EX TENEBRIS LUX
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. 9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
— Acts 8:4-25, ESV
Dark days had descended upon the disciples of Christ in the early church. Stephen, the first Deacon, had been stoned to death for proclaiming the gospel. Saul of Tarsus, a prominent Pharisee, was hunting down Christians like a Nazi going after Jews.
But out of this darkness, a light began to shine, and spread. It would arise out of Judea and shine into Samaria. Ultimately, it would be carried to the uttermost parts of the world, by the very hand of the man presently persecuting the church.
The first hand to carry the torch of the gospel out of Judea and into Samaria was Philip, the second Deacon mentioned after the late Stephen. He would be aided in shining the light by Apostles Peter and John. And when Philip moved onward to Gaza and Caesarea, and the Apostles returned to their home base in Jerusalem, the light was still shining in a brand new, Spirit-filled church in Samaria.
The Light of the Gospel
Samaria, the region of Israel couched between Galilee and Judea, was a very dark place. A thousand years before Christ it was the seat of rebellion, when ten tribes of Israel abandoned the lineage of godly kings David and Solomon (and the promised Messiah) to form a godless Israel of their own, which was never once led by a king who feared the Lord. They were virtually wiped out by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. and the region was repopulated with a mixed race of Jew and Gentile. Like their race their religion was mixed, syncretistic, an unholy merging of false gods with the teachings of the true and living God. A mixed gospel is no gospel at all, so for centuries Samaria remained a terribly dark place.
Then, fresh from those dark days in Jerusalem, Philip shows up in Samaria with the light of the gospel, probably in the same city, Sychar, where Jesus had once preached (ref. John 4) but eventually rejected (ref. Luke 9:51-56). Philip went in with the power to perform “signs,” a gift shared by Christ and the Apostles, which gave him credibility for “preaching the word” as he “proclaimed to them the Christ.” People’s bodies were helped by the miracles, but their souls were saved when the preaching of the gospel was met by true faith and repentance. “Much joy” was experienced as many “believed” and were “baptized,” the proper ritual for professing one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The people living in the darkness of Samaria had seen a great light, the light of Christ in the light of the gospel, preached plainly by Philip.
Lost souls are like Samaria. They are darkened by depravity, sin, and separation from God. They desperately need light, not the light and laser shows of the modern megachurch, not the false light of the psychotherapeutic sermons from prosperity preachers, but the true light of the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ, shared by Christians, preached by pastors, and put on display by the sacraments of the church. The gospel is God’s light to the world and Philip let it shine. But the one who truly makes the gospel light up the human heart is the Holy Spirit.
The Light of the Spirit
Appearances indicate that while Stephen brought the light of the gospel into Samaria, it was Peter and John who brought the light of the Spirit. Admittedly, this part of the story has caused some confusion in the church for years. Three interpretations can be offered.
Some say that while the Samaritans professed faith in Jesus and were baptized, they did not truly repent and believe until Peter and John prayed, preached, and put their hands on them. At that point the Holy Spirit regenerated their hearts, inhabited their souls, and evidenced real conversion. But this stretches the text too thin, for it seems there was true belief before the arrival of the Apostles. Besides, it makes no sense to get baptized before you are personally saved (at least to Baptists).
Others argue, especially our Charismatic and Pentecostal friends, that salvation and Spirit-filling are two separate blessings. We must admit that this best fits a raw reading of the text. But texts without contexts are pretexts, and Bible doctrine must be derived from the whole, not just one part. Clearly, salvation cannot be accomplished apart from the work of the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin (ref. John 16:8), converts the sinner (ref. Titus 3:5), and comes immediately to dwell in the newborn believer (ref. Romans 8:9). So, second blessing theology cannot consistently be established.
What we see here is sort of a second Pentecost. At the first Christian Pentecost in Jerusalem, the believers already believed by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. But they did receive a corporate anointing of the Spirit on that day, a confirmation and commissioning as it were, to preach the gospel to the world.
With Philip the light of the gospel came to the world of Samaria. With Peter and John, the light of the Holy Spirit commissioned the second great congregation in church history. The light of the gospel was pure, the light of the Spirit was powerful, but the light of the church, then and now, sends forth a mixed signal.
The Light of the Church
Into the dark region of Samaria, the light of the gospel came. Into souls darkened by unbelief, syncretism, and mysticism, the light of the Holy Spirit regenerated hearts and granted faith and repentance. When people who profess faith in Christ are baptized and get together for worship and the work of God, you have an established light called the church.
But the church since her beginning has always had a mixed membership, those who profess faith sincerely and insincerely, truly and falsely, for reasons right and wrong. While I want to believe that most of the Samaritan believers mentioned in this brief episode were truly saved, much of the focus is on the one who was not, Simon Magus.
Interpretations and theologies clash at this point, too. Either Simon was a saved man who quickly lost his salvation (then tried to buy it back), or Simon was never saved in the first place. I cast my lot with the latter, since it better reflects the totality of Scripture on the subject (ref. John 10:28; Romans 8:28-30; Philippians 1:6, etc.).
In the spiritually confused cities of Samaria, Simon was considered “the power of God that is called Great.” He bedeviled the population with his professional prowess as a prankster. Magicians then and now have no real power, of course, they are just really, really tricky.
Note that when the gospel and the Spirit came to Samaria, Simon did not want to be like Philip, the humble deacon who shared his faith with the Samaritans. He wanted to be like Peter and John, he wanted power and authority, “Give me this power also,” he said. He did not want eternal salvation, he wanted earthly power. This is true of every false Christian who winds up being a bane to the church rather than a blessing. Early church history reveals that Simon continued to profess to be a Christian, all the while introducing heresies into the church, like faith without repentance and incipient Gnosticism.
The point here is the gospel is pure light, the Holy Spirit is pure light, but the church’s light will only be perfectly purified by the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But until He comes, let us take the light we do have, members of true faith, repentance, and commitment, and let it shine.
Ex Tenebris Lux
Now is the time for this church to speak in tongues. Ex Tenebris Lux. Even if you never studied Latin, you can say it. You already know what it means. Out of darkness, light. This is God’s gift, God’s work, and God’s commission to His church.
Into dark and lost souls, God sends the light of the gospel. Into spiritual death and depravity, God send the light of His Holy Spirit. Into cities, towns, and villages where there is no true church, God sends the light of a gospel, Bible-believing, Christ-centered church.
Who does God use to break the darkness with His light? People like Philip the Deacon. People like Peter and John the Apostles. Pastors like me and faithful church members like you.
The spiritual and moral condition of the world around us is getting darker by the minute. It is darkened by immorality and incredulity. It is darkened by unbelief, mixed beliefs, and false beliefs. It is darkened by an absence of true religion, the presence of false religions, and so-called Christian churches where the gospel is not preached and the authority of Scripture is not recognized.
Isaiah may have been the first to say it (ref. Isaiah 9:2). The Lord Jesus Christ certainly fulfilled it and preached it (ref. Matthew 4:16; John 1:5, 8:12). Now it is up to Christ’s church to bring light into our dark world. Ex Tenebris Lux.