A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic. But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps He will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.” “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!”Acts 8:9-24
In the last Gem I suggested you look carefully at the questions David asked:
- 1. What kind of “magic” was Simon practicing?
- 2. Why didn’t Simon approach Philip and offer to pay money for the ability to heal, or cast out demons?
- 3. What was enticing about imparting the Holy Spirit to people that SImon wanted that power?
- 4. What was Simon planning to do with this power — Help out Peter and John? Garner esteem? Make money off of it? — or does it even matter?
- 5. What exactly is “wicked” about Simon’s request? Simon may have been thinking too much like a businessman, and been a bit pretentious for a new believer, but “wicked”? “evil”? really?
- 6. How did Peter see/know/understand what was in Simon’s heart?
- 7. What was the object of Simon’s jealousy?
- 8. What was the sin that Simon was in bondage to?
- 9. Why does Peter react the way he does to Simon? Given Simon’s past, and that he is a new believer, why didn’t Peter correct him more gently?
Notice that I have highlighted our focus verses in a different way for this Gem. There are essentially two elements here. The one related to Baptism – in Water, in the Holy Spirit and the other related to Simon and his strange requests in the context of his equally strange behaviour.
I covered Baptism in Gems 1373 and 1374 but I also told you that while there is a strand through the Books of Acts related to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I would deal with it at the right time. In the meantime take note of how often this issue keeps surfacing. It constitutes an on-going thread or theme through Acts. The focus in this case is minor compared with Simon and what was in his heart. But that is not to say this is minor in Luke’s mind just because the verses here are not as many as those related to Simon. It is important but for some reason Luke has chosen to deal with the issue of the Baptism of the Spirit in a sequential, serial kind of way. We will return to the issue of the Baptism of the Spirit at the right time. In the meantime we need to keep the main thing the main thing.
What was so wicked and sinful about Simon? How did Peter “see” what was in Simon’s heart? How did he know he was jealous and of what, or know that he was in bondage to sin? And why, as David M asked, could Peter not have been more gentle with this new believer? I like David’s questions and especially like his little tag question – “or does it even matter?” – in the context of pondering Simon’s motivation. Why did Simon want to be able to impart the Holy Spirit to other people? Was he wanting to help the apostles, maintain himself as the focus of attention and have people like or esteem him as before or was it about making money? All very good questions. But there is something more at the heart of it that caused David to ask if it even mattered and likely as not, Peter as well. This perhaps was what caused Peter to come down hard on Simon. What was it?
Read again the portions I have emboldened above. They will give you the aspects about Simon and his character and motivation which are in focus here. He is a man who has been pandering to the adulation of the people. He was revelling in their hero worship of him. He allows them to call him The Great One – the Power of God. Simon captivated the people with his magic. This was his focus. We don’t know the nature of the magic Simon was practising but we do know it was black and not of God. People often ask me about magicians like David Blaine and how it is they can do things that are seemingly impossible. What is remarkable is that they are doing astounding things up close and personal, in close proximity to those who can watch intently to catch them out. How is that possible? Most of us understand that “magic tricks” are normallytricks. There is something hidden or prepared beforehand in order for the trick to work. A trap door, a second person dressed in the same clothes or something else hidden up their sleeve and by slight of hand it is revealed while the first item is hidden. Simple really – my father used to prepare many such helps to enable him to do bar tricks. But this new breed of magician is in a different category. The Bible makes it clear that it is what we would call black magic, there is something black behind it, something connected with the dark world. Like the magicians at the time of the Exodus, they could do tricks but not by the power of God. They got their power from another source. Therein lies the foil of this story and the ultimate slight to God in stealing the worship due His name.
Simon is already doing the very thing that satan himself did back in beginning of time, wanting to receive the praise and worship which is only worthy of God. He willingly allows the people to refer to him as The Great One, the Power of God. That tells you right away where Simon’s heart is. Notice that Simon”began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed.” What captured Simon’s attention were the signs and wonders. Furthermore, the use of the word performed sets the scene further – for him it was all about the performance. Perhaps it was a case of once a performer always a performer. It also appears that Simon is not focused on the work of the Holy Spirit but on the act of impartation. I must confess to being wary when one ministering the Holy Spirit appears to focus more on the manifestation of impartation than on the presence and work of the Holy Spirit per se. To me that is cause for concern and a reason to check out the motivation behind the ministry. When Simon sees the Holy Spirit has been given and there are assumedly signs or indications of the presence of Holy Spirit, then he wants to be able to do this too. But why? What was his motivation for being able to do that? Was he wanting to help the apostles? I don’t think so. Was he doing it for the sake of the recipients? Somehow I don’t think so. I suspect Simon wanted it as another sign of the supernatural in his bag of tricks. But the telling evidence is that Simon wanted to buy this power or this ability to impart the Holy Spirit with money. Following which we have a very long segment in explanation of what was going on:
- When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power.
- “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!”
- But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought!
To connect the gift of the Holy Spirit with a monetary transaction is to miss the point. Luke takes three verses here to make it clear to us that Simon’s motivation was not good. Is it this which gives Peter the key to Simon’s heart? I don’t know. I wasn’t there and haven’t had a chance to ask him. I will one day if I think about it again when I get to heaven. But neither do I think that Peter’s knowledge or inkling has to be purely natural. It is also possible that the Holy Spirit revealed things to him in a word of knowledge (see Gems 430 and 431). What is clear, but not necessarily in terms of how, is that Simon’s heart was exposed. If indeed Simon was guilty of what I suggest above, then it is clear that Peter can’t be soft on Simon’s reaction. Such motivation of the heart must be dealt with severely. That we find this kind of reaction in the text evidences that was exactly what was in Simon’s heart and Peter was right to interpret what was going on in the way he did.
The motivation or the sin involved here, is the original sin of the devil in wanting to take the adoration and worship away from God Himself. If that is the case it is no wonder it was punished in the way it was. As to whether Simon repented or not is not the issue here. We could add David’s tag question to this aspect as well. “Does it even matter?” Well it does to Simon. His response is going to decide his final state. But the story is not about Simon. He is simply a foil for the ministry of the apostles expanding geographically and in numbers in terms of who is now doing the ministry. This outcome in Samaria is not a result of the apostles efforts, it was a consequence of one of the seven deacons. Oh sure, two apostles were sent as well to keep the raison d’etre for the ministry in order but it was a consequence of Philip’s ministry, not the apostles. The work is expanding both in geographic extent and in terms of personnel. Simon was included here to give us all a check as to our motivation of why we do the things we do for God? Make sure above all else that you keep your heart pure.
Does this remind you of something or of some other people? Yes you guessed it – Ananias and Sapphira. Do you see that with this expansion of the work we have two stories now related to the quality or purity of the heart motivation behind the work? Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. But if you really want to know then ask Luke when you see him. There are always questions to be asked, but for the answers to some of those questions you will have to wait.
Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.Judy Garland
Simplicity is the keynote of all true greatness.Anon
To be great is to be misunderstood.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.Albert Einstein
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.Mark Twain
Those who have the ability to be grateful are the ones who have the ability to achieve greatness.Anon