Today’s passage is slightly longer than the others in this series have been so far. To make it easier, we’re going to look at it in smaller chunks to try to decipher what’s going on here.
Simon the Sorcerer
8:9-13 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 rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of pop culture, and one of the stories in particular I love is the Harry Potter series. There are certainly some days where I wish I could command a broomstick to fly me to some place far away. But here we encounter Simon, a real-life sorcerer, unlike some of the witches and wizards we find in Hogwarts, Simon is interacting with real people and using sorcery to perform miracles in Samaria. Simon is not using powers that come from God though, he’s taking the glory for his own powers.
Then Philip comes along and those who have been following Simon for years see the miracles he performs in the name of Jesus, and even Simon is convinced these powers are far greater than his own, and he along with other witnesses believe and are baptised. How incredible that Philip was able to demonstrate the power of God in such an amazing way that even someone who claimed to have his own power couldn’t deny the greatness of God.
8:14-19 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
You may remember that Jesus has promised that he would build his church on Peter, the rock (Matt 16:18). This is a great example of that promise being fulfilled right here. Peter and John are sent to Samaria from Jerusalem when they hear about the work Philip is doing there. They join in and assist Philip in brining healing and many other signs and wonders about Jesus into this place, they continue baptising and help usher in the Holy Spirit to the new believers.
Recently I saw the movie “The Jungle Book” (it’s incredible). For anyone who has either seen it, or at least knows the story, you may remember the character King Louie. King Louie is pretty powerful in the jungle – but he wants to be given even more power, a power that he has seen humans produce, he wants the power of fire!
Simon in this part of the story reminds me a bit of King Louie, he gets a bit confused (and maybe even a little jealous) and he wants in on the action! He has been performing signs with his sorcery for years, and now these men have proven to have even greater power than he ever has. So he asks them to give him some of their powers, to share the secret with him – he wants some of that fire so he can be even greater than he already is. He offers them money to give him this gift, he wants to buy the secret from them through the only means he thinks he has to offer. Instead of wanting to be like Christ, he tells these men that he wants to be like them.
8:20-23 Peter answered: “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 in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
But, Peter knows that Simon is only asking for this power so he can seek his own glory with it. Peter can see into Simon’s heart with his question, and declares that his motives aren’t pure. For you see, even though Simon has believed and been baptised, his heart has not yet been transformed. He doesn’t get it. And the only way he will truly understand the amazing story of Jesus and be transformed by this message is if he repents – completely turns away from his old wicked ways of sorcery. It is only through being released from sin that he can truly and purely serve God and be a part of building the Kingdom.
8:24-25 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Here, we see Simon once again being self-seeking. He asks for prayer so the things that Peter has spoken over him won’t happen. There is no commentary on if Peter did pray for him or not; but hasn’t Peter already told him how to fix this situation? He needs to repent, to make his heart clean and pure before God, to seek forgiveness for thinking he could buy his way into the Kingdom and seek glory for himself.
Peter and John then continue to testify to the Samaritan’s about Jesus, and eventually return to Jerusalem, and they declare the gospel message all the way home as well.
To think about
I know I’ve fallen into the trap of wanting to seek glory for myself in some of the things I do, and sometimes putting more of my faith into money and things I can control rather than trusting and putting my faith into the creator of the universe. It’s important that we check our heart and motivations when asking for things. Do we want certain gifts or powers because we want to glorify God, or are we seeking glory for ourselves?
Proclaiming Jesus is the most important gifts we have to offer anyone we encounter, perhaps today you can pray that God will give you the opportunity to offer this gift to someone. Like Peter and John, we should be declaring the gospel message anywhere we go.
2 thoughts on “Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25)”
I note your comment that Jesus had promised to build his church on Peter the rock. Don’t you think that in that verse Jesus is referring to Peter’s confession in v.16?
Good question, I actually got this idea when reading Darrell Bock’s commentary on Acts (Baker, 2007). I think in Matt 16:16 Peter is coming to understand who Jesus actually is, and in v.18 (which I referenced in today’s post) Jesus is proclaiming that Peter is going to be a key player in building the church – which is why I think today’s passage is a great example of that declaration being fulfilled. I think Peter’s significant role in building the church is one of the central themes in the book of Acts, and it was first mentioned back in Acts 2:38-41 during Pentecost.
I also didn’t mean to downplay the presence of John in today’s passage. I think it’s highly appropriate that Luke (the author of Acts) emphasises John’s presence in this Samaritan city in contrast to John’s previous experience of rejection in a Samaritan city in Luke 9:51-56.