13 July 2019Acts 8:14-17
[Peter and John] prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (vs.15,17)
Psalm: Psalm 3
Following the story of Stephen in the previous chapter, this chapter concerns Philip, another of the apostolic assistants appointed in Acts 6:5-6, and his effective witness to the city of Samaria, and later in the chapter to a travelling Ethiopian official. It is because this marks the first recorded occasion of the Christian gospel being preached beyond the boundaries of Israel, that Peter and John, the leading apostles, visit Samaria in these verses to affirm what is taking place.
Samaria had been Israel’s capital in the days of the divided kingdom when Jerusalem was capital of Judah, and the people of Judea – as it became after the Exile – always subsequently looked down on Samaria; hence Jesus’s choice of a Samaritan as the hero of his famous parable (Luke 10:29-37). It is therefore highly significant that the apostles wish to embrace the new Christians in Samaria as part of the church and to pray for them the same blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism had been regarded as symbolic of baptism in the Holy Spirit since John the Baptist made that connection (Luke 3:16), and church liturgies still reflect this. But in Acts there are some particular crucial junctures in the advance of the church where water-baptism and Spirit-baptism are not coterminous; in Acts 10:44-48 the Spirit falls on the first group of Gentile believers before their baptism, and in Acts 19:1-7 Paul encounters a group of baptised disciples who did not know about the Holy Spirit. Today’s passage concerns another occasion where the Holy Spirit appears to wait for the apostles’ approval of Samaritans becoming Christians before filling them. In all these three cases receiving the Holy Spirit made a clearly observable impact.
Laying hands on people is not an automatic means to convey the Holy Spirit, as the verses that follow the passage make clear (vs. 18-24), but is symbolic of God’s touch upon a life, in this case (and in Acts 19:6) in gifting the Holy Spirit. Where in the church today believers have been baptised as babies or children, the rite of confirmation is the occasion when hands are laid upon them with a prayer for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit, making their Christian initiation complete.
- If you recall at some time coming to faith in Jesus, were you at that time encouraged to receive the Holy Spirit? Or might it be appropriate now for you to seek prayer from your church pastor or leader to be filled with the Spirit?
- What are the signs you would expect to see if someone has received the Holy Spirit?
- We live in a world where too often hands are laid on someone to their harm, but In what other circumstances than the one in this passage might that action, either formally or an informal hand on an arm or shoulder, prove very appropriate and helpful?