The In-Between Years - Part 45
Series: The In-Between Years
August 08, 2021
The In-Between Years — Part 45
I will introduce today’s message in our series “The In-Between Years: A Look at the Church in the Book of Acts” by reading the text from last week’s installment. We’ll need it to put this week’s in context…
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. Acts 8:4–8 (ESV)
Last week we saw how the most unlikely group of folks you’d expect to receive the gospel does just that. And it brought much joy to the city. The gospel brings joy because it’s the good news that Jesus — God come to us in the flesh — lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died and came back from the dead to pave the way for us to one day overcome death too. It’s good news because when we receive it we actually become children of God and citizens of his kingdom that is both here now and not yet, and it is for all no matter your race, background, gender, status, etc.
Now we can understand how they’d be joyful, but what Luke records next is odd and kind of hard to figure out. A wiser pastor might be tempted to skip it or move quickly past it. But not me (I said wiser pastors). This next part of the story raises two questions in particular, one of which causes a great deal of debate within the church.
Okay. Beginning with verse 9 we have kind of a flashback to what things were like before Philip arrived and shared the gospel in verses 4-8…
9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. Acts 8:9-11 (ESV)
So before Philip came on the scene, a man named Simon enthralled the people of the city with his magic abilities. It might very well have been something like we see on TV. He was so good at it, whether it was sleight of hand or the use of sorcery to harness occult powers or both, the people thought he must be some kind of manifestation of God’s power. He also thought pretty highly of himself, like anchorman Ron burgundy, because he went around saying, “I’m kind of a big deal.”
Luke says they “paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic” (v. 11). Look back at what Luke said about Philip...
6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. Acts 8:6–7 (ESV)
Paid attention to is the same Greek word in both texts. Luke is telling us the people were captivated by Simon’s powers until Philip came along. Simon had done amazing things but never anything like casting out demons and healing the paralyzed. And neither had he preached a transformative message (what he did was all just for show). The message and the miracles Phillip brought gave hope and joy to the city. As amazing as Simon was, what he did never produced anything like that. But check this out…
12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. Acts 8:12-13 (ESV)
I didn’t see that coming. I would have guessed there’d have been a battle, a showdown. But no, Simon, the one whom all the people paid attention to, now paid attention to Philip and responded to the good news. The man who had amazed others was himself amazed. More on that in a minute…
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:14-17 (ESV)
Word gets back to headquarters in Jerusalem that Samaritans were receiving the gospel and being saved (remember everybody but the apostles had scattered). So Peter and John were dispatched to go check it out. They arrived and discovered that though the Samaritans had received the gospel and been baptized, something was missing. The Holy Spirit had not fallen on them. So they laid hands on them and they “received the Spirit.”
I’m just gonna say it. That’s kinda weird. What is that about? This little part of the story right here is what causes a great deal of debate. It separates people theologically, denominationally, and even relationally within the church. Why? Because it raises a question that Christians answer in more than one way and it’s this:
“Is the receiving of the Holy Spirit different from and subsequent to receiving salvation?”
Is this receiving of the Spirit something different from, something a Christian should seek after, being saved? Is what we see here something normative for us as Christ-followers today?
Our Pentecostal brothers and sisters have answered that with a yes. They believe there is a work of the Spirit in the life of a believer subsequent to salvation called the baptism of the Spirit and that’s what’s happening here. This second experience empowers a Christian in unique ways for ministry and is accompanied by the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. BTW, if any of my Pentecostal brothers and sisters feel I’ve misrepresented this let me know.
Baptists and other non-pentecostal Christians say no. What we see here is not normative. It does not demonstrate the need to seek a second salvation experience concerning the Spirit. We get all the Spirit we are going to get when we get saved; it’s all part of the initial salvation transaction.
Before I tell you what I think, let me share something with you. Pastor Brad 1.0 (that’s me before my Job experience) preached this text many years ago, and when I did I tackled this particular question as if the answer was black and white, and I wasn’t very charitable about it. And I did that because the few Bible scholars and commentators I consulted did the same, and it was the “in” thing to do in my tribe. But Brad 2.0, for what he’s worth, learned that though many things are black and white in God’s Word (like Jesus being God in the flesh and God being three persons in one), many are not. I’ve learned one of the most mature, wisest things a Christian, or Bible scholar, or commentator, or pastor can say when it comes to some of the deep things in God’s Word is I DON’T KNOW.
These days, I don’t listen to or consult the works of folks who can’t or won’t say I don’t know. Their God is too small. Too tame. And their unwillingness to admit they don’t know something (which manifests itself as having a definitive answer to every question raised about Scripture) is a sign they don’t get it. I’m not saying they aren’t saved or anything, just that they are being irresponsible with the Bible. There’s no way one book could contain enough information to answer all the questions it raises about the infinite God of the universe it describes and explains and how his salvation works. I have learned to be content with not knowing.
On this matter, I don’t know for sure. But here’s what I think for all it’s worth.
One of the things we must understand about the book of Acts is that it records the birth of the church and the years following. That was a unique and unrepeatable era. It makes sense to think there might be situations peculiar to that time we wouldn’t see today such as the day the church was born…
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1–4 (ESV)
The church was born in Jerusalem when the Spirit appeared as tongues of fire and fell upon the first disciples accompanied by the miraculous sign of speaking in tongues (within context known languages). I think even our Pentecostal brethren would agree we don’t see that happen today. This was special in that it inaugurated phase I of God’s witness projection plan (remember that?).
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)
Now what is Acts 8 about with the scattering of the disciples and the spreading of the gospel to the Samaritans? The beginning of phase II. That’s why the apostles were dispatched. You see, I don’t think Peter and John’s attitude was, “What?! Samaritans. No way. We gotta go make sure this isn’t a mistake. What was Philip thinking?!”
Remember, Jesus had already paved the way for the gospel’s arrival in Samaria. He even included their region by name in his projection plan. No, the apostles were like, “It sounds like phase II is beginning, let’s go see.” And they saw it was genuine, so they put their stamp of approval on phase II by the laying on of hands so the Spirit would manifest itself in a way to show this was legit. Peter and John, as apostles in this special time in the church, were able to do what Philip wasn’t called to as a deacon.
We will see phase three begin in chapter 10 (that’s to the ends of the earth meaning Gentiles). Peter the apostle is sent to share the gospel with a gentile, a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Here’s what happens…
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Acts 10:44–48 (ESV)
We note that there’s a corporate manifestation of the Spirit at the beginning of every Acts 1:8 phase concerning groups of people.
Phase I at Pentecost — Jews at Jerusalem (Spirits falls with tongues)
Phase II — Samaritans (Spirit falls with tongues implied)
Phase III — Gentiles (Spirit falls with tongues)
But there is no record of a Spirit manifestation like this with individuals, like the individual Philip will lead to Jesus following this.
Note here also in phase III to the Gentiles that the Spirit fell upon them before they were baptized in contrast to the Samaritans who believed and were baptized first. There’s one other account in Acts 19 where those baptized under John the Baptist’s ministry received the Spirit and spoke in tongues, but even that is an unrepeatable situation. You can’t make a formula out of this. It just won’t work.
I believe it’s hard to make a case from Acts for the doctrine of Spirit baptism being something subsequent to salvation. The NT talks about Spirit baptism, but never as something following salvation but something accompanying it.
I do believe there is a work of the Spirit in the life of a believer that follows baptism, but it has to do with growing in grace to the point where the Spirit has more of you — you yield to him — and not that you have more of him.
Above all, I know this: our Pentecostal brothers and sisters want the same thing we do, to be full of the Spirit.
Enough said about that. Luke records one more odd thing in the Samaritan account and it has to do with Simon…
18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” Acts 8:18–24 (ESV)
The big question here: Was Simon saved or not?
I consulted a dozen commentaries or better on this, some said he definitely was and some said he definitely wasn’t. Guess what? I don’t know.
If he was saved this is a matter of discipline and discipleship. Simon would have been saved out of the wickedness of sorcery and witchcraft. He’d have been messy at first. We have to better about that these days. We have to be willing to get messy and lovingly share truth with new believers.
If he wasn’t saved, this is a stern warning for us all that you can believe in Jesus and not be truly saved. Some people “believe” because it benefits them in some selfish way or they like the idea of getting fire insurance. Or maybe they just think it’s cool to get the attention that comes with getting saved and being baptized. Or they think the church family will give them things. Or they just find the idea of Jesus attractive. Like Simon, though, time will find them out. The fruit they bear gives evidence of who they really are.
You see there’s faith and then there’s saving faith. The kind of belief or faith that saves involves surrender. It involves repentance. If this worries you to death you can stop worrying.
The biggest reason I think he wasn’t saved — just in case you care to know what I think — is that God didn’t strike dead. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for money issues. God doesn’t discipline the devil’s children.
Conclusion: Here’s how the story of phase II’s beginning ends…
25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. Acts 8:25 (ESV)
That gospel Philip preached was simple. It’s the same gospel I share with you every Sunday. It’s the good news that…
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
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