Acts 8: The Spirit is not for sale (8 January 2020)

Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, designed for those who want to read the whole Bible in one year. Each reflection focuses on one of its four daily chapters. 

Pray

Pray

Lord, prepare me to receive your word. Clear my mind and warm my heart. Assure me of your loving purposes for me, and speak into my life today.

Read

Read

The End of the Flood

1God had not forgotten Noah and all the animals with him in the boat; he caused a wind to blow, and the water started going down. 2The outlets of the water beneath the earth and the floodgates of the sky were closed. The rain stopped, 3and the water gradually went down for 150 days. 4On the seventeenth day of the seventh month the boat came to rest on a mountain in the Ararat range. 5The water kept going down, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains appeared.

6After forty days Noah opened a window 7and sent out a raven. It did not come back, but kept flying around until the water was completely gone. 8Meanwhile, Noah sent out a dove to see if the water had gone down, 9but since the water still covered all the land, the dove did not find a place to alight. It flew back to the boat, and Noah reached out and took it in. 10He waited another seven days and sent out the dove again. 11It returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. So Noah knew that the water had gone down. 12Then he waited another seven days and sent out the dove once more; this time it did not come back.

13When Noah was 601 years old, on the first day of the first month, the water was gone. Noah removed the covering of the boat, looked round, and saw that the ground was getting dry. 14By the 27th day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15God said to Noah, 16“Go out of the boat with your wife, your sons, and their wives. 17Take all the birds and animals out with you, so that they may reproduce and spread over all the earth.” 18So Noah went out of the boat with his wife, his sons, and their wives. 19All the animals and birds went out of the boat in groups of their own kind.

Noah Offers a Sacrifice

20Noah built an altar to the LORD; he took one of each kind of ritually clean animal and bird, and burnt them whole as a sacrifice on the altar. 21The odour of the sacrifice pleased the LORD, and he said to himself, “Never again will I put the earth under a curse because of what people do; I know that from the time they are young their thoughts are evil. Never again will I destroy all living beings, as I have done this time. 22As long as the world exists, there will be a time for planting and a time for harvest. There will always be cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.”

Jesus Heals a Man

1When Jesus came down from the hill, large crowds followed him. 2Then a man suffering from a dreaded skin disease came to him, knelt down before him, and said, “Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean.”

3Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I do want to,” he answered. “Be clean!” At once the man was healed of his disease. 4Then Jesus said to him, “Listen! Don't tell anyone, but go straight to the priest and let him examine you; then in order to prove to everyone that you are cured, offer the sacrifice that Moses ordered.”

Jesus Heals a Roman Officer's Servant

5When Jesus entered Capernaum, a Roman officer met him and begged for help: 6“Sir, my servant is sick in bed at home, unable to move and suffering terribly.”

7“I will go and make him well,” Jesus said.

8“Oh no, sir,” answered the officer. “I do not deserve to have you come into my house. Just give the order, and my servant will get well. 9I, too, am a man under the authority of superior officers, and I have soldiers under me. I order this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and I order that one, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and I order my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

10When Jesus heard this, he was surprised and said to the people following him, “I tell you, I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this. 11I assure you that many will come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven. 12But those who should be in the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness, where they will cry and grind their teeth.” 13Then Jesus said to the officer, “Go home, and what you believe will be done for you.”

And the officer's servant was healed that very moment.

Jesus Heals Many People

14Jesus went to Peter's home, and there he saw Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever. 15He touched her hand; the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

16When evening came, people brought to Jesus many who had demons in them. Jesus drove out the evil spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17He did this to make what the prophet Isaiah had said come true, “He himself took our sickness and carried away our diseases.”

The Would-be Followers of Jesus

18When Jesus noticed the crowd round him, he ordered his disciples to go to the other side of the lake. 19A teacher of the Law came to him. “Teacher,” he said, “I am ready to go with you wherever you go.”

20Jesus answered him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lie down and rest.”

21Another man, who was a disciple, said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.”

22“Follow me,” Jesus answered, “and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Jesus Calms a Storm

23Jesus got into a boat, and his disciples went with him. 24Suddenly a fierce storm hit the lake, and the boat was in danger of sinking. But Jesus was asleep. 25The disciples went to him and woke him up. “Save us, Lord!” they said. “We are about to die!”

26“Why are you so frightened?” Jesus answered. “How little faith you have!” Then he got up and ordered the winds and the waves to stop, and there was a great calm.

27Everyone was amazed. “What kind of man is this?” they said. “Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Jesus Heals Two Men with Demons

28When Jesus came to the territory of Gadara on the other side of the lake, he was met by two men who came out of the burial caves there. These men had demons in them and were so fierce that no one dared travel on that road. 29At once they screamed, “What do you want with us, you Son of God? Have you come to punish us before the right time?”

30Not far away there was a large herd of pigs feeding. 31So the demons begged Jesus, “If you are going to drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.”

32“Go,” Jesus told them; so they left and went off into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the side of the cliff into the lake and was drowned.

33The men who had been taking care of the pigs ran away and went into the town, where they told the whole story and what had happened to the men with the demons. 34So everyone from the town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their territory.

The People who Returned from Exile

1This is the list of the heads of the clans who had been in exile in Babylonia and who returned with Ezra to Jerusalem when Artaxerxes was emperor:

2-14Gershom, of the clan of Phinehas

Daniel, of the clan of Ithamar

Hattush son of Shecaniah, of the clan of David

Zechariah, of the clan of Parosh, with 150 men of his clan (there were records of their ancestry)

Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah, of the clan of Pahath Moab, with 200 men

Shecaniah son of Jahaziel, of the clan of Zattu, with 300 men

Ebed son of Jonathan, of the clan of Adin, with fifty men

Jeshaiah son of Athaliah, of the clan of Elam, with seventy men

Zebadiah son of Michael, of the clan of Shephatiah, with eighty men

Obadiah son of Jehiel, of the clan of Joab, with 218 men

Shelomith son of Josiphiah, of the clan of Bani, with 160 men

Zechariah son of Bebai, of the clan of Bebai, with 28 men

Johanan son of Hakkatan, of the clan of Azgad, with 110 men

Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, of the clan of Adonikam, with sixty men (they returned at a later date)

Uthai and Zaccur, of the clan of Bigvai, with seventy men.

Ezra Finds Levites for the Temple

15I assembled the entire group by the canal that runs to the town of Ahava, and we camped there three days. I found that there were priests in the group, but no Levites. 16I sent for nine of the leaders: Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, and for two teachers, Joiarib and Elnathan. 17I sent them to Iddo, head of the community at Casiphia, to ask him and his associates, the temple workmen, to send us people to serve God in the Temple. 18Through God's grace they sent us Sherebiah, an able man, a Levite from the clan of Mahli, and eighteen of his sons and brothers came with him. 19They also sent Hashabiah and Jeshaiah of the clan of Merari, with twenty of their relatives. 20In addition there were 220 temple workmen whose ancestors had been designated by King David and his officials to assist the Levites. They were all listed by name.

Ezra Leads the People in Fasting and Prayer

21There by the Ahava Canal I gave orders for us all to fast and humble ourselves before our God and to ask him to lead us on our journey and protect us and our children and all our possessions. 22I would have been ashamed to ask the emperor for a troop of cavalry to guard us from any enemies during our journey, because I had told him that our God blesses everyone who trusts him, but that he is displeased with and punishes anyone who turns away from him. 23So we fasted and prayed for God to protect us, and he answered our prayers.

The Gifts for the Temple

24From among the leading priests I chose Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten others. 25Then I weighed out the silver, the gold, and the utensils which the emperor, his advisers and officials, and the people of Israel had given to be used in the Temple, and I gave it to the priests. 26-27This is what I gave them:

silver — 22 tonnes

100 silver utensils — seventy kilogrammes

gold — 3.4 tonnes

twenty gold bowls — 8.4 kilogrammes

two fine bronze bowls, equal in value to gold bowls.

28I said to them, “You are sacred to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and so are all the silver and gold utensils brought to him as freewill offerings. 29Guard them carefully until you reach the Temple. There in the priests' room weigh them and hand them over to the leaders of the priests and of the Levites, and to the leaders of the people of Israel in Jerusalem.” 30So the priests and the Levites took charge of the silver, the gold, and the utensils, to take them to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Return to Jerusalem

31It was on the twelfth day of the first month that we left the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. Our God was with us and protected us from enemy attacks and from ambush as we travelled. 32When we reached Jerusalem, we rested for three days. 33Then on the fourth day we went to the Temple, weighed the silver, the gold, and the utensils, and handed them over to Meremoth the priest, son of Uriah. With him were Eleazar son of Phinehas and two Levites, Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui. 34Everything was counted and weighed, and a complete record was made at the same time.

35All those who had returned from exile then brought offerings to be burnt as sacrifices to the God of Israel. They offered twelve bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, and 77 lambs; they also offered twelve goats to purify themselves from sin. All these animals were burnt as sacrifices to the LORD. 36They also took the document the emperor had given them and gave it to the governors and officials of the province of West Euphrates, who then gave their support to the people and the temple worship.

1And Saul approved of his murder.

Saul Persecutes the Church

That very day the church in Jerusalem began to suffer cruel persecution. All the believers, except the apostles, were scattered throughout the provinces of Judea and Samaria. 2Some devout men buried Stephen, mourning for him with loud cries.

3But Saul tried to destroy the church; going from house to house, he dragged out the believers, both men and women, and threw them into jail.

The Gospel is Preached in Samaria

4The believers who were scattered went everywhere, preaching the message. 5Philip went to the principal city in Samaria and preached the Messiah to the people there. 6The crowds paid close attention to what Philip said, as they listened to him and saw the miracles that he performed. 7Evil spirits came out from many people with a loud cry, and many paralysed and lame people were healed. 8So there was great joy in that city.

9A man named Simon lived there, who for some time had astounded the Samaritans with his magic. He claimed that he was someone great, 10and everyone in the city, from all classes of society, paid close attention to him. “He is that power of God known as ‘The Great Power’,” they said. 11They paid this attention to him because for such a long time he had astonished them with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip's message about the good news of the Kingdom of God and about Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Simon himself also believed; and after being baptized, he stayed close to Philip and was astounded when he saw the great wonders and miracles that were being performed.

14The apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had received the word of God, so they sent Peter and John to them. 15When they arrived, they prayed for the believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16For the Holy Spirit had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18Simon saw that the Spirit had been given to the believers when the apostles placed their hands on them. So he offered money to Peter and John, 19and said, “Give this power to me too, so that anyone I place my hands on will receive the Holy Spirit.”

20But Peter answered him, “May you and your money go to hell, for thinking that you can buy God's gift with money! 21You have no part or share in our work, because your heart is not right in God's sight. 22Repent, then, of this evil plan of yours, and pray to the Lord that he will forgive you for thinking such a thing as this. 23For I see that you are full of bitter envy and are a prisoner of sin.”

24Simon said to Peter and John, “Please pray to the Lord for me, so that none of these things you spoke of will happen to me.”

25After they had given their testimony and proclaimed the Lord's message, Peter and John went back to Jerusalem. On their way they preached the Good News in many villages of Samaria.

Philip and the Ethiopian Official

26An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get ready and go south to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This road is not used nowadays.) 27-28So Philip got ready and went. Now an Ethiopian eunuch, who was an important official in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia, was on his way home. He had been to Jerusalem to worship God and was going back home in his carriage. As he rode along, he was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. 29The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to that carriage and stay close to it.” 30Philip ran over and heard him reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31The official replied, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” And he invited Philip to climb up and sit in the carriage with him. 32The passage of scripture which he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep that is taken to be slaughtered,

like a lamb that makes no sound when its wool is cut off,

he did not say a word.

33He was humiliated, and justice was denied him.

No one will be able to tell about his descendants,

because his life on earth has come to an end.”

34The official asked Philip, “Tell me, of whom is the prophet saying this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak; starting from this passage of scripture, he told him the Good News about Jesus. 36As they travelled down the road, they came to a place where there was some water, and the official said, “Here is some water. What is to keep me from being baptized?”

38The official ordered the carriage to stop, and both Philip and the official went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away. The official did not see him again, but continued on his way, full of joy. 40Philip found himself in Azotus; he went on to Caesarea, and on the way he preached the Good News in every town.

Reflect

Reflect on Acts 8

The death of Stephen in the previous chapter marks the beginning of the first great persecution of the Church, in which the man who was to become the Apostle Paul played a leading part. Scattering the believers led to the spreading of the gospel, though. One who heard it was Simon, a sorcerer in Samaria, who believed and was baptised. When he tried to buy the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit, the Apostles condemned him.

What seems to have happened is that the giving of the Spirit was accompanied by ecstatic experiences that were very impressive. Simon saw himself as a fellow-practitioner, and proposed a transaction in the same way that a magician might buy a trick from a colleague. But the Apostles were very clear: that's not how it works. Simon is rebuked and repentant.

It's easy to condemn him, but we ought to learn from him as well. He was applying the world's methodology to the Church, as though they worked in the same way. Many churches and church leaders are prone to this: the right techniques for leadership or church growth drawn from the worlds of business or marketing, they think, will solve the Church's problems. But God's kingdom is quite different. Nothing good happens unless our hearts are right.

Pray

Pray

God, help me to trust you rather than seek to control everything.

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