There was a powerful man in Samaria. Simon the Sorcerer. All week long we’ve been studying Acts 8:4-40, learning about how Christians should get woke like the early church. One of those earliest Christians, Philip, had traveled to Samaria and started demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit. But there was already a man with great power in Samaria, Simon. Are we about to have a showdown? Simon the Sorcerer versus the power of the Holy Spirit?
If you’re reading verse 9 in the ancient Greek language Acts was originally written in, the word for sorcery is “mageo.” I mention that because you can see that this is where we get our English word “magic.” Simon was a mage, one who practiced magic. His magic, or sorcery, could involve both magic tricks like sleight of hand, and possibly supernatural ability like witchcraft. As you can see in verse 10, he was very well respected by the people in Samaria because he had impressed them for many years with his abilities. But that is all about to change when Philip shows up. Let me ask you this: how does it often go when one person in power is upstaged by a new guy? Not well. This is a classic human story, so keep reading to see how it unfolds.
In verses 12-13 we read that the response of the people to Philip’s ministry is that “they believe and are baptized.” I suspect Simon was even more astonished than the average person in Samaria because he knew that the miracles Philip was performing, he, Simon, was unable to replicate. Simon had some cool tricks, but nothing like the power of the Holy Spirit that was flowing through Philip. Simon believes too, and is baptized, and starts following Philip everywhere.
I wonder what Philip thought about that. Did Philip respond by entering into a discipling relationship with Simon? Or is Simon just a consumer here, asking Philip to “do more tricks”? What is Simon’s motive? No doubt he is entranced by the miracles Philip is doing. But stay with the story because it’s about to get even more interesting.
In verses 14-17 the apostles who were still in Jerusalem hear that people in Samaria have become followers of Jesus, so they send Peter and John to Samaria to lay hands on the converts and give them the Spirit. It is fascinating to me that through Philip’s ministry the power of the Spirit is clearly evident, but though the people of Samaria have believed in the Gospel and been baptized, the Spirit had not been given to the Samaritans. Some apostles had to come, pray for them, and lay hands on them before those Samaritans received the Spirit.
What we will see in the book of Acts is that there is a varying order of the process of salvation in different accounts. The writers of the New Testament don’t clearly explain why this is the case. You might remember a few months ago in the Identity sermon on the Holy Spirit, we talked about how we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we receive the Spirit at the moment of our salvation. We call that the indwelling of the Spirit. The Spirit is living with us. But that is different from the filling of the Spirit. I know those terms are very similar, but there is a difference. While we are indwelt with the Spirit at the moment of our salvation, that does not mean we are always filled with the Spirit, giving him control of our lives.
It seems that at least in this instance, the apostles needed to be present to pray for and lay hands on the Samaritans so they might experience the indwelling of the Spirit. Here’s a key question: does the racial and ethnic animosity between the Jews and Samaritans give the apostles pause? They could have concluded that the Spirit didn’t indwell the Samaritans because God was disapproving of the Samaritans. Those apostles could have perpetuated the segregation that was already deeply entrenched in the Jewish mindset. In fact, they did the opposite. They traveled to Samaria, breaking down the wall of injustice, proclaiming that all are equal in God’s eyes, just as Jesus had taught and demonstrated for them. The apostles finally got woke.
That day in the Samaritan city, as the Apostles pray and lay on hands on the Samaritans, the Spirit of God indwells the Samaritans, and someone is watching them very intently. Was it Saul or his henchman, spying on them? Nope.
It’s Simon the Sorcerer. And he is blown away. The guy with a decades-long reputation for impressing people with acts of power is watching as a whole new power, a very real power, is just being given away. Is he threatened? Is his position and financial income about to be eroded? Or does he just want more power?
Look at verses 18-24. He wants this power so badly, he offers to pay the apostles to receive the Spirit. His explanation to them is that he just wants to be able to give the Spirit like Peter and John were doing. It seems, though, that Simon likely had ulterior motives. Peter knows this and rebukes Simon. When Peter reveals the truth about Simon’s true motivation, Simon changes his tune quickly. Maybe his is a genuine confession and repentance in verse 24. Notice how he changes from wanting power, to humbly submitting to those in whom God’s power resides, asking Peter to pray for him. But is Simon at this point still focused on himself, saying that he doesn’t want anything bad to happen to him? It seems so.
This is a wonderful reminder to us that the mission of the Kingdom is not about our prestige, not about getting ahead. The mission of the Kingdom is about Jesus, about being disciples to him, and living like he said his disciples would live, denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him. It is all about Jesus. Sadly, we don’t know if Simon the Sorcerer ever made that turn away from himself toward Jesus.
As we know, the disciples had made that turn, and they wanted everyone to join them. They can’t stop talking about Jesus! The story of Simon and the Samaritans concludes in verse 25 as Peter and John return to Jerusalem preaching the Gospel to many more Samaritan villages along the way, again showing their new commitment to follow the method and message of Jesus to invite all ethnicities into the Kingdom.
But the Spirit is not done. When it comes to helping the early church get woke, the Spirit is only just getting started. Check back tomorrow to see the surprise that the Spirit has in store for Philip!