Being Witnesses in Judea and Samaria (6:8-9:31)
A. The Growth Resulted From Persecution (6:8 – 8:3)
As the church was growing, it faced the problem of making sure all the needy were being taken care of fairly. However, it appears that already there was some ethnic strife within the body, for the Hellenistic Jews were not receiving their fair share. The Hellenistic Jews are those Jews who speak only Greek. A true Jew would also speak Aramaic, and would look down upon Greek speaking Jews.
To address this problem, deacons are selected. All of the deacons have Greek names, suggesting that they were Hellenized Jews.
One Greek-speaking deacon was Stephen. He had irritated some Jews by proclaiming the gospel and doing miracles. So Stephen is arrested, and before his stoning, he gives a lengthy speech.
Stephen begins with a brief history of Israel, including quoting Moses from Deuteronomy 18 (7:37). As part of this history, Stephen demonstrates how the Jews have systematically persecuted God’s messengers, including now the “Righteous One (7:52).” The Jews understood that Stephen was claiming that Jesus was the Christ by referring to this “Righteous One.” After Stephen accuses them of not keeping the law (7:53), his listeners cut short his sermon and stoned him.
Luke makes it clear that the stoning of Stephen forces the church to fulfill Christ’s commandment in 1:8. Fearing for their lives, the Christians moved from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria, taking the gospel with them.
B. The Growth Resulted From Philip’s Ministry (8:3 – 8:40)
Preaching in Samaria
Philip was one of those who moved out into the surrounding territory preaching now in Samaria. However, as the Samaritans begin to respond and believe, they do not receive the filling of the Holy Spirit. This waits until Peter and John came to see what Philip was doing. After the apostles laid their hands on the Samaritans, they received the Holy Spirit. Because of the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, the apostolic laying on of hands ensured the unity of the church.
Filling of the Holy Spirit
In the book of Acts, the reception of the Holy Spirit follows no consistent pattern.
Belief is the only constant between these examples. Beyond that, Acts does not provide us with a normative pattern from which we can ascertain the timing of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Preaching to the Ethiopian
After Philip had preached in Samaria God sent Philip to Gaza. While in Gaza, Philip came across an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading his bible. Philip asked what he was reading and if he understood it. And in the course of the conversation which followed, the Ethiopian came to trust in Christ. That led the Ethiopian to a question: “What prevents me from being baptized?”
So, Philip baptized the Ethiopian in a pond on the road to Gaza. Philip didn’t say he needed to wait until next Sunday when they would fill up the baptistery and have a special worship service. Philip didn’t sit around and make them take a class on church membership. Philip didn’t require them to memorize scripture or the doctrinal positions of the church. It says, when he believed was baptized.
In fact, in each and every case in Acts, when we see someone believe in Christ, it is immediately followed by baptism. There was no waiting period between conversion and baptism. They took place one right after the other, so much so that Peter equates them as one and the same in chapter 2.
This is the normative pattern and unless there is good reason not to do so, we should follow this pattern.
C. The Growth results from the conversion of Paul (9:1-31)
Saul was attending the stoning of Stephen and was in agreement with putting him to death (8:1). In fact, Saul became one of the most zealous persecutors of the church (8:3). On one occasion Saul sought to go to Damascus in Syria to round up the Christians and return them to Jerusalem for persecution.
On the road to Damascus Paul encounters Jesus. A bright light comes from heaven, and Jesus calls to him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me.” Through that experience Paul comes to believe that Jesus is the son of God (9:20), and becomes a powerful apologetic for Christ (9:22).
Paul saw the glory of God, recognized Him as Lord. The Lord identified himself as Jesus. Paul may not have been an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, but this serves as Paul’s witness of Jesus resurrection. Paul reiterates this conversion experience as his testimony for Christ both in Acts 22 as he is speaking to the Jewish mob and in Acts 26 as he addresses King Herod Agrippa.
Paul’s desire was to preach the gospel to the Jews9. After all, he was trained as a Pharisee. He knew the law; he knew the Jewish mind. He had better training and education than any of the apostles did. What better person to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah? But Jesus had another plan (9:15-16).
The Third Progress Report (9:31)
The third progress report (9:31) concludes the section on the witness in Judea and Samaria. The church was being built up and continued to increase throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria.