Acts viii: 4 to 40.
E have seen how the first church of those who believed in Christ was broken up, and its members were driven away by the fury and rage of its enemy, the young man Saul. But as those who were scattered went into other places, they told the people about Christ and his gospel. And very soon new companies of believers in Christ began to rise up, all over the land. In place of one church in Jerusalem there were many churches among its cities and villages of Judea. Thus Saul, for all his hate toward Christ, really helped in spreading the gospel of Christ.
Among those driven away by Saul was a man named Philip, not Philip the apostle, but another Philip, who had been one of those chosen with Stephen to care for the poor. This Philip went down to the city of Samaria, near the middle of the land; and there he began to tell the people about Christ. These people were not Jews, but were of the race called Samaritans. The woman of Samaria, with whom Jesus talked at Jacob's well, as we read in Story 117, was of this people.
The Lord gave to Philip the power to work many wonders among these Samaritans. At Philip's word, evil spirits came out of men. Those who had the palsy were cured, and the lame were made to walk. The Samaritans saw these things done by Philip, and they believed that he spoke to them the words of God. Very many of them became believers in Christ, and were baptized; and there was great joy in that city.
At that time there was in Samaria a certain man named Simon, who had made the people believe that he had great power and could do wonderful things, by some magic that he used. But the works wrought by Philip through the power of Christ were so much greater and more wonderful than his own, that Simon himself listened to the teaching of Philip, claimed to believe in Jesus, and was baptized. But his heart had not been touched; he thought only that Philip's magic was better than his own, and he hoped to find out what it was, so that he too could use it.
The twelve apostles, you remember, were still in Jerusalem; for they did not leave the city when Saul broke up the church. After a time Saul ceased to trouble, and some of the believers began to go back to Jerusalem. A new church grew up in that city around the apostles, though it never became as large or as whole-hearted as had been the church of the early days.
News came to the apostles of the great work wrought by Philip in Samaria, and they sent Peter and John to visit the new church in that place. Peter and John came to Samaria, and were glad when they saw how many and how faithful were the believers in Christ. They prayed for them, that the same power of the Holy Spirit that had come upon the disciples in Jerusalem might come upon those in Samaria; and the power of the Lord came when the apostles laid their hands on the heads of the believers.
When Simon saw that this strange power of God came with the laying on of the apostle's hands, he offered Peter and John money, saying to them, "Sell me this power, so that I may give the Holy Spirit to those on whom I lay my hands."
But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you if you think to buy the gift of God with money! You do not really belong to Christ, and your heart is not right with God. Turn away from this your sin, and pray God that he will forgive you. For I see that you are yet in your sins, sins that are as bitter as gall; and you are fast bound in evil as with a chain!"
Simon could not understand this, but he said, "Pray for me to the Lord, that none of these evils that you have named come upon me!"
After this Peter and John preached among many villages of the Samaritans, and then they went back to Jerusalem. Philip's work in Samaria was now done, and an angel of the Lord spoke to him, saying:
"Rise up, and leave this city; and go toward the south, on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."
This was a road through a desert region, without villages or people; but Philip at once obeyed the word that came from the Lord. He left Samaria and walked southward, until he came to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. While he was on this desert road he saw a chariot drawing near, and in it was seated a black man reading from a roll. This man had come from the land of Ethiopia, in Africa, far to the south of Egypt. He was a nobleman of very high rank, the treasurer of the queen in that land; and though he was not a Jew, he had taken a journey of more than a thousand miles to Jerusalem, riding in his chariot all the way, that he might worship God in his Temple. He was now going back to his own land, and in his hands was the roll of the prophet Isaiah, from which he was reading aloud while he was riding on his journey.
As the chariot of this black man came in sight, the Spirit of the Lord said to Philip, "Go near, and stand close by the chariot."
And Philip ran toward the chariot, and spoke to the man, and said "Do you understand what you are reading?"
The nobleman answered him, "How can I understand it, unless some one tells me what it means? Can you show me? If you can, come up into the chariot and sit with me."
Then Philip came up and sat down in the chariot. The place where he was reading was the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, with words like these:
"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter,
And as a lamb before his shearer is dumb,
So he openeth not his mouth.
His story who shall tell?
For his life is taken from the earth."
These are the words that the prophet spoke of Jesus many hundreds of years before he came to the earth. Philip began with those words, and told the Ethiopian nobleman all about Christ. And the man believed, and took into his heart the word of the Lord. As they went on the way, they came to some water, and the nobleman said, "See, here is water! Why may I not be baptized?"
And Philip said to him, "If you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized."
And he answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
Then the nobleman gave order for the chariot to stand still; and Philip and the man went down into the water together, and he baptized him as a follower of Christ. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away, so that the nobleman saw him no more; but he went on his way home, happy in the Lord.
Philip went next to a city near the shore, and there he preached; and from that place he went northward through the cities by the Great Sea, preaching in them all, until he came to Caesarea, and at Caesarea he stayed for many years.