Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Authority to Minister
Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 8:12-19
How many times have you been confronted with someone who was ill or troubled and thought to yourself, “We need to find somebody to pray for this person!” The individual in front of you needed a touch of God’s power and you wondered who you knew who could pray with real authority…you know, someone who actually has power and believes in miracles. Those kind of people! And there are such people, aren’t there? But sadly there aren’t nearly enough, and they usually aren’t around when you need them.
Luke gives us a very honest report of what took place in Samaria. He says amazing miracles occurred when Philip ministered (vs 6, 7) and he tells us that Philip faithfully proclaimed the gospel and water-baptized those who believed. But he also reveals that not one of Philip’s converts received the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and that it was necessary for two apostles to walk 40 miles north from Jerusalem to lay hands on these new believers so they could receive the Holy Spirit. This raises serious questions. Why didn’t Philip do that? Were the apostles the only ones with such authority? And then when we read what happened when the apostles laid their hands on them, the questions become even more troubling. Did these baptized believers not have the Holy Spirit until Peter and John arrived? After all it says, “He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized…” (v16).
These aren’t silly questions. We really need them answered if you and I are to see that those we bring to Christ have every blessing God wants for them. So let’s do some careful study, because Luke is very precise in his language, and when we look closely, solid answers are there. And those answers will embolden all of us to minister with authority.

What happened (Ac 8:12-19)
• DBS (Weds, v14–Fri)

Two verbs
There are two verbs in this passage that need to be defined as carefully as possible: “fall upon” and “receive.”
1) “fall upon”: see DBS (Sat)
2) “receive”: Luke also uses the verb “receive” when talking about the Holy Spirit. The apostles “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (v15), and when they laid their hands on the Samaritans they “were receiving the Holy Spirit” (v17). Simon tried to buy the authority “so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Luke quotes Peter (again in Cornelius’ household) speaking of those “who received the Holy Spirit just as we did…” (Ac 10:47). When Peter later reported to Jerusalem, he didn’t use the word “receive,” but he used a very similar image. He said, “…God gave them the same gift as He gave to us…” (Ac 11:17). Decades later Paul asked twelve disciples in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Ac 19:2), and when he found out they hadn’t he “...laid his hands upon them…” and “the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Ac 19:6).

These two verbs appear to be describing two sides of the same event. “Falling upon” is God’s side in which He is the Source who “poured out” the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ac 10:45) onto yielded human beings. “Receiving” is the human side in which that person humbly welcomes God’s Spirit to dwell inside them. Both verbs describe one event, which Peter identifies in absolutely unmistakable terms as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” which happened for the first time on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:1-4).

Does the Book of Acts teach spiritual truth?
Believe it or not, you’ll find many people who claim the Book of Acts should not be used to establish spiritual truth. They say it is a “narrative,” meaning Luke only intended to write a history of the early church, not teach us anything. I believe the reason some say this is because passages like the ones we’ve just read are so clear they demand that we expect a “baptism with the Spirit” in which God’s power actually comes upon a person in such a way that the event can be observed. Jesus explains elsewhere that what is happening is that the Spirit comes to dwell inside the person (Jn 14:17). Of course, the Holy Spirit was at work in the lives of the Samaritan converts before Peter and John arrived, but when they arrived this kind of powerful baptism occurred.

Those who reject this kind of powerful baptism find the Book of Acts very uncomfortable. So, rather than seek this baptism, they undermine the authority of this book so they don’t have to take seriously passages like the ones we’ve just read. Without entering into a prolonged argument, let’s ask a few simple questions about Acts:
• Who wrote Acts?
• Where was he when he wrote it?
• Who would have read and even narrated some portions of this book?
• Do you think Paul evaluated the theology of what Luke wrote?
• Do you think Luke would have listened to him and corrected any errors?

Luke tells us the Samaritan believers “received” the Holy Spirit but he doesn’t tell us exactly what happened, only that whatever it was Simon was able to see or hear. This is similar to what happened on the day of Pentecost. On that day Peter told the crowd that God “has poured forth this which you see and hear” (Ac 2:33). So whatever Simon saw or heard was probably the same sort of things the citizens of Jerusalem saw and heard when the 120 were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:4, 11).

Authority to minister
Now let’s ask about Philip. Did he have the authority to minister the baptism with the Holy Spirit and not know it, or was it only the apostles to whom Jesus gave this authority? Well, it’s obvious from what happened that God wanted these new believers to have this gift, and on the day of Pentecost Peter said God wanted all new believers to have this gift. He said the gift was “…for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Ac 2:39). So, if the twelve apostles had been the only ones who had such authority the next generation wouldn’t receive it, nor would those in the uttermost parts of the earth. Every one of us needs to be very confident in our own mind about who has this authority. Let’s let Jesus settle the question:
• Mt 28:18 “Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’” So, to whom did God give the authority to minister?
• Mt 28:20 And Jesus also said, “…And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So, where is Jesus at this very moment?
The authority to minister all of God’s good blessings resides in Jesus, not us, but because Jesus goes with us wherever we go, the authority to pray for whatever is needed is always present. If I understand this, I won’t need to look around to find someone else to “pray for this person.” Someone with power, who believes in miracles will always be standing right beside me. All I need to be is His hands extended. My prayers have power because they’re prayed in His name. I stand there in His authority, not my own. That means there’s nothing I can’t pray for when He leads me. Which brings us back to Philip. If I can minister the baptism with the Holy Spirit to someone, he sure could, but it appears he didn’t know that yet, but judging from the fact that later on his four daughters were all prophetesses, I think he discovered that truth along the way (Ac 21:8, 9).

An illustration of “receiving” and “falling upon”
• R.A. Torrey, The Holy Spirit, Who He is and What He Does, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1927, pp 198-200.
Here is a man who illustrates the two sides of this process: The human side which is to receive by faith what God wants to give, and the divine side in which God determines how and when His Spirit will “fall upon” a person so that they will be powerfully baptized in the Holy Spirit. Here are lessons we can learn from R.A. Torrey’s example:
1) See the promise in Scripture
2) Commit to receiving it
3) Ask confidently, based on 1 Jn 5:14, 15:
“This is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”
4) Believe you have received it based on the fact that it is clearly God’s will for you.
5) Wait confidently for your divine appointment, knowing that because you are joined to Christ you already have what you have asked for.

Is there anyone here today who is thirsty for this baptism, and is prepared to take these steps? Let’s pray each step one by one.

1) Have you ever laid hands on someone and prayed for them? We don’t necessarily need to know that person’s name, but tell us what happened if you feel comfortable doing so.
2) Has anyone ever laid hands on you to pray? Did you sense God minister to you?
3) Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit? When did that happen?

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