Lent 2023 Day 24: Tue 21 Mar
Acts 8.4-8, 14-17
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
It had to happen – after Stephen was put to death the disciples (though strangely not the apostles) were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered around Judea and Samaria. The religious authorities didn’t think that one through, it seems. Perhaps they were content with getting the apostles out of their hair, and devil may care what they did elsewhere! (I think he did.) The result of the purge was that more people got to see and hear the message of the Gospel.
Philip was, like Stephen, a deacon –an administrator whose task was to organise food distribution among other things – it is clear that Stephen didn’t just administer. Now Philip is moving in foreign territory. Again, the formula is preaching following on from signs and wonders. Draw the people through miracles and then feed their amazement or curiosity with the truth.
This unnamed city in Samaria had never seen the like. Samaritans were despised and largely cut off from the inheritance of the Jews, with whom they share a common root. And now Philip was sharing Good News with them about a new inheritance. The new believers were baptised, but as our author puts it, they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.
When Peter and John turned up, they soon discovered that the process was incomplete, and so they brought it to completion by laying hands on the new believers. Yes, Peter touched a Samaritan. Note that he and John had prayed for the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit before they laid hands on them. Laying hands alone is not the activating factor.
Baptism in the Church today has become more formalised – many denominations follow a prescribed order of service so that, baptism is performed with due process. Laying hands on heads at baptism does not appear in some orders of service, or it is restricted to bishops at a later ceremony.
Have you simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus? Is there more?
Father God, dare I pray that in your church we see people earnestly desiring the gift of your Holy Spirit at their baptism or to complete it? Would you set hands on fire? Would you kindle a fire in those who missed out? Thank you, Father. Amen.