Epiphany 1C - Acts 8:14-17

Acts 8:14–17 (NIV)

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

 

How often have you witnessed a Baptism of either a child or an adult and thought, “That was a nice ceremony, nothing out of the ordinary happened.”

Water together with God’s Word has been used to bring the Baptised person into the Kingdom of God. God’s Word had first been proclaimed and shared with the Baptised and or their parents, sponsors or God parents.

God’s Word will continue to be shared with them as they grow in the faith they have been baptised into – at the very least that’s the prayer of the Church.

The evangelist, Phillip, not the Apostle Phillip, who was forced to leave Jerusalem in the middle of the first century AD because of persecutions against Christians had travelled to Samaria proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

As Phillip proclaimed this Gospel, miraculous things happened as people possessed by unclean spirits were made clean – set free from that which oppressed them - and many who were paralysed or lame were healed in the name of Jesus Christ.

God’s Holy Spirit was at work in the proclamation, the cleansing and the healing. As a result there was “much joy in that city” of Samaria St Luke tells us in Acts chapter eight.

God’s Word had penetrated where people had previously been spellbound by a magician named Simon, believing that he had the power of God, their attention turned to the evangelist, Phillip “as he preached the good news about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

As a result of Phillip’s ministry amongst the Samaritans men and women were baptised – even Simon the magician was baptised after hearing and seeing God’s Holy Spirit at work through the ministry of Phillip.

 The Apostles in Jerusalem heard what was happening in Samaria with people receiving the Gospel and being baptised. They then sent Peter and James to visit – perhaps to check out what was happening in the name of Jesus Christ.

Peter and James, on realising that the believers in Samaria who had been baptised “had received the Word of God”, prayed for them so that they might have the Holy Spirit fall on them.

It’s not that the Holy Spirit wasn’t at work amongst them already, because wherever the Word is preached God’s Holy Spirit is at work. It’s just that the Holy Spirit had not been manifest amongst them as happened in many instances were people were baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and where radical change took place in people’s lives and miracles occurred.

Where the work of the Holy Spirit is not obvious in the production of the fruit of the Spirit prayer is needed and reassurance of God’s presence through the laying on of hands. It’s not that God’s Holy Spirit had not been present and at work because no one can believe apart from the Holy Spirit bestowing faith upon them.

“The outward gift of the Spirit through the apostles’ prayers and laying on of hands served to unify the Church, binding together Jews and Samaritans who, prior to the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, practiced different yet related religions.

The two things necessary for Baptism are water and the Word as Matthew 28:19 (NIV) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, …

It is important to note that that Peter and John did not re-baptize the Samaritans who had already been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Any Baptism with water and the name of God conveys the gifts of faith in Christ and eternal salvation. This eternal salvation is worked by the Holy Spirit through the ordinary things of water and the Word.

Remember how on Pentecost, a public demonstration of the Spirit’s approval was given to those who had been baptised. St Luke records how this public demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power appears as new groups were received into the one Christian Church through the ministry of the apostles.

We see this with the story of the new Samaritan Christians referred to in our text. We see it again with the Gentiles in chapter 10 (vv. 44ff), and the disciples of John the Baptist in chapter 19.

When we study the relevant texts we see that in each case, these groups of people heard and knew God’s Word and the promise of the Messiah from the Old Testament.

The preaching of God’s Word and the gift of the Holy Spirit confirm to those whose who are baptized that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

Today the renewal the church needs is the same renewal God gave the first Christians: Baptism and a proper Biblical understanding of it. In Baptism God pours out His Holy Spirit. He forgives sins and includes people in the apostolic fellowship.

The descriptions of Baptism, the order of proceedings, is as varied in the Scriptures as is the faith journey of new Christians today.

The important idea to take with us is that we don’t have to imitate the first Pentecost event for a baptism to be valid – just as the baptism of the Samaritans was valid – even though there were no obvious signs and wonders associated with the baptisms, God’s Holy Spirit was amongst them – otherwise they would not have been able to believe the Gospel message.

Turning to and receiving God’s promise of renewal in Baptism and the and message of forgiveness through daily repentance is what it is all about. The peace which passes all understanding will come through the growing relationship with Christ.

Because of this we can be joyful in the fellowship of our fellow Christians no matter who they are, where they come from and share with them the witness of what you have received from God in Christ Jesus by the working of His Holy Spirit within you.

If you have been baptised and haven’t seen the miracles, experienced the joy of knowing Jesus then we must pray that you do. Holy Spirit filled Christian faith belongs to all of us by virtue of our baptism. The falling of the Holy Spirit upon us may be experienced and expressed in different way.

Not all of us will raise our hands in the air, shouting “Hallelujah” interjecting “Amen” and “Praise the Lord” at every opportunity – and neither do we need to. It doesn’t mean that our faith is any less real or valid or that the Holy Spirit is not with us.

When Jesus was baptised those around Him didn’t see any radical manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Jesus wasn’t dancing in the aisles or singing choruses where ever He went.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit told people about the Kingdom of God, encouraged people who were suffering under the burden of sin and guilt, healed those who were suffering and freed people from their demons.

So, too did the early Christians and many since then. I mentioned Simon the magician who was baptised. Being immature in the faith, Simon, offered the Apostles Peter and James money with the hope of being able to impart the Holy Spirit. Simon still thought in human and worldly terms about power and money.

Having heard the Gospel and having been baptised is the beginning of the spiritual journey of sanctification (that is, being made holy). As Peter said to Simon: Acts 8:21–23 (NIV)

21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

          Peter called for Simon to repent of worldly attitudes and values. Simon responded: Acts 8:24 (NIV) 24 …, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

          Are you, although baptized and believing in Jesus Christ, caught up in worldly things like money and power, in worldly attitudes like vengeance and greed? Or, have you allowed the Holy Spirit to lead you to repentance so that He may fall on you in a new way and free you to truly serve Jesus with you whole being, to serve His Church with generosity and your neighbours with compassion?

          It can be quite scary, allowing the Holy Spirit to fill you and free you from those things which limit your service in God’s Kingdom. But remember what Isaiah the prophet said on God’s behalf to His people, the Hebrews while they were in captivity far from where God wanted them to be: (Isaiah 43:1b,2a,3a,4a,5a NIV)

 …“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you; …

For I am the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; …

Since you are precious and honoured in My sight,

and because I love you, …

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; …

Amen.