Stephen’s sermon weaves together the story of the Jews and the life of Jesus. The point of the message is that God pursues His children despite their constant failure. The crucifixion of Jesus is the greatest of all of these failures.
Stephen affirms that through circumcision they have made themselves look like Jews, but their hearts and ears need circumcising as well. Of course, telling the Jewish leaders to get their hearts and ears circumcised elicits a rather violent response. Stephen speaks the truth so that all might hear, including a man named Saul.
8 1-2 Some devout men buried Stephen and mourned his passing with loud cries of grief. But Saul, this young man who seemed to be supervising the whole violent event, was pleased by Stephen’s death. That very day, the whole church in Jerusalem began experiencing severe persecution. All of the followers of Jesus—except for the emissaries[a] themselves—fled to the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 3 Young Saul went on a rampage—hunting the church, house after house, dragging both men and women to prison.
They flee to the very places where Jesus said His disciples would be His witnesses at the beginning of this book. As a result, the persecution spreads the message of Christ rather than hinders it. Commenting about similar events a century later, church father Tertullian will write, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
4 All those who had been scattered by the persecution moved from place to place; and wherever they went, they weren’t afraid or silent. Instead, they spread the message of Jesus.
5 Philip, for example, headed north to the city of Samaria, and he told them the news of the Anointed One. 6 The crowds were united in their desire to understand Philip’s message. They not only listened with their ears, but they witnessed miraculous signs with their eyes. 7 Unclean spirits cried out with loud screams as they were exorcised from people. Paralyzed people and lame people moved and walked in plain view. 8 So the city was swept with joy.
9-11 There was a fellow named Simon who had a widespread and long-standing reputation as a sorcerer in Samaria. Everyone—not just poor or uneducated people, but also the city’s elite—paid him great respect. Because he had amazed them with his magic, they thought, “This is a truly great man, full of the power of the God of Greatness.” 12 But they were even more impressed with Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus the Anointed. Both men and women received ceremonial washing through baptism[b]— 13 and even Simon himself became a believer. After his baptism, he shadowed Philip constantly, and he was as amazed as everyone else when he saw great and miraculous signs taking place.
14 Meanwhile word had reached the Lord’s emissaries[c] in Jerusalem that the message of God was welcomed in Samaria—a land of half-breeds and heretics in the minds of many Judeans. They sent Peter and John 15 to pray for the Samaritans. They were especially eager to see if the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit 16 because until this point they had been baptized[d] in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not experienced the Holy Spirit. 17 When Peter and John laid hands on the people, the Holy Spirit did indeed come upon them all.
18 Simon watched all this closely. He saw the Holy Spirit coming to the people when the apostles laid hands on them. So he came to Peter and John and offered them money.
Simon: 19 I want to purchase this ability to confer the Holy Spirit on people through the laying on of my hands.
Peter: 20 May your silver rot right along with you, Simon! To think the Holy Spirit is some kind of magic that can be procured with money! 21 You aren’t even close to being ready for this kind of ministry; your heart is not right with God. 22 You need to turn from your past, and you need to pray that the Lord will forgive the evil intent of your heart. 23 I can see deep bitterness has poisoned you, and wickedness has locked you in chains.
Simon: 24 Please—you must pray to the Lord for me. I don’t want these terrible things to be true of me.
25 Peter and John preached to and talked with the Samaritans about the message of the Lord; and then they returned to Jerusalem, stopping in many other Samaritan villages along the way to proclaim the good news.
26 A heavenly messenger brought this short message from the Lord to Philip during his time preaching in Samaria:
Messenger of the Lord: Leave Samaria. Go south to the Jerusalem-Gaza road.
The message was especially unusual because this road runs through the middle of uninhabited desert. 27 But Philip got up, left the excitement of Samaria, and did as he was told to do. Along this road, Philip saw a chariot in the distance. In the chariot was a dignitary from Ethiopia (the treasurer for Queen Candace), an African man who had been castrated. He had gone north to Jerusalem to worship at the Jewish temple, 28 and he was now heading southwest on his way home. He was seated in the chariot and was reading aloud from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
29 Philip received another prompting from the Holy Spirit:
Holy Spirit: Go over to the chariot and climb on board.
30 So he started running until he was even with the chariot. Philip heard the Ethiopian reading aloud and recognized the words from the prophet Isaiah.
Philip: Do you understand the meaning of what you’re reading?
The Ethiopian: 31 How can I understand it unless I have a mentor?
Then he invited Philip to sit in the chariot. 32 Here’s the passage he was reading from the Hebrew Scriptures:
Like a sheep, He was led to be slaughtered.
Like a lamb about to be shorn of its wool,
He was completely silent.
33 He was humiliated, and He received no justice.
Who can describe His peers? Who would treat Him this way?
For they snuffed out His life.[e]
The Ethiopian: 34 Here’s my first question. Is the prophet describing his own situation, or is he describing someone else’s calamity?
35 That began a conversation in which Philip used the passage to explain the good news of Jesus. 36 Eventually the chariot passed a body of water beside the road.
The Ethiopian: Since there is water here, is there anything that might prevent me from being ceremonially washed through baptism[f] and identified as a disciple of Jesus?
Philip: [37 If you believe in your heart that Jesus the Anointed is God’s Son, then nothing can stop you.
The Ethiopian said that he believed.][g]
Possibly a reference to the Jewish prohibition of full participation in temple worship by men who have been castrated—a prohibition he likely encounters in this very visit to Jerusalem.
38 He commanded the charioteer to stop the horses. Then Philip and the Ethiopian official walked together into the water. There Philip baptized[h] him, initiating him as a fellow disciple. 39 When they came out of the water, Philip was immediately caught up by the Holy Spirit and taken from the sight of the Ethiopian, who climbed back into his chariot and continued on his journey, overflowing with joy. 40 Philip found himself at a town called Azotus (formerly the Philistine capital city of Ashdod, on the Mediterranean); and from there he traveled north again, proclaiming the good news in town after town until he came to Caesarea.
- 8:1-2 Literally, apostles
- 8:12 Literally, immersion, a rite of initiation and purification
- 8:14 Literally, apostles
- 8:16 Literally, immersed, in a rite of initiation and purification
- 8:32–33 Isaiah 53:7–8
- 8:36 Literally, immersed, in a rite of initiation and purification
- 8:37 The earliest manuscripts omit verse 37.
- 8:38 Literally, immersed, in a rite of initiation and purification