Devotional # 48. 8/19/13. Philip and Simon the Sorcerer.
This week’s Reading: Acts 8: 1-25.
Introduction. Last week we talked about the amazing story of Stephen who after witnessing about Jesus was stoned to death. This week we hear the awesome and exciting story of Philip leading many to Christ but also the sad story of Simon, a man of questionable ends.
vv. 1-8. We pick up where we left off from last week: Stephen’s death. So the influential men of Judaism (and Saul is a ring-leader) are persecuting the Christian church. The New King James Version of the Bible says that Saul “made havoc of the church.” That is such good wording! Saul and his minions seemed to be everywhere at once tearing apart people’s homes and throwing them in prison. But God uses this because it forced the church to move and spread out. They couldn’t remain in their commune forever, they had to go out and tell others about Jesus. So now we hear about Philip but this Phillip is different from the disciple by the same name*. This Philip is known as “Philip the deacon” or “Philip the Evangelist” (Source 1).
I like how Luke puts this section together: we hear about Saul’s persecution of the church and in direct contrast Philip encourages and builds it up. At this point in our lives are we more like Saul or Philip? Do we have to tear into Christians, lacking patience and love? Or do we tirelessly show them the love and mercy that Jesus has shown us? Saul had the best of intentions- he thought he was doing God’s will. What about you – do you think you’re doing God’s will by teaching a Christian or non-Christian a lesson? Have you rationalized it?
*Philip the apostle: preached the Gospel in Phrygia (west central Turkey) before dying (or being martyred) there at Hieropolis (Source 2).
vv. 9-13. Here we get the back story on a guy named Simon (known as Simon the Sorcerer, to distinguish him from other Simons in the Bible) who was popular for doing some magic. His magic was probably like Jannes and Jambres during the plagues of Pharaoh (read Exodus 7, they are named in 2 Timothy 3:8) or Balaam (see Numbers 22-24). We can understand it as either sleight of hand or little tricks from Satan. But Simon recognized a true sign from God as opposed to Satan’s cheap tricks. He is convinced, professes faith, gets baptized and follows Philip around.
vv. 14-15. Philip the missionary went out and when this group of people believed, the church in Jerusalem sent the apostles Peter and John to officially welcome them to the family. We must note this is in Samaria and if we remember Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) and the Samaritan women at the well (John 4:9), we’ll recognize Samaritans and Hebrews were enemies (for more see Source 2). So it was important that the apostles recognize Samaritan believers as equal to other believers.
vv. 16-25. Interestingly at this point the Holy Spirit had not come upon the believers here in Samaria. There has been much debate over the millennia about what this means. Were the Samaritans not saved when they believed at Philip’s initial preaching? Is this what happens nowadays or was it only then? I agree with David Guzik that this isn’t the same as the Holy Spirit coming on a person acknowledging their salvation (Source 3). These people had that happen when they first believed but this was an extraordinary bestowal of the Holy Spirit kind of like at Pentecost (Acts 2, also see Devotional 44 for more).
Now Simon’s true motivation comes out! He thinks, ‘Wow, I thought Philip did some cool stuff but Peter and John have even more profitable miracles!’ So he asks to buy the tricks. He wants the recipe. In my opinion people like Simon are those who believe in Jesus (“the Word”) but “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word” (Matthew 13:22). Peter agrees saying “your heart is not right in the sight of God” and tells him to repent. Instead of humbling himself and doing what Peter tells him Simon asks for Peter to pray for him. Simon seems scared of the consequences of going to hell but won’t utter the words of repentance himself. THEN THE STORY ENDS. What happened to Simon the Sorcerer?! It’s my opinion that the Holy Spirit speaking through Luke writing this decided we shouldn’t know. It is important for us to not make the same mistakes Simon did regardless of what his final choice was.
Conclusion. I hope this section made you think and ponder like it did me. It seems like outwardly Simon was converted to true Christianity. But I’d like to quote from Morgan for a better understanding, “‘Men may come very near, they may be intellectually convinced of the supremacy of Jesus; they may even decide that they will adopt His ethical ideal; they may go so far as to determine that they will imitate the perfection of His example. But these things do not make men Christians’” (Source 3). It’s true. It is a relationship with Jesus, not religious acts. Getting back to my comparison of Jesus’ Parable of the Soils: who is the only one of the soils that is saved? It is the good ground. How do we know? It produces fruit. Thankfully we understand that this fruit isn’t good works – trying to climb a never ending (not to mention non-existent) staircase to heaven one nice action at a time. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control…And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).