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Sunday, June 12, 2011

simon the Magician - The Man Who Tried to Pay Money for the Gifts of God

Simon the Magician – The Man Who Tried to Pay Money for the Gifts of God

Simon the Magician lived in Samaria around the time the disciples in Jerusalem were baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Scripture says that Simon made quite an impression with his magic. “Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.’”. (Acts 8:9-10)

About this time a great persecution broke out in Jerusalem against the church. Saul (later named Paul) went from house to house dragging new believers off to prison. So most of these frightened believers had to run for their lives. And since Samaria was near Jerusalem, many of them fled there hoping to find safety.

Philip was one of the Christian apostles who went to Samaria during this time. As soon as he arrived he started preaching to every Samaritan he met that Christ is the Savior. And along with his preaching he performed signs and wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture tells the story. “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in the city.” (Acts 8:6-8)

I wish I could have been there to watch, since amazingly most everyone in Samaria believed in Jesus and was baptized. Even Simon the magician became a Christian and was baptized and followed Philip everywhere. (Acts 8:13)

The good news got back to the apostles in Jerusalem that nearly all of the Samaritans had accepted the Word of God. There was great rejoicing since the Samaritans were now believers, but still they didn’t immediately receive the gift of the Holy Spirit like the Jewish believers had at Pentecost. We don’t know why that was.

Many Jews believed that God would never bless Samaritans since they were considered to be a group of half-breeds. There were serious barriers of racial prejudice to be dealt with here. Until this point, the Christian church in Jerusalem had been completely Jewish. But when the Samaritans believed, it was the first time the Church burst its Jewish bonds and moved toward a truly world-wide fellowship.

So Peter and John went to Samaria to pray for these new Samaritan believers that they might receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit did fall on the Samaritan believers like it had on the Jewish believers when Peter and John laid hands on them and prayed.

Simon, who had been the magician, was impressed when he saw that when Peter and John laid hands on the Samaritan believers, the Holy Spirit would come down with power. Wow, he would like to be able to do that too he thought! Wouldn’t that impress his fellow citizens and make him look important? Simon offered Peter money for the ability to lay hands on people and bring down the Spirit. Perhaps since he had impressed people with his magic tricks before he became a Christian, he might have wanted to impress people now by manipulating the Holy Spirits’ power. We don’t know what his motivation was but we do know that Peter became very angry with Simons’ foolish request.

Peter answered Simon with strong words. “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money? You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps He will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and a captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20-23) Simon immediately begged Peter to pray for him and I like to think that he was truly sorry for his mistake of trying to buy God’s power so that he could use it to build up his reputation.

Simons’ effort to try to purchase the ability to manipulate the power of the Holy Spirit was his sin. And his desire to use God’s power for his own gain is wrong also. The word “simony” which means the buying and selling of church offices and influence comes from this story.

What can we learn from this Bible story? How can we avoid making the same mistake today that Simon made so long ago? I will give my best guesses and if you have other ideas, please pass them on. First Peter accused Simon of being bitter, which possibly meant that Simon was resentful since he no longer held the best and highest position among his fellow citizens. Remember Simon had been treated like a very important person in Samaria when he had practiced his magic arts, but now that he had given that up to become a Christian, he may have missed all of the special attention. Maybe if he could buy God’s power then he could use it to feel important again!

We can follow in Simon’s footsteps and try to use God today to further our own reputations or pocketbooks instead of humbly following the leadings of the Spirit. In the middle ages, indulgences were sold by the Church. When a person paid money for the indulgence he was told that he received forgiveness for his sin. Of course we can never purchase forgiveness of sin with money when our forgiveness has already been purchased by Christ’s blood, and is given to us as a free gift. (Ephesians 2:8-9) But the Church made big money off of supposedly selling Gods’ forgiveness!

Twenty years ago a friend of mine knew a musician who for a year pretended to believe in Jesus to see if he could make lots of money selling Christian music. This singer was a member of another religion but he could fake being Christian if it could be financially profitable, couldn’t he? When his experiment didn’t work out and his Jesus songs didn’t pay off like he had hoped, he dropped his pretending and went back to his secular music which brought in more cash. Just recently I read in the paper that this same musician is back trying out his luck again with his Jesus music! Maybe the new Christian/political audiences today will finally appreciate his songs and this musician can finally cash in on God – and make use of Jesus to build up his reputation while he is at it! And some politicians today are also learning to cash in on God. These folks can appear pious while repeating the correct Christian phrases, and thus gain votes and power.

Are these examples at all similar to Simon’s mistake? Perhaps? Simon was proud and hadn’t yet learned to humble himself before God. In order to move in God’s kingdom we have to learn to be humble. Humility is everything. We need to give up our pride and our selfishness in order to follow Jesus. Jesus is Lord and He wants it all. We don’t use God for our own glory, we ask God to use us for His Glory. Jesus speaks out about this in Scripture. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) We need to learn to lose ourselves for His sake. It doesn’t work any other way!

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