November 14, 2015.
Daily Reading: Acts 7-8.
Background: Acts 5-6.
Concepts and Connections.
Stephen: The previous chapter left of with the arrest of Stephen on the basis of false witnesses, being brought before the council of Jewish leaders. This chapter pics up here and records Stephen’s defense and message to the high priest and those who were with him concerning this man Jesus Christ who they had crucified. Stephen doesn’t start with Christ, but rather begins at Abraham and goes though a concise history of the Jewish people, focusing on Abraham and Moses, then continuing on to mention David and the prophets, pointing out the message of the coming Messiah, who was Jesus Christ. Note what Stephen focuses on in the history of the children of Israel- unlikely promises and resisting the will of God. God gives the promise of land and inheritance to Abraham’s offspring, but does not do it in his life time, nor did Abraham even have a child at this time. He has promised to bless the nation of Israel, but first says that they will be sojourners and slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Abraham trusted in the Lord, and He gave him a son. Just as the Lord had promised, so unfolded history. When Moses was born, he was protected from death issued by Pharaoh by being brought in in Pharaoh’s house! When he went to visit his people when he was 40 years old, they did not trust him, and so he fled to Midian. Then God appeared to him in a burning bush, and eventually he went back to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt through God’s great signs and wonders. After the children of Israel were led out of Egypt Moses, they began to resist the will of God. Every time a hardship would come upon them, they would mummer and complain, or turn completely away, and not trust in the Lord and His plan. Similar trends happened throughout Israel’s history, resulting in them resisting the Holy Spirit and stoning the prophets. Finally, their history of resisting the will of God culminated in them rejecting the Messiah they had been looking for since the fall of man, and crucifying Him. When the Jewish leaders heard Stephen say this to them, calling them stubborn and likening them to their father’s who stoned the prophets, they were very angry and had a very different response than those in Acts 2. They stopped their ears, cast him out of the city and stoned him, laying their garments at the feet of a man named Saul, who would become a very important character in the early church. As Stephen was being stoned, he cries out and says something very similar to what Jesus said on the cross, asking for this sin not to be laid to their charge (see Luke 23:34).
1. Saul, Philip and Simon: Chapter 8 gives a lot of information about the early spread of the good news about Jesus Christ. After the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution arose against the church and the disciples were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, even as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the gospel to Jews wherever they went (see Acts 11:19). But Saul began heavily persecuting Christians wherever he went, dragging them off to prison. This will be very important in his conversion in the next chapter.
Philip, a man filled with the Holy Spirit doing many signs and wonders, was one of those who was scattered because of the persecution that arose on the church, and he went to Samaria proclaiming Christ. He did many miracles and brought much joy to the city, and many believed and were baptized. There was a magician in Samaria who previously did signs and wonders in Samaria, making himself to be someone great. But when he saw the signs that Philip did, he too was amazed, and himself believed and was baptized, continuing with Philip. Note here the delineation that is made between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The people that Philip preached to believed and were baptized, but it wasn’t until the apostles heard what was happening in Samaria and sent Peter and John down to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirt so that the people could do miracles. Simon saw that the outpouring of the Holy Spirt was given through the laying on of the Apostle’s hands, and he tried to buy this power, that he might give people the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. Peter rebukes him on the spot, for his heart was not right before God, and Simon immediately asks Peter to pray for him. Note the focus here on the intention of the heart, as this is very important in the eyes of God.
2. The Ethiopian Eunuch: After Philip’s great success in Samaria, an angel of the Lord tells him to down the road that went from Jerusalem to Gaza, and as he was going he was told to join himself to a chariot that was traveling on the road. In this chariot was an Ethiopian eunuch who was an official to the queen of Ethiopia. This man certainly was in a position of power and influence, and he was probably a proselyte to the Jewish religion. Philip finds him reading from the prophet Isaiah and asks if he understands what he is reading. Note the providence of God here, as the very passage that the Eunuch is reading in Isaiah is from what is perhaps the most well known Messianic prophecy found in the Hebrew scriptures- Isaiah 53. The Eunuch asks Philip if the prophet was speaking of himself or another man, giving Philip the opportunity to tell him the good news about Jesus, as this is to whom Isaiah was referring. Beginning with this scripture, Philip preached Jesus to the Eunuch. It is apparent that telling the Eunuch the good news about Jesus involved teaching about baptism (see Acts 2, Romans 6), for the Eunuch sees water and asks what was stopping him from being baptized. They stopped the chariot and both went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Philip was immediately carried away by the Spirit of the Lord after the Eunuch was baptized, and the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing while Philip found himself in Azotus and continued to spread the gospel. It interesting to speculate about what the Eunuch did when he went back to Ethiopia, for we know that Ethiopia was introduced to Christianity at a very early time and remains a predominantly Christian nation. It would seem that the Ethiopian went back and spread the gospel himself, as he was a man of power and influence, and great joy had been brought to his life. May we take the same initiative.
Tomorrow’s Reading: I Peter 1-3.
Spread the good news.