Text and Reading: Acts 8:4-25
This is another sermon in a series about the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts. Philip—the deacon, not the apostle—came from Jerusalem and preached. At the end of the story, people went back to Jerusalem. That city is like bookends for the story, and between these two bookends we read amazing things about the Holy Spirit and about Simon, an evil man, and his attack on the church and the gospel. We’ll focus on the autonomous and magnificent work of the Holy Spirit.
Theme: The Holy Spirit, by freely giving himself to repentant people, brings about the unity of the church. The Holy Spirit
1. fosters ecumenical unity,
2. refuses human forgery,
3. demands prayerful humility.
1.Fosters ecumenical unity. Note: this is the only chapter where people are baptized without receiving the Holy Spirit. This is very peculiar, and we, like the churches in Jerusalem and Samaria, need to understand it. Vs 16 says ‘not yet’. The Spirit had not yet come upon any of them. Those words show that normally he would have come upon them already. The Holy Spirit is free and autonomous. We cannot put him in a box. Sometimes baptism comes before the Holy Spirit and sometimes vice versa, but here in Samaria they are separate.
Why did the Holy Spirit hold himself back? Not because of anything that the Samaritans or Philip did or didn’t do. Philip’s preaching was accompanied by all sorts of miracles and many people came to faith. Philip was a Spirit-filled preacher (Acts 6). All of that was good. So the problem does not lie with the Samaritans or with Philip.
The important point is that Samaria was the first decisive step out from the Jewish church. All the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem at Pentecost were Jews, or at least proselytes, and the church started in Jerusalem. Now Philip moved outside of Jerusalem, to Samaria, home of the despised Samaritans. This could have caused trouble for the church, but the gospel bridges every divide. With God no barriers exist, and here he removed them for the believers.
When the apostles Peter and John came to Samaria from Jerusalem, then the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit. This showed that the Jerusalem and Samaritan churches were related. The first church to be established outside Jerusalem needed to be involved with the apostles, both to end the racial animosity and prejudice between Jews and Samaritans, and to avoid schism in the church. By coming through the apostles, the Holy Spirit created ecumenical unity between these two churches.
2.Refuses human forgery: Simon himself believed and was baptized. He was amazed at the miracles performed by Philip and even more so when Peter and John came. Simon could see that the Holy Spirit came upon the Samaritans. (We don’t know how he could see this; the text does not say.) Then Simon asked for this power. Simon was all about power (vs 10). So many people think they can buy God off with what they are, do , contribute, etc. Simon is an extreme example. He thought the gift could be bought, but the gift is a gift. In fact, the Holy Spirit is both giver and gift. God rejects all who come to him to manipulate the Holy Spirit. We can only receive him by believing and receiving. We cannot earn him in any way.
Though the apostles are no more, we have the Bible. When the apostolic word is proclaimed, we have access to the Holy Spirit. So open yourself and receive the Holy Spirit. We cannot acquire this by human endeavor. We can neither earn nor purchase anything from God, and if we think we can, we are frauds. Instead, we must depend on the free grace of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
3.Pray for forgiveness. Sin is doctrine or conduct against the commandments of God. We must repent and pray for forgiveness. Peter told Simon to pray and Simon asked Peter to do it for him instead. But we must pray. Simon did not want to pray for forgiveness. Often people don’t want to admit sin but rather want to affirm themselves. They prefer arrogance to humility and refuse to repent. But LD 45 says that God will give his grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who ask him for these gifts. So ask, and receive.
Sermon by Pastor George, June 24, 2012. Notes, errors, and omissions by NPS.