Christians scatter in terror
Christians run for their lives1 Saul absolutely agreed that executing Stephen was the right thing to do. That very day, the tide turned against the church in Jerusalem. Tolerance ended. Persecution started. Followers of Jesus packed up and left town. They scattered throughout the territories of Judea and Samaria. Everyone left except the apostles. 2 Some men who loved God buried Stephen. Then they mourned him with deep emotion. 3 All the while, Saul terrorized the church. He went door to door looking for followers of Jesus. When he found them—whether they were men or women—he arrested them and tossed them into prison.
Christians take their story with them4 Wherever they scattered, believers spread the word about Jesus and his teachings. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and started telling everyone about the Messiah. 6 Crowds gave him their full attention as he spoke because they saw the miracles he did as a sign that God was with him. 7 He exorcized demons from many people. Evil spirits screamed as Philip kicked them out. Philip also healed people who were paralyzed or lame. 8 Samaria became one happy city. 9 There was a magician in town: Simon. He amazed the folks with his magic, and he said he was someone special. 10 People believed it—city leaders and regular folks alike. They called him Simon, the Great One of God. 11 He commanded their full attention for a long time because of his magic. 12 But now their attention shifted to Philip, who preached about God’s kingdom and Jesus Christ. Philip baptized men and women alike. 13 Even Simon became a believer. After he got baptized, he stayed close to Philip, watching in utter amazement as Philip performed one miracle after another. 14 Back in Jerusalem, the apostles heard that God’s message had somehow reached Samaria. So they sent Peter and John there. 15 The two men prayed for the believers, asking God to fill them with his Holy Spirit. 16 Until then, none of the believers had received the Holy Spirit. They had been baptized, though, in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 When Peter and John placed their hands on believers, those people received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon saw what looked like a magical touch, which allowed the apostles to fill people with the Spirit, he wanted it. He offered to pay. 19 He said, “When I touch someone, I want that person to receive the Holy Spirit just like people do when you touch them. Give me the power to do that.” 20 Peter said, “Drop dead. And take your money with you. Did you really think you could buy this gift from God with your money? 21 You don’t have anything to do with what’s going on here. Your heart’s not in the right place. You don’t want this power for God’s work. You’ve got some other reason. 22 Get your head on straight. You have some bad thinking going on inside there. You need to change your mind and change the direction you’re going with this. Ask the Lord if he’ll forgive you for what you’re trying to do. 23 I can see you are as bitter as it gets. Sin drives everything you do.” 24 Simon said, “Pray to the Lord for me. I don’t want anything you said about me to come true.” 25 Peter and John taught the people about the Lord. Then they went back to Jerusalem, preaching in Samaritan villages along the way.
Philip helps an Ethiopian see Jesus in Isaiah’s prophecy26 An angel gave Philip a message from God: “Get up and get going. Take the south road out of Jerusalem. Head on down to Gaza.” This is a barren stretch of badlands. 27 Philip got up and got going. Along the way, he ran into Ethiopia’s finance minister, a eunuch appointed by the queen, Candace. The Ethiopian was on his way home after worshiping in Jerusalem. 28 When Philip caught up, the official was sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah’s prophecies, which are in the Jewish Bible. 29 God’s Spirit nudged Philip with an idea: “Walk on over to the chariot.” 30 Philip didn’t walk. He ran. He heard the man reading Isaiah’s prophecies, and he asked, “Do you understand what Isaiah is saying?” 31 The official said, “Are you kidding? How can I understand something like this unless someone explains it to me?” 32 Here’s what he was reading:
He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
Like a sheep getting sheared, he didn’t open his mouth.
Don’t bother with descendants. There aren’t any.
His life was taken from us. 34 The official said to Philip, “Let me ask you a question. Who do you think the prophet is talking about? Himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip, using this Bible passage as a launching pad, began to tell the official the good news about Jesus. 36 As they traveled together, they came to a place where there was some water. The official said, “Hey, look at that! Water. Is there any reason I can’t get baptized right here and now?” 37 Philip said, “Nope, there’s not. If you believe what I’ve told you about Jesus, we can do this.” The official answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son.” 38 The official ordered his driver to stop the chariot. He and Philip waded out into the water, and Philip baptized him.
Philip disappears39 When they came up out of the water, God’s Spirit whisked Philip away. Suddenly, the official couldn’t see Philip anywhere. So he got back in his chariot and went on his way, happy and showing it. 40 Philip surfaced in the town of Azotus. Then he preached his way up to the city of Caesarea. He gave people in all the towns along the way the good news about Jesus.
Judea was the region, perhaps comparable to a county, that included Jerusalem. Samaria was a region north, in what is now the central part of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
He later confessed that he was responsible for the execution of some Christians (Acts 22:4).
A bit like New York, New York, Samaria was a city in the larger region known as Samaria. It was about a two-day walk north of Jerusalem, roughly 40 miles (64 km). When a traveler left Jerusalem, Bible writers often said the person “went down,” even if the traveler was headed north. That’s because Jerusalem sits on a ridgetop. And if you’re leaving, the only way you can go is down. Also, if you are going there, the only way you can get there is to go up. Bible writers often make that point by saying that people are “going up to Jerusalem,” no matter what direction they’re coming from.
The Greek word is Christ.
More literally, “the power of God that is called great.” Some scholars interpret that to mean the people considered Simon someone who carried with him the backing and the power of God. The proof was in the miracles.
This might be a hint that the angel came to Philip in a dream. The Greek word often means to get up from lying down. Bible writers report that God sometimes sent messages to his people in vivid dreams as well as daytime visions (Acts 10:10).
Jerusalem to Gaza along the caravan route would have been roughly 60 miles (100 km), which is about a three-day walk.
Christians call the Jewish Bible the Old Testament.
This verse doesn’t show up in the oldest and most reliable copies of Acts. Many scholars speculate that an editor added it somewhere along the way, perhaps to help the flow of the story. Editors do that from time to time.
Azotus is the Roman name for Ashdod. Romans rebuilt the ruins of the old Philistine city and gave it to King Herod. It’s nearly three miles (5 km) from the Mediterranean coast, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Gaza, which is a day’s walk. It’s about 35 miles (56 km) west of Jerusalem.
Caesarea was a Roman-style city that Herod the Great built about 50 miles (80 km) north of Azotus (Ashdod). Rome’s capital of the entire region, Caesarea sat on the coast, a little south of the Mount Carmel ridge of hills.
When the early Christians fled Jerusalem after the execution of Stephen, do you think their intention was to leave permanently or perhaps just long enough for hotheaded Jews in town to cool off?
“Everyone left except the apostles” (8:1). Of all the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, only the 12 apostles stayed. Why wouldn’t they go, too, since they were the most vulnerable? When they died, their eye-witness stories about Jesus died with them. So it seems risky for them to stay. In fact, James will soon get executed (Acts 12:2). James, along with his brother John and his fishing buddy Peter, were Jesus’ three best friends.
If the people who stoned Stephen to death were tried in a court of law today, what kind of sentence do you think Saul would get for watching the coats of the killers? Would he be as guilty as a getaway driver at a bank robbery that ends in a murder?
How do you think Christians receive the Holy Spirit? Getting filled with the Holy Spirit seemed like a big deal in Peter’s day: “Until then, none of the believers had received the Holy Spirit. They had been baptized, though, in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Peter and John placed their hands on believers, those people received the Holy Spirit” (8:16-17). It could sound like getting the Holy Spirit might be Part Two of converting to Christianity. Yet Peter said earlier that the Holy Spirit comes to us when we embrace the teachings of Jesus: “reject your sinful way of living….If you do this…you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38).
The writer doesn’t say what exactly happened when someone got filled with the Spirit. But it was notable enough that a magician named Simon wanted to buy the power to give people the Spirit (8:18). What would you guess happened when someone received the Holy Spirit?
Philip told an Ethiopian official that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about a lamb getting led to the slaughter. Where would you guess Philip got that insight? Visions? Personal observation and reasoning? Explanations from the resurrected Jesus, passed on from his original disciples to followers?
LIFE APPLICATION. Christianity got jump-started with miracles, it seems. When Philip spoke, for example, “Crowds gave him their full attention as he spoke because they saw the miracles he did as a sign that God was with him” (8:6). What do you think happened to all the miracles; why don’t we see them anymore?
LIFE APPLICATION. What’s the closest thing to a miracle that you’ve seen—something that boosted your confidence in God bigtime?