Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lessons From Simon The Sorcerer

There was a sorcerer named Simon who once lived in ancient city of Samaria. For many years he claimed to be someone great, and amazed people with his magic. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, called him "The Great One - The Power of God." The problem is, the title was not true. The people may have thought Simon the Sorcerer had the power of God, but in reality, he didn't. However, they would soon meet someone who did - Philip. 

Philip was one of the 7 "helpers" that the Apostles chose in the early days of the church (Acts 6). They were "well respected and full of the Spirit and wisdom." What's significant about these 7 is that the Apostles "prayed for them as they laid their hands on them." It's evident, based on the things Philip did, that this type of laying on of hands by the Apostles transferred miraculous Holy Spirit powers. In those early days, this type of a special supernatural gift was to help jump-start the infant Church. 

This early church was basically centered, at first, in and around Jerusalem. That is, until they were scattered. This happened when another one of the chosen 7, Stephen, was stoned to death (Acts 7). This rattled the church because he was the first disciple to be killed. Some men lied about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God." (Acts 6:11) So they arrested and executed an innocent man.   

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the Church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the Apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. The good thing is that the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. This is how Philip came to be in contact with Simon the Sorcerer. He ended up in the same city as Simon. "Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city." (Acts 8:5-7)

Now, a sorcerer may sound fascinating, but to put it bluntly, sorcerers are no-good in the eyes of God. As a matter of fact, any similar types of people face condemnation by God: mediums, fortune-tellers, psychics, as well as those who practice divination and witchcraft are all considered evil in the eyes of God (Deuteronomy 18:10b-12a). That's because God wants people to put their trust solely and exclusively in Him alone, not in some false-prophet or false-god.

Because of Philip's preaching and his miracles, people began to realize that Philip was really the one who had the Power of God, not Simon the Sorcerer. Philip's miracles were the real deal, no tricks, magic, or illusions. This proved Philip's authenticity - that he was truly of God - resulting in many people believing and responding to his message of the Good News of Jesus.

"But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized." (Acts 8:12)

Even Simon the Sorcerer was baptized! "Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed." (Acts 8:13)

However, something happened next that revealed some major doubt about Simon the Sorcerer's conversion. It started when Philip wanted some of the believers to have the same special gifts of the Holy Spirit as well, so when he left, the leaders in Samaria could be empowered. The problem was that Philip couldn't lay hands on any believers to transfer special Holy Spirit power to them. Only the Apostles could do that. Therefore, the Apostles Peter and John had to come from Jerusalem to Samaria for that very reason. What happened next revealed Simon's true heart.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 8:18-19)

Simon still wanted to be "the Great One - the Power of God" - the same title he had as a sorcerer! He was jealous, he was covetous, and he would try to do anything to get his way, even bribe an Apostle of Jesus Christ!

Peter's response to Simon's sin was severe. Fortunately for Simon, not as severe as when Peter uncovered the lies of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), resulting in both of them dropping dead at Peter's feet. Peter exposed Simon's sin, and thus his true heart.

But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin." “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!” (Acts 8:20-24)

That's the last we hear of Simon the Sorcerer in the Bible, so we'll never know from scripture if he repented and prayed for forgiveness. What we do know is that we can learn some lessons from this story.

What was Simon really attracted to? - the miracles of Philip or the Good News of Jesus? Simon was fascinated by the signs and wonders, when he should have been overwhelmed by the cross of Christ.

Simon missed some important steps in the process of becoming a Christ Follower. Someone seeking to be made right with God (RECONCILIATION) starts with acknowledgment of sin (HUMILITY), believing Jesus is the Savior who takes away sin (BELIEF). Then a sorrow for sin and a turning away from sin (REPENTANCE). This leads to uniting with Christ in BAPTISM, and then faithfully following Christ.

It seems Simon's first steps were questionable.  Did he even acknowledge his sin? Did he lay down his pride? Was his belief founded on Jesus? And it seems he missed the very important step between believing and being baptized....repentance. (Acts 2:38). Was he really baptized for the right reasons or was it all a trick, an illusion, a facade?

Just as Jesus died, buried, and resurrected, we unite with Him in our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection at baptism. That's when Simon's old self should have been put to death, and he should have been raised up to start a brand new life, not continue in his old ways.

"Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin." (Romans 6:3-6)

For those of us who are baptized believers, Peter gives us some really good advice of what to do when we stumble and sin after baptism - repent and pray for forgiveness. If our hearts are sincere, we will be forgiven.