”You will be saved” – meaning what, exactly?

In Acts 11:14 Peter recaps what an angel had told Cornelius, that Peter “will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.” 

But in the previous chapter Cornelius was described as a “devout and God-fearing” man, who “prayed to God regularly,” “gave generously to those in need,” and was “respected by all the Jewish people,” so what salvation did Cornelius yet need, or need to know about, when he was already a good man in God’s eyes (Acts 10:4)?    

Well, Acts 11 is a great chapter for anyone wondering what salvation means, because the gospel message is being introduced to Gentiles who had no clue as yet what salvation was, or the need for it. So the Holy Spirit sets up this episode with Peter and Cornelius to boil it down for them, that salvation was about “belief in the Lord Jesus Christ,” verse 17.   

So when the angel told Cornelius that “you and all your household will be saved,” Peter understood that to mean the Holy Spirit was about to give these Gentiles the same gift the Jews had received (verse 17). From now on, therefore, Gentiles could experience “belief in the Lord Jesus Christ” too.

But why was it so important to believe in Jesus as Lord and Christ? Because, as Peter explained back in Acts 10:38, the reason Jesus was both Lord and Christ was to save and rescue humanity from “the power of the devil.”  

And that was the message the Holy Spirit wanted Cornelius to know, that life was more than being a good man, because humans being good, or human goodness at its best, had never been enough to combat the devil’s power. The Old Testament made that clear, because it’s the long and sad story of Israel never being able to resist the devil’s deceptions and distractions – and the terrible damage it had done to their hearts, minds and motives.   

Gentile history had been no different either, of course, because it too was a horrible mess. So both Jews and Gentiles shared the same helpless inability to combat and heal the damage the devil’s rule had done to them. And nothing has changed in our day either, because here we are now, still facing the same devilish deceptions and distractions. Confusion about what’s right and wrong is rampant, and solutions either fall totally flat or make things worse, like dividing people into camps so we war against each other. Never in my lifetime have I felt such intense pressure from the world squeezing the life out of me, and weighing me down. 

But Acts 11 has good news for us, because verse 20 tells us that “men from Cyprus and Cyrene” had already been explaining to the Gentile Greeks in Antioch “the good news about the Lord Jesus.” The Holy Spirit, in other words, was very much at work behind the scenes providing people with the key message of salvation, that the greater power of the “Lord Jesus” was now available to them to heal, see through, and resist the devil’s deceptions and distractions. 

What a promise it was, then, when Cornelius heard that he and his household “will be saved,” because it meant they too would experience “the Lord’s hand being with them,” verse 21, in whatever overwhelming pressures and temptations they would be facing in their devilish world. 

And when that message was preached “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord,” verse 21, because who else could they turn to for relief and hope? And we’re facing the same helplessness in our world too. We’re being shown again and again, as we humans careen from one crisis to another with no solutions agreed to by all, that we’re being swayed and controlled by powers way more powerful than us. 

Paul agrees, because he wrote in Ephesians 6:12 thatour “struggle is not against flesh and blood,” it’s against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But the good news is, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” 1 John 3:8. And ironically the Holy Spirit chose a powerful Gentile soldier brought up in the evil ways of Rome to get that point across to us, because if a man like that can be saved from the devil’s work, so can we.  

Evil really can be overcome

In Acts 10:38 Peter explains to Cornelius the Roman soldier “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” and “how Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” 

So the reason for Jesus being given the Holy Spirit and power, and for God being with him, was to enable him to heal people who’d been “beaten down by the devil” (The Message). 

Wherever Jesus went, then, he was visibly demonstrating what God had sent him for. And it was soon obvious what that was: Jesus had come to heal people, which he made very noticeable through amazing physical healings, like restoring eyesight and shrivelled limbs. But even more remarkable than that was Jesus’ power to confront spirit evil and free people from that too. 

So in our terms today Jesus was into “cancel culture,” cancelling out the physical and spiritual effects of evil in his culture. And he made it visible too, because it needed to be visible, to show the despairing people of his day, who were filled with hopelessness because of all the horrible things going on in their lives and in the world around them, that there was another much greater power in operation that could confront evil head on and put it to flight. 

And ironically Peter is telling all this to a Roman soldier, the most evil of men in Jewish eyes, a man whose Roman upbringing and soldier training should have made him despise all Jews. But instead of being a rabid racist, Cornelius was “respected by all the Jewish people” (verse 22) for his generosity to them and his devotion to God (verse 3). 

Wow, you mean this could happen to such a man as that? Yes, as evidence that this was what the Holy Spirit was doing as witness to Jesus’ ministry of healing still being real – and expanding that ministry to Gentiles too. Cornelius was just the first, but the first of millions more Gentiles in the future who would be healed of despising people of other races or condemning people for their weird ideas about gender and sexual preference. Instead, we Gentiles would experience a total healing of our attitudes to such people, and find ourselves loving them, as evidence that such a miracle can happen. 

And that really is “counter culture,” but it’s exactly what our world needs to see right now; it needs to see that systemic hatred can be overcome. It shocked Peter that such a thing could happen to a man like Cornelius, but he realized it was the Holy Spirit’s doing (verse 47), and this was now the direction the Spirit was taking them. It resulted in the most incredible miracle, the healing of the unsolvable racial hatred between Jews and Gentiles. And how visible it was in the church too, as Jews and Gentiles happily accepted each other as brothers and sisters in the same family. It was wonderful evidence of the greater power of the Spirit filling people’s hearts with love, and putting systemic evil to flight. 

And now it’s our turn. This is what we’ve been given the Holy Spirit and power for as well, to be witnesses to Jesus – who “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” – continuing that same ministry today. We are witnesses to that, just as Cornelius was, to give people today reason for hope too, that the evils that divide us and cause so much hatred really can be overcome. 

“God does not show favouritism”

The above statement in Acts 10:34 was spoken by Peter when it dawned on him what God was teaching him through a Roman soldier. It was shocking to Peter to discover that this non-Jew and despised Gentile enemy of the Jews was in fact “a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people,” verse 22.   

It told Peter in no uncertain terms that he, Peter, was a systemic racist – a hard pill to swallow when you’re an apostle and supposedly filled with the Holy Spirit. But Peter was still a prejudiced, bigoted snob. Blame it on his background, yes, because from a burbling baby he’d grown up being told the Jews were God’s chosen people, but, unfortunately, the word “chosen” had translated in their Jewish minds as “superior.” Gentiles were sub human.   

And this same poison had infected Peter’s mind too. So how on earth could Peter be a visible witness to Jesus’ love for all peoples in all nations, or act as evidence that the promise God made to Abraham to bless all nations was now at full throttle through the church? 

The answer to that was a vision (verse 10), in which Peter was told to eat “reptiles” and various other animals that to Jews were “impure” (verse 14). And when Peter resisted eating them he was thoroughly told off for calling something “impure that God has made clean,” verse 15.  

What turmoil that must have created in Peter’s mind, but after meeting Cornelius the soldier in person and how eager the man was “to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (verse 33), Peter realized the purpose of the vision, that “God accepts people from every nation who fear  (deeply respect) God and do what is right,” verse 35.

This was shocking news to Peter because he’d been taught that God only accepted Jews who obeyed all the laws given to Israel in the Old Testament. In other words, God did have favourites. But no longer, because anyone wanting to “do right” with God in mind was fully accepted by him. 

And the proof of it was Cornelius, who was doing right with God in mind, which God had taken note of (verses 2-6), and then through an angel got the point across to Peter that he was establishing a different definition of “good and acceptable,” which didn’t involve anything religious at all, other than a deep respect for God. 

Well, that made me think, because there are probably thousands of people where I live who fit that definition, who may not be labelled as “Christians” or do what identifies Christians, like meeting in a church building or obeying church rituals. But they’re good people. They want to do what’s right, whether it’s supporting their family, being a hard working, honest employee, fighting for justice, helping the poor, trying not to pollute the planet, or restoring the soil etc., and all because they believe these things are right and good in God’s eyes.  

And shock upon shock for many Christians, perhaps, that’s good enough for God. And he sent Jesus to prove it, which is what Peter also realized in verse 38 when he tells Cornelius, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around DOING GOOD….”  

And that’s what defined Jesus. It’s why he was given the Holy Spirit and power. It wasn’t going to church or sounding religious. It was his desire to do good. And how encouraging is that when you realize anyone doing good is actively and effectively continuing Jesus’ ministry on this planet and being a visible witness to Jesus and his heart and mind. 

And the Holy Spirit landed that on Peter by putting him in contact with Cornelius. Peter would never have known this about Cornelius, that in God’s eyes he was such a good man, despite not being a religious Jew. And by ignoring this “sub human” Gentile Peter would never have known that such good people were now wonderfully accepted in God’s eyes too.

It took a while for this to sink into Peter’s racist mind, so the Holy Spirit jumped in half way through Peter’s speech to Cornelius in verse 44, inspired all those in the house with Cornelius with a clear understanding of who Jesus was and what he’d come for, which caused Peter to blurt out,”Wow, these people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” In other words, these supposedly “sub human” Gentiles were just as “Christian,” just as godly, just as acceptable and just as loved by God as they were. And all because they “went around doing good.” 

And since I don’t know who those people are in my neighbourhood, I can’t play favourites either, because any one of them may be another Cornelius. They may not look or sound good enough in my eyes, but in their desire to do what’s good and right in God’s eyes, that’s good enough for him.  

“Jesus Christ heals you”

Those four words were spoken by Peter to a bedridden paralytic in Acts 9:34. And “immediately Aeneas got up” and started walking around after being incurably paralyzed for eight years.  

But why this one paralytic in particular when there were probably many others who were in need of healing too?  

Was there some deeper spiritual meaning in this one healing? And I ask that, because there are three remarkable healings in Acts 9 and 10 that all have strong hints of a deeper side to them.   

When Peter told the paralytic Aeneas that “Jesus Christ heals you,” for instance, it’s connected in the same chapter with Saul’s insatiable obsession with hunting down Christians and wiping out anything to do with Jesus. In Saul’s case it was his mind that was paralyzed. But when Jesus confronts him personally it only took three days for that paralysis in Saul’s mind to be completely healed. 

Both stories in the same chapter are about the same thing, the healing of paralysis. And I like the sound of that, because there are tons of people today whose minds are just as paralyzed as Saul’s was against Jesus and all things Christian. And no matter hard we try or how clever we may be in trying to change their minds, they remain adamantly closed to any other belief than their own. 

But if I can’t get through to them I know that Jesus can, and wants to, from what he did for Saul. I can look at anybody, therefore, and say to myself, “Jesus Christ can heal your closed, paralyzed mind any time he chooses,” and especially having experienced Jesus doing that for me. I now have that vital personal proof too, that Jesus is still in the business of miracles that are just as great and real as the miracle Jesus did in Saul. 

Which takes us to the second great miracle Jesus did in Acts 9, this time in the life of Tabitha.

When Peter was introduced to Tabitha she was a lifeless body on a bed. So here was another incident that Peter was faced with out of the blue, and this time requiring an even greater miracle. But again he had total confidence that Jesus would heal Tabitha and raise her back to life again. But why did this incident happen in the first place, and was there some deeper meaning to it as well? 

Well, yes, because earlier on in the same chapter Saul had also been dead – dead to who Jesus was, dead to Jesus being the Messiah, dead to any possibility that Jesus was alive, and dead to Christianity being a wonderfully visible witness to what Jesus was up to. 

But in the space of three days he was transformed. From being totally dead to Jesus Saul is raised to a brand new life of knowing, trusting, loving and dedicating his life in service to him. He was as much raised from the dead as Tabitha was. And isn’t that what Jesus has done to billions of people ever since too – clearly illustrating through both Tabitha and Saul that he loves raising us poor, dead humans to a brand new life. 

But don’t stop there because in Acts 10 Peter is now faced with Cornelius, a dreaded Roman centurion, and a despised Gentile. Was there some deeper meaning intended in this incident as well, then?

Well, yes again, because one of the biggest problems we humans have is our inability to get along with people who are different to us, and especially with people our culture has taught us to despise. But Jesus healed that in Peter. His attitude totally changed to a Gentile Roman soldier, the worst possible person for a Jew to accept as a brother. Jesus also healed it in Saul, who had his attitude totally healed toward the Christians he’d hated before.

All three examples in Acts 9 and 10, then, picture the healing work of Jesus, of healing paralyzed minds, healing lives dead to trust in and love for him, and healing attitudes to those hated and despised. And how encouraging is that, knowing that Jesus can open closed minds, raise us to a whole new life of loving relationship with him, and have our attitude toward those the culture has poisoned our minds against totally changed so that we come to love people like Jesus does?  It happened to Saul and it happened to Peter, so why not to us too, when it’s the same Spirit working in our lives, and for the same purpose, to be visible witnesses to Jesus and his great desire to heal.  

And what confidence that is meant to give us – just like the confidence Peter had – that we too can say of anyone struggling in any one of these three areas, or all three, that “Jesus Christ heals you,” because in one way or another, and at some time or other, he will.  

Illustrating the spiritual through the physical

So why did Jesus physically heal “Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years” in Acts 9:32-34? And why at that specific time did Jesus heal him too? 

The timing is a clue, because the first part of Acts 9 tells the vivid story of Saul being miraculously transformed from being an obsessive hunter of Christians to preaching and proving that “Jesus is the Son of God” and “Jesus is the Christ” (verses 20 and 22). 

In the same chapter, therefore, we have the healing of Saul and the healing of Aeneas. For Aeneas it was the healing of his paralyzed body; for Saul it was the healing of his paralyzed mind, obsessed with destroying Christianity and belief in Jesus (Acts 26:11).  

So what we’ve got in Acts 9 are two stories about paralysis being healed, both of which were done by Jesus, but one was physical and the other mental, or spiritual. And we see this same connection between the physical and the spiritual elsewhere in the book of Acts  At the very start of the church in Acts 3, for instance, a man crippled from birth is healed, but at the end of the same chapter Peter talks of Jesus “turning each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). The first healing was physical, but there’s this other healing in verse 26 about Jesus healing what had crippled the Jews (and all humanity) spiritually. 

So again, a parallel is made between the physical and the spiritual – in this case the healing of a man crippled from birth physically and connecting that a few verses later to Jesus healing us from the junk that has crippled all of us mentally and spiritually since we were born. The physical illustrates the spiritual, in other words, and in Acts the two are tightly connected. 

Going back to Acts 9, then, we can now look at what happened to Tabitha. The healing of Aeneas a few verses earlier was amazing, but Tabitha “became sick and died” and her dead body had been washed already in preparation for burial (Acts 9:37). She was as dead as dead can be. But when Peter arrives he prayed, and then “turning toward the dead woman he said ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes and sat up,” after which Peter presented her very much alive again to the assembled household (verses 40-41).  

So now we have two remarkable stories of healing in Acts 9, the healing of a man paralyzed and the healing of a woman who’d died. Isn’t it interesting, then, that both these healings paralleled and perfectly illustrated what had happened to Saul earlier in the same chapter? He too had been healed of his paralysis, and he too had been raised to new life. The physical healings, therefore, were a wonderful illustration of the much greater spiritual healings Jesus was now doing.  

And how encouraging is that? Because think of all the people today who are just as paralyzed and dead as Saul was. They’re just as turned off Christianity and want nothing to do with it as he was. They don’t want anyone explaining Christianity to them, or hearing about all the good things Christians have done through the centuries, or accepting the logic of Jesus’ teachings. They are so bitterly opposed to Christianity they are mentally paralyzed against it – and there’s no cure, just as there was no cure for Saul’s opposition to Christ and all things Christian.

But in just seconds, minutes and stretching to a maximum of only three days, “something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes,” Acts 9:18, and not only could Saul see again after being physically blinded, he could also see and preach to others “that Jesus is the Son of God,” totally supporting the key belief of Christians, and being willing to spread it for the rest of his life. 

It seems impossible that a healing of such magnitude and suddenness could happen to a man so obsessed and paralyzed by his hatred – and it was hard for many people back then to wrap their minds round it too (verse 21). Was this really what Jesus was now capable of and doing?

So Jesus does two remarkable physical healings that illustrate and demonstrate that, yes, this was exactly what he was capable of and now doing. And many people in Acts 9 made the connection too. After the healing of Aeneas “All those who lived in Lydda turned to the Lord,” and after the healing of Tabitha, “many people believed in the Lord” (verse 35 and 42). “The scales fell from their eyes” just as they fell from Saul’s eyes, and they too began to experience the paralysis in their thinking being healed and transformed, and being raised to new life, the same two things that happened to Saul.   

Physical healings, then, served as marvellous illustrations of the much greater healing Jesus was doing through the Holy Spirit. So it’s not physical healing that Acts has us focused on, it’s on the spiritual healing that the physical healings illustrated. And we are now living in the time when we can experience the reality of what those physical healings pictured. And as we experience the spiritual healing Jesus made possible, OUR lives then become illustrations of what Jesus is up to as well. 

When Jesus gets personal…

Three things happened to Saul when Jesus got personal with him, starting in Acts 9 when Jesus confronted Saul on his way to Damascus. First on the list was Saul’s mind totally accepting Jesus as LORD, as we see when Saul asked Jesus in verse 5, “Who are you, Lord?”  

And when Saul began teaching a few days later in verse 20 it was about Jesus being “the Son of God.” Jesus was no longer a shadowy figure to Saul, or a name to be erased. Jesus was the mighty Son of God, Lord of all. And that was the first great life changing realization Jesus created in Saul’s brain. And it’s the first great life changer for all us humans too, when “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). 

But why is it so important knowing Jesus is Lord? Because in Saul’s life it prepared him for what Jesus had in mind next: Jesus had a job for Saul to do. And again it’s in Acts 9, because Jesus tells “a disciple named Ananias” in verse 10 that Saul, verse 15, “is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel.”

This is now the second thing that happens to Saul when Jesus gets personal with him. Jesus very quickly gets the point across to Saul that his life from this point on would no longer be his own. From now on Saul would become an “instrument” in the mighty Son of God’s hands, so that the name of Jesus would become very familiar to a wide range of people, including “kings.” But for Saul to have that kind of impact on people, he had to know for himself who Jesus was first of all. How could he become a visible witness to others that Jesus was alive, powerful and personal unless he’d experienced Jesus being all those things to him? 

But armed with that understanding now Saul’s immediate reaction is to shoot off to “the Jews living in Damascus” to “prove Jesus is the Christ,” verse 22. He found himself desperately wanting to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus really was the Messiah sent by God to set up his kingdom on earth. To Saul this was all that mattered. He must prove, persuade, and out argue every objection, by using his acute intellect and fluency with words to help people realize who Jesus really was. 

Which is when Jesus gets personal with him again, because everything blows up in Saul’s face. Instead of his fellow Jews responding to his message they “conspired to kill him” in verse 23 (and again in verse 29), causing a humiliating retreat for Saul in a basket at night (verse 25). Worse still, “the brothers” in the church also wanted Saul to stop preaching and go back home to Tarsus (verse 30). And how humiliating that was too, because as soon as Saul was gone “the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace” (verse 31).

It was a strange time of banishment for Saul, because instead of being a powerful witness to Jesus he was now stuck at home in Tarsus twiddling his thumbs and no one hears from him – or about him – for the next six to ten years. But during Saul’s long stay at home Jesus was getting one more vital point across to him, and when he got it that’s when the Spirit sends Barnabas to Tarsus to retrieve Saul and get him back on board again.

So what was it that Saul needed to learn? Well, in his own words he describes it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (or dependence on] the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” Galatians 2:20.

Jesus was now very personal to Saul. Jesus was not just a name to be preached in powerful and convincing words. Saul could do that on his own abilities, but to become the effective instrument in Jesus’ hands that Jesus had in mind for him, Saul now realized Jesus wanted to live his own life in him. That way people would have a visible witness of Jesus in Saul himself, that would wonderfully add a visual to his preaching.  

And when Paul understood that he was then ready to become the apostle Paul, who in his own life now – in both power and suffering – would reflect the life and love of Jesus (Philippians 3:10). 

So, is that what Jesus does when he gets personal with us? Does he get the point across to us too, first of all, that he is the mighty Son of God, Lord of all, so that we willingly accept our lives belong to him now as instruments in his hands, and that it doesn’t depend on us and our abilities to do that, but in Jesus living his life and love in us?  

Switching from an impersonal “Way” to a personal Jesus

While amazing things are happening in Samaria in Acts 8, in Acts 9 Saul is still causing havoc among those he dubbed “the Way” (Acts 9:2). To Saul any Jew deserting the teachings of Moses for this other “way” of Jesus, was “speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God” and “against the holy place and the law” (Acts 6:11 and 13).   

So in Acts 9:1-2 Saul “went to the high priest (in Jerusalem)” to “ask him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that….he might take them (the Jesus followers) as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul was in a rage, that all this stuff about Jesus was a dangerous cult that needed to be stamped out by jailing and killing off its followers, even as far away as Damascus, because to him there was nothing Godly about this “way” at all.  

But Saul’s in for a bit of a surprise, because as “he neared Damascus,” clutching his signed letters from the high priest to drag all Jesus followers to Jerusalem, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him,” Acts 9:3

It was like a near hit by a lightning bolt, because his knees crumpled and down he went. And that’s when “he heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (verse 4). And amazingly, Saul immediately accepts the voice as real and he has no problem replying to it. 

But what made Saul ask in verse 5, “Who are you, Lord?” His first three words are understandable, because the voice had accused him of picking on “me,” and Saul was simply checking out who the “me” was – but why did he follow that up with the word “Lord”? 

Why ask who “me” was if he already knew it was “the Lord”? And what made Saul think it really was the Lord speaking – because what previous experience of the Lord being so personal had Saul had up to this point?   

But go back to the story of Stephen in Acts 6 and 7, and it’s not surprising that Saul immediately suspects this is the Lord in person speaking to him. Saul’s experience with Stephen had been surreal, first in Stephen’s amazing wisdom (Acts 6:10), then Stephen crying out in Acts 7:56, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” and again in Stephen’s dying words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” in Acts 7:60

What must’ve really rattled Saul, though, was Stephen putting the “Son of Man” and “Lord” together, because that clearly identified Jesus (the Son of Man) as the “Lord.” Stephen had also actually seen Jesus in his lofty position at God’s right hand, so from Stephen Saul learnt for the first time in his life that Jesus was alive still, and he was both powerful and personal.   

It’s not surprising, then, that Saul had no trouble accepting the “me” in verse 4 as the Lord Jesus, because a switch had already been clicked in his head by his experience with Stephen that this new movement of Jesus followers wasn’t just an impersonal “Way,” it was based on Jesus being alive in power and person.

But look what it took to bring Saul to that point. It wasn’t an impersonal “Way” – or a system of beliefs, doctrines, creeds and rituals – that got to Saul; it was the amazing difference that being “full of the Spirit” had made in Stephen: he was full of “God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). And that made Stephen into a wonderful and visible witness to Jesus being alive, which is exactly what Jesus said would happen when his disciples were filled with the Spirit in Acts 1:8. And now in Acts 9 we actually see that witness happening in the impact that Jesus being alive, powerful and personal in Stephen’s life had made on Saul.  

So it’s real; it happens, and amazingly so in the likes of a man like Saul. Does that mean, then, that because of the Spirit in us the same switch is being clicked on in other people’s heads too?   

The unpredictable but timing perfect Holy Spirit….

 Simon Magus’ view of the Holy Spirit in the first half of Acts 8 was pathetically limited and insultingly wrong. To him the Spirit was merely an “ability” (verse 19) he could add to his other magical powers by simply placing his hands on people (verse 18). Imagine the impact that would have, this amazing power being released through his fingers, which he could pull out of his bag of magic tricks to sway people Into believing he truly had “divine power” (verse 10). The Holy Spirit, in other words, was something he could control and use to wow people into believing his ministry was from God (verse 21) – much like so called faith healers do today.   

Peter, however, labelled Simon’s attitude for what it was: “wickedness” (verse 22). But why was it so wicked? 

We’re about to find out in the next half of Acts 8, because there is a massive contrast between the limited, insulting view that Simon had of the Holy Spirit and what the Spirit is really like – the first hint of which occurs in verse 26 when, out of the blue, “an angel of the Lord” arrives on the scene to give Philip his next assignment.  

Imagine being in Philip’s sandals when this happens. In Acts 6 he’d just been chosen by the church as one of seven men to organize the care and feeding of the widows and many others pouring into the church in Jerusalem. That was his job. But in Acts 8:5 we find him on the road to Samaria instead, to “proclaim Christ there,” where he’s doing “miraculous signs” (verse 6), freeing people from evil spirits and healing paralytics and cripples (verse 7). 

And Philip wasn’t even an apostle, but here he was doing apostle level miracles. It meant leaving his carer’s job in Jerusalem to go to Samaria and now he’s being told by an angel to leave Samaria and head south on a “desert road” (verse 26) with no idea or explanation where he was going or what for. It was all completely and totally unexpected. And it probably didn’t make much sense to Philip either, because why was he being asked to leave Samaria when all the action was happening back there (verse 25)?

But here he is, walking along an empty desert road with not a soul, house or village in sight, and no clue what he’s there for – when a chariot appears, and the Spirit tells him, “Go to the chariot and stay near it” (verse 29).  

The timing is exquisite, because the man in the chariot is reading aloud from Isaiah 53. Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading, the man wants to know and Philip explains how those verses tie in with “the good news about Jesus” (verses 30-35). It’s exactly what the man needs to hear, because he stops the chariot a few miles down the road and wants to be baptized where water just happens to be (verses 36 and 38). That job done “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,” verse 39.

How wicked it was of Simon, therefore, to think the Holy Spirit was merely a power he could control for his own ends and agenda. Because look at the massive contrast between Simon’s pathetic and insulting view of the Spirit to this exquisitely choreographed story of the Ethiopian Secretary of the Treasury on his way home from Jerusalem on this totally deserted road reading aloud from Isaiah 53, wondering who it’s referring to, and alongside his chariot appears Philip, who is able to tie in Isaiah 53 with what Jesus was all about. 

No one else is there to witness it either. It’s just between these two men, one who’s willing to go wherever the Spirit blows, and the other at that specific time being ready for hearing the gospel. No one had set this up or planned it in their five year church plan for missions. It was all the Spirit’s doing. 

But the Spirit knew Philip, that Philip would accept receiving instructions from an angel and being spoken to by the Spirit, and finding himself on an empty desert road with no idea why.    

Imagine, then, what could have happened if Simon Magus had been like Philip. What incredibly unexpected things would the Spirit have done through him that would have shown Simon’s many followers how wonderfully unpredictable but timing perfect the Spirit truly is? 

Simon never got to know the Spirit was like that. But for those who see in this story in Acts 8 that this is what life with the Holy Spirit is like, it spells a life of adventure, challenge and a Philip-like trust that what happens in our lives is being directed by a power that knows us well and knows exactly what to gift us with and when, so that we can have a “share in Jesus’ ministry” too (verse 21).  

Was Simon Magus a Christian because he was baptized?….

In Acts 8:9 “a man named Simon….amazed all the people of Samaria,” creating  a huge following dazzled by “his magic,” verse 11. His magic was so impressive it looked like he had “divine power,” verse 10. To the Samaritans there was something definitely supernatural going on, the source of which they believed to be “the Great Power.” (verse 10). But the very real presence of “evil spirits” in verse 7 hints strongly as to who or what that “Great Power” was. It certainly wasn’t God. 

It looked like Simon was well and truly wired up to evil forces, therefore, so he must’ve really surprised his followers when Philip turned up in verse 12 “preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and Simon believed it too. He was even baptized along with many of his countrymen (verse 13). So here we have a man who’d been “boasting that he was someone great” (verse 9) – because of the huge following he had – now humbly “following Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and wonders” Philip was doing. 

Not only, then, did Simon believe the gospel message, he was also  “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 16) and he became one of Philip’s most ardent supporters. These were all clear signs that Simon had become a Christian. His conversion from a satanic flunkey to Christian disciple was nothing short of amazing, especially when he himself had been such a celebrity with his own adoring crowd of disciples. 

So far in Acts 8, therefore, it’s not surprising if we, like Philip, accepted Simon Magus as a fully fledged, enthusiastic Christian, and the kind of chap you’d welcome in church. Philip had no doubts about him either, because when news got back to the apostles in Jerusalem that the Samaritans “had accepted the word of God” (verse 14), there was no added warning in the report to “watch out for Simon, who looks like a Christian but he’s a fraud.”  

No one would have been any wiser about Simon, then, had not Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem and started praying for the Samaritan disciples “that they might receive the Holy Spirit,” verse 15, “because,” verse 16, “the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them.” 

But what noticeable difference would that have made? 

Well, when “Peter and John placed their hands on people and they received the Holy Spirit,” verse 17, something extra happened to those people. There is no indication what it was in the text, but the obvious sign of people receiving the Spirit up to this point in Acts was them becoming a united family who cared for each other (Acts 2:44-46, 4:32-37, 6:1-6). The Holy Spirit also equipped them with the heart and skills (or gifts) for taking care of each other too (like Stephen in Acts 7).    

But even if Simon had known that’s what receiving the Spirit would do for him, he wouldn’t have been interested, because his attention was totally on the Holy Spirit being an extra power he could get by the placing of his hands on people too, and he wanted it so much for himself he was willing to pay whatever it cost to get it (Acts 8:18-19). 

And that gave the game away to Peter, because he could see what really drove Simon, and how bitter Simon would become if he didn’t get what he wanted (verse 23). So he let Simon know he could see right through him, but instead of Simon seeking the help he so desperately needed with his utterly selfish attitude his only interest was in Peter praying for him “that nothing you have said may happen to me,” verse 24. His interest was still only in himself. 

And that’s why the title of this article, “Was Simon Magus a Christian because he was baptized?” – because part of his mind accepted Philip’s message about Jesus, and especially when it was backed up by some really impressive healing miracles. But there was another part of his mind that wasn’t interested in anything more than that. He wasn’t interested in becoming part of a caring family, or being healed of his selfishness and bitterness when it was pointed out to him. He wanted in for himself, much like any one of us joining the church today to get ourselves saved and into heaven, rather than becoming a loving family of disciples caring for each other and seeking healing of all that’s rotten and bad in us (Acts 3:26 and 5:31). 

”Known to be full of the Spirit”

In Acts 6:1 Grecian Jews “complained against those of the (local Jewish) Aramaic-speaking community because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” And clearly it was a problem because “the Twelve (apostles) gathered all the disciples together” to talk about it. 

The solution they came up with was the church “choosing seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them,” verse 3.

So it was over to the church to decide who the seven men would be. But how could they tell who was (or wasn’t) “full of the Spirit”? Surely, they all were, or were some noticeably “more” full of the Spirit than others? But how could people with “less” Holy Spirit know who was full of the Spirit, or that other people had more of the Spirit than them? And surely they’d have to know what being full of the Spirit was like in themselves too, to be able to recognize it in others. 

But there’s no ignoring the apostles telling the church to go find seven men who were “KNOWN to be full of the Spirit,” so these men must have stood out in some way to make everyone aware of who they were, And in an obvious way too, because “This proposal pleased the whole group,” verse 5. So no one had any trouble with this solution, because it was known who was full of the Spirit. It was blatantly apparent to everyone. They could all tell. 

So they must have known each other really well, and so well that identifying seven men among the “increasing number of disciples” (verse 1) who were joining them was easy. But the question still remains as to what it was that stood out in these seven men that clearly identified them as full of the Spirit. 

Well, what was the situation that triggered the search for these men in the first place? It was an immediate and pressing need. Grecian Jews were complaining that their widows were being neglected “in the daily distribution of food.” It sounds like there was a communal dining hall where they all ate together, because the apostles were racing round like waiters (verse 2), and with possibly thousands of people to feed every day it must have been hectic. And in all that racing around, perhaps the local Aramaic-speaking Jewish widows were being served first because they could communicate their needs in the local language, and their needs would more likely have been known by the locals too. 

Whatever the reason, what was needed was men who were known for their organizational ability, and for being really good at calming people down and resolving conflicts. Those were the two main needs, and the people knew each other well enough to know who was best suited to meet those needs.

But the one who knew best of all was the Holy Spirit, because he was the one bringing all these people into the church, including needy widows, and was fully aware that such problems would arise. And this is where we see the Holy Spirit being way ahead of the game, because he also had people who could take care of the needs too. It was he who was making it obvious who the right men were, probably because he was also equipping and gifting them for the jobs needed, just like he’d equipped and gifted the apostles for the “ministry of the word” (verses 2 and 4). 

So these seven men were full of the Spirit in the sense that they were fully equipped by the Spirii for the needs at the time. And so well had the Spirit equipped them that everyone could see they were the right men for the job. Stephen, for instance, in verse 5, was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” but in the context of being filled with trust in the Spirit to help them out in such practical things as organizing food for the needy. And that was Stephen’s focus, and so much so it was obvious to those who knew him well. 

Stephen was clearly aware of just how intimately involved the Spirit was in every aspect of the growing church, from “the word of God spreading” (verse 7) to making sure neglected widows got enough food. It was in that context that he was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” He simply trusted the Spirit to meet their needs, whatever those needs were.