Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Acts 8 - Saul, Philip, Simon, and the Ethiopian Seeker

LINK: Acts 8

BACKGROUND


This chapter is easy to follow so I will touch briefly on the four men in the narrative.


Saul the Persecutor (8:1-3)


Saul is introduced in Acts 7, but we learn more about him in Acts 8 where he is the center of the persecution. With Stephen's martyrdom, the persecution of the church goes into full swing with the followers of Jesus being scattered.  This was in God's plan to send them to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8; 11:19ff). Persecution scatters the church like wind scatters seed and both produce a greater harvest!  


Many commentators believe that the primary scattering was among the Greek-speaking Jews because they were the focus of persecution due to the fact that Stephen was a Greek believer also (Acts 6:3-8:2). It is believed that the native Jews stayed in Jerusalem.  


Philip the Evangelist (8:4-8)



Philip's journey was from locations 4-7. Map supplied by Gordon Smith  http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm

Philip, also a Greek-speaking Jew, was part of that scattered seed. He was mentioned after Stephen in the list of seven men appointed to serve the Greek-speaking Jewish widows (Acts 6:5). He escaped persecution in Jerusalem by fleeing to Samaria. Samaritans were "half-breed" people. They were descendants of the Jews who had remained in the land after the Assyrians captured the ten northern tribes in 732 B.C. and intermarried with the imported Gentile people. They had their own temple and priesthood separate from Jerusalem (Acts 4:9). As a result of Philips preaching and miracles that demonstrated God's power, the Samaritan people believed and were filled with joy (Acts 8:8, 12). Philip was the first missionary!


Simon the Sorcerer (8:9-25)


He was called the "Great Power of God" and astounded the people with his Satan-energized sorcery (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). The text says that he believed (8:13), but he believed in the miracles that Philip performed without any repentance for his sins. He wanted to pay for the power that Philip had without embracing the Person behind Philip's power. There is a pattern in Acts that shows the conflict between the ministry of the Gospel and money/business (Acts 5:1-11; 16:16-24; 19:23-41). I think many modern day Christian ministries could learn a lot from this pattern! (See my REFLECTION on Ezekiel 34-35.) 


The Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit, and Peter and John came down to lay hands on them to impart it. This was not typical, but some commentators believe it was to unite the Samaritan believers with the Jewish church in Jerusalem since there had been so much division in the past. As he opened the door to Jews at Pentecost, Peter also opened the door to the Samaritans. Stay tuned for the exciting way God used Peter to open the door to the Gentiles (Acts 10)!


The Ethiopian Seeker (8:26-40)


Oh, I love people like the Ethiopian eunuch who seek God and people like Philip who listen to God and obey His call to GO to seekers! What a privilege we all have to tell people the Good News!


This eunuch was not from modern day Ethiopia but from ancient Nubia, south of the modern day border of Egypt. He was not allowed to become a full Jewish proselyte because he was a eunuch (Deuteronomy 23:1). A eunuch is "a castrated man placed in charge of a harem or employed as a chamberlain in a palace" (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition). He was allowed to seek God though, and he traveled to Jerusalem from Nubia, over 200 miles, to do so! Phillip encountered the eunuch on his way back to Nubia (#5 on the map).


The eunuch was a man of "good soil" (Luke 8:8, 15). It was the custom to read Scripture out loud (not a bad idea for all of us), and Philip seized on this opportunity to explain Isaiah 53 to him. If you have been with the Bible Book Club, you know that Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Jesus, the Suffering Servant, and key in the Scarlet Thread of Redemption (Isn't it fun when everything comes together like this?)! It tells of His birth (Isaiah 53:1-2), life and ministry (Isaiah 53:3), substitutionary death (Isaiah 53:4-9; 1 Peter 2:24; Matthew 26:62-53; Matthew 27:57-60), and resurrection (Isaiah 53:10-12; Luke 23:34,37). The man was so prepared; the eunuch believed and was immediately baptized. 


After this, Phillip was "snatched" by the Spirit and ended up at Azotus (#6 on the map) and eventually Caesarea (#7). 


REFLECTION

I love how Phillip listened to God and obeyed. That is what "evangelism" is all about. We can trust God to lead us to people. When you get to Acts 18, you will hear my story about Sherry and the "manicure/pedicure for Jesus" (God is SO fun!). If you cannot wait, you can read it HERE


Sherry is a great story, but there is also the story of Joanna. I met her at the park while having a picnic with our friends visiting from India. God told me to talk to her, and it turned out that she lived a couple of blocks away from my house. We met at my house a few days after meeting the park. When we sat down in my backyard as the kids played, out of blue, she said, "I have always wanted to study the Bible. Do you think you can study it with me?"


This led to a summer study called Foundations for Faith (written by my mentors) with her and another woman.  Joanna came to believe at the end of the study! She was a woman of "good soil."


APPLICATION


As you go about your day, listen to God to lead you to an Ethiopian in your midst. 


PRAYER


Lord, I would like to ask that You would give each person reading at the Bible Book Club a person of good soil like Joanna and the Ethiopian eunuch! Amen. 
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