With Pentecost, the church age started, and the twelve disciples were now commissioned as apostles… going out into the world to share the good news of Christ. So what did they do?
They stayed in Jerusalem. Not a bad idea at first. But they stayed in Jerusalem quite awhile. That wasn’t really good. They were designated to be apostles. The term apostle means that they are called out, or sent out, or act as ambassadors. They were not supposed to stay in Jerusalem or any church. They were supposed to reach out to new areas and new peoples.
But finally, the people in Jerusalem began to reach out to neighboring towns and communities… because of St. Paul. Now at this time, he wasn’t yet a saint. And at this time Luke tends to call him Saul. According to Acts chapter 8, Saul went around Jerusalem house to house of Christians dragging them off to Jail. So Christians began to scatter and tell others about Christ. Persecution is NOT always bad. Suffering is NOT always bad. Let’s read Acts 8, starting in verse 4.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Philip was not one of the twelve disciples. He was not one of the original 12 apostles. He actually was a deacon at the church of Jerusalem. In Acts 6 there were 7 deacons assigned to help out in the church. Philip was one of them. Philip was different from the twelve disciples in that he was what we would call a Hellenized Jew. That is, he was Jewish by blood but Greek in many ways by culture. It is interesting that many of the great early missionaries and evangelists of the early church were people who were comfortable living in two different cultures. Philip had roots in Jewish culture and in Greek culture and appeared to be comfortable in sharing with people of other cultures.
So Philip leaves Jerusalem because of the persecution and goes to Samaria, and he begins sharing God’s love with the people of Samaria. And they responded! They wanted to follow Jesus!
14 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. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Here we get to an area of apparent contradictions in the Bible. The Samaritans received the Holy Spirit and did so linked to a miraculous gift… in this case speaking in foreign languages. Now this is not the only time where the receiving of the Holy Spirit was linked to a miraculous gift. In fact, four times in Acts, the receiving of the Holy Spirit was tied to a miraculous gift.
Another thing is that in this case there is a time difference between belief in Christ and the receipt of the Holy Spirit. This is the only case that we know of after Pentecost where this has happened. In fact, this is the challenge. When we go the Epistles, such as Ephesians and I Corinthians, Paul makes it very clear that all Christians have the Holy Spirit, but not all Christians have miraculous gifts.
Different groups choose different directions to deal with the contradiction. Some focus on the events of Acts over the aparent statement in the Epistles. Some focus the statements in the Epistles and view the unique events in Acts as non-normative. You can decide for yourself… you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you what to think. However, for myself, I believe the statements of Paul describes how God ordinarily works. We accept Christ by Faith and we immediately of one church and one Spirit. We don’t have to wait for something more to come along later. What is described in parts of Acts is God acting in an extraordinary way.
I consider this to be good exegesis (you may or may not agree) but it does have an added value that implies a functionalist or missiological purpose for events and record of the Book of Acts. I believe that God was still trying to teach his disciples (and us) something very important.
- The first miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to the Jews… the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost… in Acts chapter 2.
- The second miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to the Samaritans, here in Acts 8.
- The third miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to the Gentiles, in Acts 10.
- The final miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit was to followers of John the Baptist who followed Christ in Acts 19. <The followers of John the Baptist could easily have been thought of by the early Christians as the one group that might “inclusively” be redeemed by Christ without following Christ>
Each one was a sign. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (that is, the immersion of individuals into a new divine community of faith) is available to all people who place their faith in Christ… to Jews, to Samaritans, to Gentiles. In the New Testament the concept of baptism of the Holy Spirit is not something that happens to individuals. It happens to the church. The church is baptized of the Holy Spirit so when we in faith come to Christ, we are part of His church and share in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
But why would the Holy Spirit delay in coming to the Samaritans when, as far as we know, He never delayed elsewhere after Pentecost? The Apostles were present at Pentecost. Peter was present in the house of Cornelius when Gentiles came to Christ. Paul was present when the followers of John the Baptist accepted Christ. But the apostles were not there when the Samaritans accepted Christ. God needed the apostles to see that the Samaritans were baptized by the same Holy Spirit into the same church the same way that the Jews were. But the apostles were not there when the Samaritans accepted Christ. Only Philip the Evangelist… a deacon of the church of Jerusalem was there. God needed them to see something not just hear about it. We are the same way sometimes. It is not good enough to hear about something amazing, or read about something amazing. We need to see it.
The question is, did it work? Did the apostles learn something that changed their attitude and actions. The answer is without a doubt, YES!! Look at verse 25
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Peter and John stayed in Jerusalem for years without sharing the Gospel with Samaritans. When Peter and John went up to Samaria to see what Philip was doing, it appears that they went directly there without sharing the Gospel with Samaritans on the way. But once they saw that Samaritans were accepted by God in the same manner as Jews, it said that they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way preaching the Good News.
Some years later, Peter spoke at the Jerusalem Council and summed things up. Acts 15: 6-11. The question was whether a non-Jew had to become a Jew… or at least act like a Jew to become a Christian. A good question. But Peter learned something from this event and the event with the Gentile Cornelius and his family.
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Yes the Apostles learned their lesson, and because of that the Gospel of Christ has gone from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.
So why did I call this “The Potential in Samaria.” It’s pretty simple. The disciples of Jesus saw the problems of Samaria. God saw the potential of Samaria. Jesus set up the plan for Samaria, training His disciples so that they could not only see the potential, but be part of turning that potential into a reality.
- Samaria, Part I. The Problem of Samaria (missionmusings.wordpress.com)