30 April 2015

Acts 8:14-17

“Then Peter and John laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 147



In this short passage we are given an insight in to the developing nature of the early Church's mission. Jesus' disciples were Jews and had grown up in a Jewish world. It was what they were familiar with and, as with others in their society, it would not have been unusual for them to have had a degree of prejudice towards those who were different from themselves. This was particularly the case towards people living in Samaria.

The Jewish people and the Samaritans had a long history of fierce antagonism and even hatred for one another. There was no friendly banter and good-natured rivalry between these two neighbouring peoples, instead they dwelt on their shared history and their enmity grew as a result. Centuries before, when the exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, the Samaritans who were then living in the former northern kingdom of Israel vigorously opposed them. In return the Jews objected to their neighbours' religious practices.

Jesus started to break down these barriers. He spent time talking to the Samaritan women at the well (John 4:1-42) and turned a Samaritan man in to the hero of a parable (Luke 10:30-37). However it would have been a major step for the disciples not only to take the gospel message to Samaria but also to baptize people there.

When Peter spoke to the people on the day of Pentecost he linked Baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ" with receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). For some reason the Baptism by Philip does not seem to have the same impact as that seen in Jerusalem. It's possible however that this two-stage process is intentional, as Peter and John are not like modern day visiting bishops, visiting to confirm people who have already been baptized, but instead they are sending a very clear signal that their mission in to Samaria is blessed by God and that this is seen through the power of the Holy Spirit. It marked a total change to the relationship between the early Jewish-based Church and the Samaritans. This step in the journey could be regarded as a Samaritan Pentecost, just as Acts 10:44 describes the Gentile Pentecost.

To Ponder

  • Examine your own prejudices and consider what you can do to overcome them.
  • Pray for children, adults and their families who have been baptized in your church.
  • Pray for those who cross boundaries and break down barriers to bring peace and justice.

Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member of both the BMA council and Royal College of GPs council as well as being the deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee.