(You may want to re-read Acts 8:14-17)
First, verse 14 tells us that the people of Samaria had accepted the Word of God. But verse 16 clarifies, “as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So what was their baptism accomplishing? Was Philip offering them a limited experience of salvation?
Baptism was a cleansing ritual. A signifying of repentance. A turning away from the old life, and turning toward a new one. A symbolic “dying of the self, and coming alive as Christ’s.” They were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus”. We believe there is power in the name of Jesus, power to save. But we also believe the work of God doesn’t aim to let us remain “saved from the punishment of sin”. We believe what God truly wants to do in our lives, is free us from sin itself!
For that, we need not only the work Jesus has done on our behalf, but we need the transforming presence of His Spirit with us, working through us, empowering us by His resurrection life to life as New Creations….connected intimately with the Age and Kingdom that is to come!
Samaria was a place that hadn’t yet experienced or received the Spirit of God. Throughout the Bible we see people and places that receive God’s Spirit seemingly because God causes it to happen:
In Exodus, we see God has chosen Bezalel to fill with His Spirit. To have wisdom and understanding needed to lead in putting together the tent where the people would meet with God. In Numbers 11:17, we see God giving His Spirit to those leaders Moses chooses to help carry his burden of leadership.
In Luke 1:15, we read the Angel telling Zechariah that John the baptist would be “Filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” Even in the book of Acts, we have men like Stephen and Philip who were known to be “full of the Spirit.” before any hands were laid on them.
So then we have a mystery. If God chooses where and when His Spirit will go, and who it will fill – why not simply send it to fill the new believers in Samaria?
I think it’s because God’s plan has always been inviting us to participate in his redemptive activity. Through Israel, and the children of Abraham, God’s presence was carried and declared throughout the Old Testament. Everything was pointing toward a day when God would send His Son Jesus as completely human, creating a path to the Father, and then send the Spirit of Jesus Christ – the literal presence of God Himself….to be with us forever. He declared it in Acts 1:8 – YOU will be my witnesses.
We don’t have to understand it completely to be in awe of what a gift God is giving us. An invitation to join him in making all things new. An invitation to literally bring the presence of God, carrying it with us into our daily existence.
This reveals a few things God wants us to understand about our calling:
1. The fact that the people were incomplete, or something was still needing to be done….even after they’d been baptized into the “name of the Lord Jesus.” How many of us are content to simply “know we’re in the family”? How many times have we heard people talk about getting to heaven as the main goal? How silly would it seem for someone to receive an incredibly rare and valuable seed – and spend all of their time making sure it was displayed and preserved well?
2. He didn’t just “send” his Spirit to fill the people of Samaria. Why? God wants us to know that we are a beautifully involved part of His plan to establish His Kingdom, and bring together Heaven and Earth in new ways. Certainly God doesn’t “need” us to reach places like Samaria, but at the same time….he calls us, sends us, invites us to join him in bringing new life to all of creation.
3. Philip apparently didn’t “lay on hands” in the way that was necessary for all that God wanted to accomplish in Samaria. It seems like God was bringing together his promise from Acts 1:8, and his promise long ago to Abraham (Genesis 12) at the same time. He was revealing to the world that it is through this “People of God” that his activity is happening. He’s not popping up new groups of “God’s Chosen People” in pockets all over the world. It’s one body, growing and spreading. Just in case anyone in Samaria would get the idea that God was now moving through them either “instead of” or “in a different way than” the first apostles, we have the story of Peter and John going from Jerusalem to Samaria and laying their hands on them, that they would receive the Spirit of God. By doing this, the movement of God here is connected not only to the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, but going way back to the laying on of hands by Isaac to Jacob, and Moses to Joshua. Groups of people never before seen as “part of God’s plan” are now being intimately connected to the activity of God!
Come back tomorrow, as we examine our response to all of this…