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Acts Chapter 8, verses 18-19
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.”
The man who had been acclaimed as the Great Power wanted to buy the power of God. He had fallen back into his old ways.
We are not told what visible evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence Simon saw. Speaking in tongues would be heard, not seen. There were other special gifts, such as prophecy and healing, but Luke does not mention any of them specifically here.
The buying and selling of church offices and favored positions in the ministry came to be known as simony. The word comes from the name of this man who tried to buy a share in the apostolic ministry.
Acts Chapter 8, verse 20-24
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
We were told that Simon himself believed. Now his heart was not right with God, and Peter cursed his conniving unbelief: “May your money perish with you.” That was a very harsh saying, but it was a necessary call to repentance.
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift, not to be bought or in any way earned. Simon’s desire to use the Holy Spirit to enhance his power and popularity was blasphemous. God will not be used any more than he will be deceived.
To imagine that a gift can be bought is to turn grace into a business transaction. And then it is no longer grace. Simon could not have a part or share in the ministry of the apostles because it was a ministry of grace, and he did not understand at all what grace is.
The bitterness in Simon of which Peter spoke was not anger or hatred toward the apostles. It was the bitterness of unbelief that God will not “stomach,” which he will “spit out.”
Why did Peter say, “Perhaps he will forgive you”? There is never a question of the Lord’s willingness to forgive. The only uncertainty was whether Simon would repent.
Simon’s request for the apostles’ intercession reminds usof Pharaoh, who asked Moses to pray to the Lord to withdraw the plague of thunder and hail (Exodus 9:28). Each asked the Lord’s spokesman to pray on his behalf. We are not told that either of them prayed on his own behalf. Did Simon, like Pharaoh, harden his heart, or did he repent? Luke does not say. Second-century Christian writers referred to Simon as the father of all heresies.
Acts Chapter 8, verse 25
When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
The apostles had begun to preach the gospel to nonJews, using the opportunity of the return trip to Jerusalem to do so. God was keeping the promise he had made through Joel, the prophecy that Peter quoted on Pentecost:
“In the last days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Acts 2:17; see also Joel 2:28)
Acts Chapter 8, verses 26-29
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to theroad—the desert road—that goes down from
Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on this way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
The Lord’s messenger directed Philip to leave Samaria with its many people and go where the population was much more sparse. In fact, Philip was being sent to evangelize just one man.
The Ethiopian was not from the area we know as Ethiopia today. “Ethiopian” simply means that he was a black man. He was from the kingdom of Nubia, which was located on the upper Nile River between Aswan (in modern Egypt) and Khartoum (in the Sudan). Candace was the official title of all Nubian queens, just as Pharaoh was the title of Egyptian kings.
A eunuch could not be a full-fledged convert to the faith of Israel (see Deuteronomy 23:1), but
this man was a Godfearing gentile believer. He had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, probably for one of the Jewish religious feasts.
Acts Chapter 8, verses 30-31
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Philip heard the man reading because it was customary to read aloud. He recognized the words as being a portion of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Acts Chapter 8, verses 32-34
The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the 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.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began withthat very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
The eunuch was reading from Isaiah, who is sometimes called the great evangelist of the Old Testament. He was reading the portion that deals with the Suffering Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 53:7,8). It prophetically describes our Savior’s suffering and death. The Lamb of God, the substitute for sinners, went without complaint to suffer injustice and execution. The wording of the quotation is that of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Philip could tell the good news of Jesus on the basis of this passage because that is what the passage is about. Before Christians began to preach Jesus as the fulfillment of all Scripture, the Jews understood the passage to refer to the Messiah who was to come. Later those who rejected Jesus incorrectly interpreted it as referring to the people of Israel.
Acts Chapter 8, verses 36-39
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
Philip’s instruction must have included reference to Baptism. Perhaps the eunuch recalled the passage just before the portion he had been reading: “So will he sprinkle many nations” (Isaiah 52:15). In any case, he in whom faith had been awakened by the good news about Jesus asked to be baptized.
A footnote in the NIV indicates that late manuscripts (eighth century) included these words as verse 37: “Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” There is nothing wrong with these words, but they
probably come from a baptismal service rather than from the pen of Luke.
That there was water on that desert road is not mysterious or, necessarily, miraculous. There are springs, pools, even occasional streams in desert areas in Judea. We do not know whether Philip poured water on the man or immersed him. It would depend on the depth of the water. Since both Philip and the eunuch “went down into the water” and “came up out of the water,” we cannot conclude on the basis of those words that it was immersion—unless Philip was also immersed. What matters in Baptism is not how much water is applied or to how much of a person’s body it is applied. What matters is that water is used, and the Word is spoken.
The eunuch was no longer excluded from full fellowship with the people of God. Another non-Jew was added to the company of believers. We do not know from Scripture or from history whether other believers were gathered by his testimony to the Savior after he returned home.
Acts Chapter 8, verse 40
Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Azotus was the Old Testament Philistine city of Ashdod, about 20 miles north of Gaza.
Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast about 55 miles northwest of Jerusalem, is about midway between modern Tel Aviv and Haifa. It was the residence of the Roman governor. Philip seems to have settled there, for the next time we hear of him (Acts 21:8), 20 years after the events we
have just read about, he was living in Caesarea.
The conversion of Saul
Acts Chapter 9, verses 1-2
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
“The Way” was another designation for believers. It reminds us that Jesus is the Way to the Father (John 14:6) and that the Christian life is a special way of life.
Saul was not satisfied to scatter the Jerusalem believers (8:3,4). He was determined to destroy the church everywhere. Damascus is about 150 miles northeast of Jerusalem. It had a large Jewish population and thus would have been a natural place for persecuted Jewish believers in Jesus to seek refuge. The fugitive believers had preached the Word there as they did everywhere they went (8:4).
The Roman government allowed the Sanhedrin to exercise jurisdiction over Jews living outside of Palestine. Saul’s intention was to bring those who belonged to the Way to Jerusalem as captives, to be tried by the Sanhedrin. For that purpose he asked for credentials that would give him the authority to do so.
He planned to go to the synagogues because that was where Jewish followers of Jesus would be worshiping. They were Jews who believed that their Messiah had come. They would not stop worshiping with their fellow Jews until it became clear that they (and Jesus’ name) were no longer welcome.
Acts Chapter 9, verses 3-6
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
We learn from Acts 26:13 that it was about noon. As brilliant as the noonday sun was, an even greater light flashed around Saul. “From heaven” means more here than “from the sky.” It means “from the dwelling place of God.” Saul was overwhelmed by it and fell to the ground.
He learned that day that in persecuting those who belonged to the Way, he had been persecuting another. The voice asked, “Why do you persecute me?” “Saul, Saul,” like “Martha, Martha,” and “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” was really an expression of loving concern on the Lord’s part.
The light of God’s glory and the voice made Saul realize that he was in the presence of the Lord. His question and the Lord’s answer convinced him that Jesus, whom he had been persecuting, is the Lord who came into the world as a servant to save sinners.
From that moment on Saul was under the orders of the Lord. The first order was to go into Damascus and wait for further instructions.
The Pharisee was brought down, his proud selfrighteousness shattered. Ever afterward Saul was a man
who knew himself to be the chief of sinners and knew Jesus to be the Savior of sinners. More than a hundred times in his letters, Paul the apostle used the word grace. That word was so important in his vocabulary because of what the Lord did for him when he was Saul the Pharisee.
Acts Chapter 9, verses 7-9
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Saul’s companions were probably Levite guards who came along to arrest and bring back captive believers. They knew that something supernatural had occurred. They heard the sound of a voice but did not understand what Jesus said.
They led the helpless man into the city. His blindness continued, and for a period of three days he acted like a very sick man. He was crushed by the knowledge that what he had thought was a great service to God was in fact a persecution of God’s only Son.
Acts Chapter 9, verse 10-12
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
Saul had been right in thinking that disciples of Jesus would be found in Damascus. Now one of them was going to find him. This is the second Ananias we have met. His name, which means “The Lord is gracious,” fits him better than it fit Sapphira’s husband.
Saul too had had a vision, the Lord told Ananias. From the report of Saul’s vision the humble believer learned what his responsibility to Saul would be.
Straight Street was the main east-west thoroughfare of Damascus. The Romans made a kind of promenade out of it, with large porches at either end. It was called Straight Street because nearly all the other streets in the city were crooked.
Acts Chapter 9, verses 13-16
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Ananias knew Saul’s reputation, and it was hard for him to understand why the Lord would want to help that persecutor of the people. The man’s reputation had preceded him to Damascus. Ananias knew why Saul had come to the city. We are not told that Ananias was afraid, but he certainly was puzzled.
Luke records many different names that were used for the believers. Here Ananias used the term “saints.” The word refers to those whom God has set apart as his redeemed people, set apart to serve him.
The Lord repeated the command to go and place his hands on Saul to restore his sight. Then he graciously told Ananias what he had in mind for Saul. Amazing grace! A Pharisee who had persecuted Jews for believing in Jesus would carry Jesus’ name to Gentiles. He who had believed that salvation is in doing the works of the law would teach that salvation is by faith in Christ alone. The Friend of publicans and sinners would use a fanatical Pharisee as his chosen instrument.
Saul did carry Jesus’ name to Gentiles, gentile rulers, and his own people. Much of the book of Acts tells the story. He would witness to Jesus’ salvation before governors and kings, including Caesar himself.
Because of the name of salvation, Saul would suffer. That is a paradox, but those who do not believe the gospel will from time to time strike out against the messengers of the gospel. Paul himself provides a partial list of what he endured for Jesus’ name in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.
Acts Chapter 9, 17-19
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
Ananias was not an apostle. However, he too was God’s instrument. The Lord gave him an assignment that he carried out, and through him the man who would be the greatest of missionaries was healed in body and spirit.
“Brother Saul” was an expression of forgiveness and fellowship. Ananias was welcoming Saul into the communion of saints. Saul received the same welcome and support from the other disciples.
The laying on of hands by Ananias was the outward means by which the Lord restored Saul’s sight. The scales were like fish scales, and that is all we can say about Saul’s condition. Since his sight was restored, we should not conclude, as some have, that he had weak eyes for the rest of his life.
How was Saul filled with the Spirit? After he could see again, he got up and was baptized. The Spirit and Baptism belong together. The Spirit was imparted to Saul in Baptism, as he was to the new believers on Pentecost and always is.
Jesus had appeared to Saul. That equipped him to be an eyewitness to the fact of the Lord’s resurrection. That made him an apostle in the special sense of one who has seen the risen Christ and is sent to proclaim his name. That made him the equal of the other apostles.
Acts Chapter 9, verses 20-22
At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to takethem as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
The Son of God had appeared to Saul on the road. He had identified himself as Jesus. Saul believed that and, filled with the Holy Spirit, did not delay preaching it. Saul’s message was that he who is from eternity God, who was active in the creation of the universe, had come in the person of Jesus to be the world’s Redeemer.
Saul was to carry Jesus’ name before the people of Israel, as well as to the Gentiles. He began his public work in the place where there would be people who waited for the Messiah. There would also be God-fearing Gentiles, who came to hear the Scriptures and to pray. He began his public preaching in the synagogue, and that was very often his first stop on his world mission tours.
The way in which God had turned this persecutor of Jesus’ followers into a preacher of Jesus’ name caused astonishment. Perhaps some had difficulty taking him seriously.
Saul was not discouraged by their skepticism. The zeal and energy and talent that had gone into the business of destroying the church were now used in the service of the Lord of the church. Saul grew more confident and convincing in his preaching. He demonstrated that Jesus is the Christ, comparing the Scriptures of the Jews with the facts of Jesus’ history. But we are not told that any believers were added to the church from among the Jews who heard this. They were baffled, thrown into consternation, because they could not disprove what Saul was saying. Yet they did not believe it.