By Tyson Thorne

July 2, 2014

PhilipSamaria large

Following the death of Stephen the Christ-following community scattered from Jerusalem. Those who remained were often ostracized from their families and the synagogue communities and many were imprisoned and executed. In Acts 8.4 Luke follows one of the other new deacons, a man named Philip “down” to Samaria. While Luke describes the journey as going “down” Samaria is in fact North of Jerusalem, but at a lower elevation. Usually Jews would not enter Samaria and would go out of their way to avoid traveling through it, but with the persecution breaking out across Israel there was no safer place to go.

Philip, like the apostles and Stephen before, was empowered by the Spirit of God to heal the sick and lame and to cast out demons. Unlike the people of Jerusalem, the people of Samaria were overjoyed to witness the power of God and received the message about Jesus the Messiah eagerly. While they had never seen such miracles before, the home-grown hero of Samaria was a man named Simon, traditionally known as Simon the Sorcerer. Simon performed many miraculous deeds as well, though nothing on the level of what Philip and the Holy Spirit brought. So overwhelming was the presence of God in Philips actions that even Simon came to profess Jesus and be baptized. Due to the welcome response Peter and John also left for Samaria to welcome them into the family of God and to see if the Spirit would come to the people there.

Little is known about Simon. For instance, while Luke records he performed magic, he doesn’t tell us if they were trickery and illusion or if Simon practiced the forbidden dark arts. I tend to think it was the former, for there is no indication of demonic influence in or around Simon, something one would expect especially if he were being baptized in Jesus’ name. Yet all was not right with Simon either. When he saw that the Holy Spirit came upon those who received the laying on of hands from Peter John and Philip (and possibly Luke as well, though he rarely reveals his own activity in either his Gospel or Acts) Simon attempted to pay the disciples for the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Peter, being Peter, responded harshly but correctly to this attempt of bribery telling Simon that he shall perish with his money for thinking that the gift of God could be purchased. Where Simon went wrong was that he didn’t have his mind set on God, and instead was focused on what fame and fortune he could gain with the apostle’s gifts. Sadly, there are a great many people just like Simon in the church today. They use the name of Jesus for personal gain rather than in service to God. Even after being rebuked by Peter Simon revealed that he didn’t really understand what following Jesus was about. He didn’t know how to pray, and asked Peter to pray on his behalf that he might escape God’s judgment. While we are not told if Peter did so, I can’t imagine him not praying for Simon and for the Lord to reveal himself to the magician in a life-changing way.

Peter and John then returned to Jerusalem to report on the situation in Samaria, and continued to spread the news about the Messiah as they went. There is never any indication that the apostles and the first deacons wavered from their single-minded devotion to God’s work. I’m willing to wager that few of us are so devoted.

Surely our lives are full of distraction. We have jobs, a mortgage or rent and bills to pay. We plan for our own futures and retirement rather than focusing solely on what God would have us do with our days. While God does want us to live responsibly and within our means, never are we to put our own concerns above God’s. The days remaining before Jesus returns are few and it is time we started looking ahead to our reunion with Jesus and to finish this life strong for the Lord.

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