The background to Phillip’s ministry is Saul’s persecution.
Acts 8:1-3 1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Stephen’s martyrdom acts as a bridge to allow for the gospel to proceed out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria. And verse 4 tells us that his martyrdom serves the spread of the gospel.
Acts 8:4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
From verse 4 to verse 40, we have one unit with two stories. Philip, one of the seven in Acts 6:5, is the main character. He even evangelizes Samaria in 8:5-25 and then the Ethiopian eunuch in verses 26-40.
These stories serve as an example of verse four. Philip was one of those scattered by the persecution. We get the understanding from Phillip’s preaching that more in the church began to realize that the gospel was to spread beyond the Jews. And to go to the Samaritans was a huge step, saying that they were despised by the Jews for not being true Jews. John 4:9. So it is a huge step for the church to go to the Samaritans.
Read Acts 8:5-25
We have two scenes: 5-13, Philip is the main character. 14-25, Peter is the main character. The sorcerer Simon plays a key role in both.
And the point is that the gospel is spreading into Samaria and can conquer any local magic show. It also demonstrates the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit is itself not a magic show.
Point: Jesus is greater than magic….
It seems to be a similarity or a comparison between these two men. Both are getting attention from the Samaritans. But in verses 12-13, they are not compared, but the Samaritans are baptized and even Simon himself believes and is baptized! Jesus indeed is superior over magic or any other deity.
Peter is central…
Point: … But Jesus’ power and the Holy Spirit cannot be manipulated or purchased.
Acts 8:14-17: Here we have the true way of receiving the Holy Spirit. They are praying that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and they laid hands on them and they receive Him.
The Holy Spirit is received in different ways in the book of Acts: 2:38 (repent, be baptized); 8:15-17 (through a laying on of hands, see 19:5-6); 10:44-48 (Holy Spirit is poured out during Peter’s preaching prior to baptism); 9:17-18 (laying on of hands before baptism).
And so were left to conclude that the gift of the Holy Spirit is not received by any formula, like with magic.
Receiving the gospel and receiving the Holy Spirit is not a matter of saying the right words. Often when believers doubt their salvation, they go through some experience like, “did I pray the right words” or something similar. God will not be manipulated by magic like that. Is Simon saved? And you’re doubting your salvation, too! You wonder if Simon is saved and whether you’re saved, perhaps you both are treating God as if He can be manipulated with words.
Acts 8:18-24: this is dialogue between Simon and the apostles.
In verses 18-19, Simon is presented as a baptized magician. A magician wants to control and manipulate the divine powers.
In verses 20-23, Peter wishes that his money perish along with him, declares that his heart is not right, and calls upon Simon to repent.
Simon is so clearly wrapped up in magic that even in his response to the call to repentance, he still retains his magical worldview…. Verse 24.
He desires that he along with his money not perish and that’s why he asked Peter to pray for him. Simon does not want to be cursed by a more powerful magician then he…. That’s the way he thinks.
Acts 8:25: the apostles are sent to evangelize many Samaritan towns. This fulfills Acts 1:8.
So that’s the first story with Philip the evangelist as the focus: Philip and Simon the magician.
In the rest of Acts 8, Philip evangelizes one individual, the Ethiopian eunuch.
Scene 1: Acts 8:26-30b
These verses tell us of the events that lead up to the dialogue between Philip and the eunuch. The angel of the Lord tells Philip to go south toward Gaza. He finds the Ethiopian eunuch seated in his chariot reading Isaiah.
The man is from “Ethiopia” which is more than likely modern Sudan. We cannot be certain about the physical nature of the eunuch. “Eunuch” could be used specifically in the sense of a court officer, not one who is without sexual ability. The term can refer to either individual. In this story, we know that he has a high position, and that may be all that it refers to.
The man is returning, Acts 8:28, and seated he is reading Isaiah and Philip sees him.
Verses 29-30, Philip joins the chariot is commanded by the Holy Spirit. And Philip hears the audible reading of Isaiah.
Scene 2: Acts 8:30c-35
Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading and the eunuch replies that he needs help and invites Philip to sit with him.
They are studying Isaiah 53:7-8 and the eunuch wants to know if Isaiah is speaking of himself or someone else. Philip commences preaching Jesus to him from the passage.
Scene 3: Acts 8:36-40
Cf. 10:47; 11:17
Now we see the results of the dialogue. Notice the abbreviated dialogue about whether he is qualified for baptism or not.
There is no reason not to baptize him, so they both go down to the water and Philip baptizes the eunuch, who continues on his way rejoicing, giving evidence of salvation.
The focus then shifts back to Philip …. When he comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit snatches Philip away and then he comes to Azotus….which is 20 miles up the coast from Gaza. And so Philip is miraculously transported and he went right about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
In Acts 8, we have the expansion of the gospel in Ethiopians, Samaritans, eunuchs, women and even magicians.
No one is excluded from receiving Christ, being baptized, or receiving the Holy Spirit. But it demands repentance: receiving Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit is not magical nor can magic control God. Jesus’ disciples are instead those whom God controls and who do his will.