The Church Persecuted and Scattered
The stoning of Stephen instigated great persecution against the Church. Saul began his crusade to hunt down the believers, going door to door and dragging them out of their houses and putting them behind bars. Everyone but the apostles were scattered all throughout Judea and Samaria. Among the scattered was Philip, who was elected as part of the administrative wing of the early church. The Holy Spirit worked through Philip and he preached the gospel, healed the sick and drove out impure spirits. Having been driven out of Jerusalem, Philip brought good news to Samaria and there was great joy in the city.
Simon the Sorcerer
Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and everyone followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. They even exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” Even we are swayed by the great sorcerers of our time, and think that God is using these false prophets and preachers. Peter warns us about such preachers in 2 Peter.
But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong. – 2 Peter 2:1-2 (MSG)
But when Philip came to town and proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ, they could see a difference and took baptism. Seeing the signs The Holy Spirit performed through Philip, even Simon (knowingly or maybe unknowingly) took baptism and started following Philip everywhere.
Back at the headquarters in Jerusalem the apostles heard about the revival in Samaria and sent senior Apostles Peter and John to pray for the new believers that they too might receive the Holy Spirit.
Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” -Acts 8:18-19
Simon, being a magician his entire professional life wanted this supposed ability, that he thought Peter possessed. He wanted the recognition that came along with that so called ability. He offered money to the apostles thinking that they will share this unique ‘trick’ with him. Peter rebuked him harshly similar to when Christ had rebuked him when he said something stupid like what Simon had said. Are we following Christ with the right motive? Do we intend to extend His kingdom and not our fame? Even if we have taken baptism and are following Christ daily, still we must guard our hearts (through prayer) against such thoughts.
Philip and the Ethiopian
The angel guided Philip to his next mission on the desert road which goes from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip did not question the angel or wonder who he would find in the desert but simply obeyed. An Ethiopian eunuch, who was in charge of the queen’s treasury, was passing by the same road in his chariot. This Ethiopian had gone to worship the Lord in Jerusalem and was on his way back home. While travelling he was reading aloud passages from the book of Isaiah.
During those days, books of the Bible were not portable (because it was kept in the Synagogue) but since the Ethiopian was a high ranking officer, he might have had access to some of the scriptures. As he was reading aloud, the Spirit of the Lord guided Philip to go near the Ethiopian’s chariot. Philip immediately went and asked if the Ethiopian could understand what he was reading. The Ethiopian answered saying that he could not understand and wanted someone to explain the scriptures to him. Even we cannot understand the scriptures unless the Holy Spirit explains them to us. This man was kind and invited Philip on-board his chariot. His desire to understand the word is clearly visible. The scripture portion he was reading was the perfect passage which gave Philip a platform to preach the Gospel of Jesus.
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.” – Acts 8:32-38
The Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip that who was these verses referencing to, Isaiah or someone else. Philip took hold of this opportunity as guided by the Holy Spirit and told him the good news. The scripture here was talking about Jesus, how he gave His life for our sins. Philip told him about Jesus’ life as a sacrifice for our sins and his victorious resurrection from the dead.
Similarly, we know that we are placed in this world to explain this truth to others. We are called to tell what we have experienced to those who are searching. There are innumerable people in this world who are still trying to understand the way, truth and life. God gives us enormous opportunities to proclaim the good news to the people around us but also gives us the free will to do so. If we grab hold of the opportunity to share the good news, He fills us with His Spirit and guides us taking care of the rest.
As they were travelling, they saw some water and the Ethiopian ordered the chariot to be stopped. Now that the Ethiopian was clear in his thoughts he was ready to be baptized and to give his life to Jesus. Philip baptized him and the next moment, Philip was taken away to another place where he continued preaching about the living water. The Ethiopian did not see Philip again but received an uncontrollable joy due to which he went away rejoicing.