It is without question a most interesting time to be alive. In our ever changing world where rulers are jockeying for power and position to implement their utopian plans regardless of party affiliation, we ought simply to remind ourselves that God is completely in control. Despite the plans of man, God is not impressed nor threatened in the slightest (Psalm 2). In the midst of this worldly struggle for power, there are developments within Christendom that are ever changing and somewhat surprising, though they shouldn’t be. There is a recognizable power vacuum, with a number of large factions jockeying for position. If ever there was a time in our life when we should heed the warning of our Lord in Matthew 7:15-20 it is most certainly now.
Christianity, or better the name of Christ, is being co-opted by all manner of men and their movements. Christ is claimed among the woke, liberal, progressive Critical Race theorists. Likewise, Christ is claimed among neo-Religious Right. Additionally, Christ is claimed by the rich and famous, as if He is a fad that can be praised when receiving awards for ungodliness. It doesn’t really matter what these groups or even individuals within them say; what matters is their fruit. As our Lord told us, “Many will come in sheep’s clothing,” and “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord”. Fruit is always the test of the root’s genuineness. Here I want to be clear, we are not talking about the world per se, what I am concerned with – and what we all should be concerned with – are those who make a profession of Christ but misrepresent Him. This of course begins with us in the form of self-examination before extending it to others (Matthew 7:1-6; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13).
Scripture reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9) and this should be an encouragement to us that many of the things we are either seeing, going through, or will see in the future have been dealt with at some point in the past. A case in point is Simon the Magician or better Simon the Sorcerer, recorded for us in Acts 8:9-25. The pericope of Simon flows out of the context of widespread persecution that was taking place among the believers of Jerusalem. This culminated with the stoning death Stephen and extended to the ravaging of the church from house to house at the hands of Saul (Paul). This persecution led to a scattering of believers throughout the region (Acts 8:1; 11:19). One of the scattered was Phillip, who had recently been selected to serve alongside 6 other men chosen to meet the needs of the Hellenist widows (Acts 6:1-6). Perhaps giving evidence of the short-term nature of this ministry, Phillip, as with Stephen before him, is empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel and he does so in the region of Samaria (Acts 1:8). Here Phillip proclaims the Word with boldness, casts out demons, and heals the lame/paralyzed leading to much joy in the city. Enter Simon the Sorcerer.
Simon was well known in the city as a magician/sorcerer and had been known to draw a crowd, keeping them captivated with his skills. He recognized this of himself and declared his own greatness in the matter (Acts 8:9), perhaps akin to calling himself the Greatest of All Time. Everybody he encountered had little doubt of his greatness and because of his ability in sorcery (think Pharoah’s magicians) the people claimed that his skill was from God, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” When the real power showed up in the person of the Holy Spirit through the bold preaching and miracles of Phillip, many of this same crowd were saved, including Simon himself. This latter point is one that needs clarification, “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.” Acts 8:13 Simon is said to have believed and been subsequently, and immediately we might add, baptized. Apparently, he continues on with Phillip and is amazed at the genuine power that was being displayed through him, no doubt superior to his own power he had used to draw a crowd and claim greatness.
Tangential to the introduction of Simon, we have also to keep in the mind the spread of the Gospel that is taking place from Jerusalem to Judea and specifically Samaria here in Acts 8, all of which directly fulfills the command of our Lord in Acts 1:8. In order to verify that indeed the Gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit, was genuinely spreading from Jerusalem, the apostle’s there send down Peter and John to Samaria. Upon their arrival, they pray for the Spirit to fall on the Samaritans which would give divine witness and testimony to the validity of the received Gospel, as with Pentecost. The passage in Acts notes that as of yet they had not received the Holy Spirit in an externally manifested way because they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus and presumably not the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This of course does not require a re-baptism, rather Peter and John lay hands on the people and the Spirit is conferred in that way. Re-enter Simon the Sorcerer.
At the sight of the Holy Spirit reception through the laying on of hands, Simon recognizes that the power he had witnessed through Phillip could also be personally obtained. Rather than humbly submitting to the witness of the Spirit and reception of the Spirit through the laying on of hands, Simon offers to pay Peter and John in order to receive this power. Here, we ought to note something surprising. Simon had believed the preached word of Phillip and was baptized, just as the other Samaritans had been. But in the laying on of hands, they received the Spirit, but he apparently did not. This lack of Spirit conveyance to him, leads to his desire to purchase the Spirit, as it were. As expected, this brings the ire of Peter,
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.”Acts 8:20-23
Perhaps giving evidence of what little light remained in him, Simon recognizes Peter’s rebuke and subsequently asks Simon to pray for him to the Lord that none of the things mentioned will happen to him. That’s all we know about Simon, but it is enough.
While there certainly is a lot to digest here, from the meaning of Simon’s faith – was it genuine or not, to how the Spirit is conferred via laying on of hands and what that means, to the advance of the Gospel to the Samaritans. However, what I want us to focus on is Simon and his co-opting of Christ as we mentioned earlier. Simon was a star, by all accounts. He knew how to draw a crowd and keep their attention. In all likelihood he had parlayed that into a successful endeavor and it was financially lucrative, given his willingness to pay for the Holy Spirit. He sees an opportunity here and doesn’t want to pass it up. If he can use the name of Christ and obtain the power of the Holy Spirit, he can use it as a springboard to even more popularity and greater riches. Herein lies our application.
I don’t know if it is happening more frequently today than it has in the past, but there seems to be an increasing popularity – a fad even as mentioned above – for entertainers, politicians, and generally those who know how to draw a crowd like Simon to claim the name of Christ. Because evangelicalism is so star-crazed, the wide majority are willing to latch on to and promote anyone who claims the name of Christ without allowing sufficient time for testing or producing fruit. It can be a politician in the highest office, a rap mogul (or two), or just your run-of-the-mill billionaire.
Simon the Sorcerer’s heart betrayed him and revealed his true desire was not to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ. Rather, his true desire was to co-opt Christ to keep and increase his fame and fortune.
Think about this. Use discernment. And beware of Simons.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”Mark 10:25