the authenticity of the Samaritans conversion by introducing John and Peter’s blessing on them by the laying on of hands.
The Samaritans in contrast to Simon the sorcerer were converted and had received Jesus into their lives. They were spiritual babes, however, and were not prepared for the rigors of the Christian life. It was only when the Apostles came and laid hands upon them that they were filled with the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to carry out their mission as witnesses for Christ.
We need to remember that John and his brother James were the two disciples who had earlier wanted God to call fire down from heaven and kill the people because of the Samaritan’s lack of hospitality. (Luke 9:52ff) Now John and Peter come to offer these outcasts the right hand of fellowship into the community of believers. The church in Jerusalem, we could say, had a conversion experience along with the Samaritans and from that point on changed their attitude towards them.
I think, however, there is even more going on here. This according to F.F. Bruce was the Pentecost experience of the Samaritan church. In other words God was now pouring out His Spirit upon the Samaritans just as His Spirit fell upon the disciples on Pentecost.
If we think about the parallels they are very close. Both the disciples and the Samaritans were followers of Jesus. Both groups had heard the gospel and responded to it. In both cases the filling of the Spirit came after their initial conversion experience. The initial experience at Pentecost was not the norm for every group of converts just as the laying on of hands and its association with the Holy Spirit only appears one more time in the entire book of Acts.
These seem to be unique experiences of God setting the church on its way with His blessing and directive. At Pentecost the Jewish Christian church found it’s footing and became a missionary movement. The Samaritans were the beneficiaries of that blessing and now they also receive the outpouring of the Spirit (through the laying on of hands) to become a new missionary movement.
And just as certain gifts were poured out on the Apostles at Pentecost we have no reason to believe that these blessings were not given to the Samaritan church at their Pentecost experience.
A last comment that I would like to make is that Luke makes it clear by including the story of Simon the sorcerer that the Spirit is not someone or an experience we can buy. The coming of the Holy Spirit is in conjunction with faith and trust in the goodness and power of God. We cannot receive the Spirit through actions, trying to act a certain way, or do certain things. It comes by the grace of God to those who put their faith in Jesus.
Each of us who were baptized into Jesus were baptized into His grace and received the Holy Spirit. It is possible that as we grow spiritually God manifests further grace upon us through the giving of certain gifts that we use for ministry. For the Samaritans just because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit did not mean they were not Christians or were not converted. When the Apostles laid hands upon them it was a sign that they were now part of the Universal church, the family of God and no longer outcasts. They received the commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Because they received this commission they were given the gifts, power, strength, encouragement and love, through the Spirit to make their ministry a success.
Do you doubt you are filled with the Spirit? Ask yourself if you have the desire, the longing and the love to reach out to the lost world around you? If you don’t, pray for a new filling of the Spirit that will give you a dynamic heart for the lost. And if your heart beats for the lost then pray for further power and grace to carry out God’s will for you.
* Many people around the globe are experiencing persecution for their faith in God, and many even unto death. They need our support and continuous prayers. Please take the time to read some of their stories at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet but you have to search for it