A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING
THEME: Philip’s ministry in Samaria produces good results. The Jerusalem Apostles decide to exercise some supervision over this new ministry to a different ethnic population (and a very hated one at that). Their oversight purges the new converts of a dangerous element to the new Way and reinforces Jesus’ Olivet prophecy. Purity of the faith at this stage is very important (remember Ananias and Sapphira).
SCRIPTURE: Acts 8: 9-25 (add vv. 4 & 5 for context).
I. Philip takes the Gospel to Samaria.
A. Philip had good success in converting many of the Samaritan people to Christ, because they were willing to listen to him about Jesus with an open mind.
1. They were not “demanding” a political-military Messiah like many in the Jewish religious leadership were.
2. They heard Philip’s message and saw the miracles God performed through him and quickly put 1 and 1 together and understood that Philip was the real thing.
II. The singular incident of Simon Magus.
A. We see that the Gospel will even melt the heart of one who is clearly involved in demonic work.
1. In our own lives, we have all seen the Gospel work in the lives of drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, and others clearly at work for the devil.
2. The Gospel is very powerful – but it is not all powerful. (Only God is).
3. Simon had been involved in magic for years.
a. We are not talking about card tricks, shell games, and sleight of hand.
b. We are talking about witchcraft and what today we’d call “black magic.”
4. In that day and time, there were considered to be 2 types of magic:
a. 1st, a respectable science of discernment, normally tied to astronomy, that seems to have originated in Persia.
b. 2nd, a much larger group of quacks, charms, incantations, spells, and the like.
5. “Simon Magus” means “Simon the Magician”. We can see the language link between “magus” and the “Magi” or wise men (Matthew 2: 1-12). The Magi who came to worship Jesus were of the first type: men of science, tied to astronomy, and respected. Simon was of a totally different branch.
6. Simon’s most dangerous element was his pride. (v. 9) “He boasted that he was someone great.”
a. Both Simon and the people equated him with divine power.
7. Even Simon recognized real power and greatness when he saw the miracles of Philip. He knew they were real, while his own was fakery and trickery.
8. Simon believes and is baptized, but his belief is shallow at best, superficial, and inadequate.
9. Note (v. 13) where Simon seems to be more interested in Philip’s signs and miracles than in the Word.
10. If you read this passage carefully, you find a distinct comparison of Philip and Simon, Peter and Simon, Philip’s miracles and Simon’s magical power. The magician changes from the one doing the “amazing” to the one being “amazed.” These word pictures are key in understanding the depth of Simon’s belief and faith.
11. When you look at the whole incident, it appears that Simon follows Philip around in a quest to enhance his own personal power – not the normal picture for a disciple.
B. When Simon sees the actions and effects of Philip’s miracles and that of Peter and John laying on of hands, it is just too much for his faith. Like many of his type, he thinks everyone operates like he does – money is the prime motivator for Simon. But Peter and John are not motivated by money, they are motivated by the Holy Spirit and their desire to walk with Christ Jesus. These two different world views set up the ultimate confrontation between Simon and Peter.
1. We note the following comparisons:
a. The evangelist Philip has greater power than the so called “great power.”
b. The simple Gospel compels people’s hearts more than “magical boasting.”
2. We should also remember another confrontation between God’s power and magic from the Old Testament (Exodus 7: 11) “Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things [turning sticks into snakes] by their secret arts.” (Exodus 7: 22) “But the Egyptian magicians did the same things [turning water into blood] by their secret arts” (Exodus 8: 7) “But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 8: 18-19)“But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. . . The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”
3. Thus it must always be when the power of man or devil comes up against the power of God: they may be able to imitate some minor parts of God’s power, but they cannot hold a candle to the real exposed power of the Almighty.
C. Christ Jesus had warned the disciples that such people would come after His ascension.
1. (Matthew 24: 4-5;11; 23-24) “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. . . And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. . . At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.”
2. Note that Satan has to power to do miracles (but note even more closely that the purpose is the same as the false Christs and false prophets – to deceive people): (Revelation 13: 3) “One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast.” (This passage speaks of the antichrist). (Revelation 13: 13-15) “And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.” (This passage speaks of the false prophet, the companion of the antichrist).
3. Simon Magus wanted this “real power” because he had seen the real thing and knew that his supposed power was nothing but trickery and deception.
4. Peter issues a very stern rebuke to Simon, calling on him to (v. 22) “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord.”
5. Peter is testing Simon’s heart with this rebuke. Simon’s response indicates where he is in relationship to God. Peter warns that this judgment could happen and places responsibility on Simon Magus to respond actively.
6. But Simon does not pray for repentance himself, he asks Peter to pray for him.
7. One great lesson for each one of us here: No one else can repent and ask forgiveness for your sins. Repentance is a completely personal responsibility. You must do it yourself for your sins.
8. Peter equates the distribution of the Spirit with the gift of God. The Spirit is not for sale, nor is it anything like magic.
9. It is received as a benevolent and gracious gift from a loving God.
10. Simon Magus has no place in the people of God because his heart is not right.
11. It is somewhat of a mystery that God did not purge His church of a magician, yet instantly purged it earlier from liars (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5: 1-11).
D. The Christian church fathers of the late 1st and 2nd centuries give this Simon Magus as the founder of Gnosticism.
1. Several clearly exaggerate his powers and extend his life into the 2nd century, something that almost certainly cannot be true.
2. Luke makes a theme out of connecting a “magical worldview” with the desire to minister for money, something Christian ministers in Acts do not do.
3. The word “simony” – the buying of an official position for money – comes from this event. It was one of the words developed during the Dark Ages to describe the Roman Catholic church hierarchy system at its most corrupt.
4. Simon’s equating himself with God, or permitting this equation by others, that caused the early Church Fathers to work at discrediting him. (Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr all condemn Simon Magus and his followers).
III. The trip of Peter and John to Samaria.
A. This supervisory (or “inspection”) trip of Peter and John have caused considerable discussion over the centuries.
1. Why did they go to Samaria? Why did the Holy Spirit NOT come upon the Samaritans when they believed and were baptized? Is the laying on of apostolic hands a necessity for reception of the Holy Spirit? Were the Samaritans converted in a two stage process, or a single stage process as we believe today?
2. Probably the best explanation for all of these questions is as follows:
3. Because the Samaritans were a different (and very hated) ethnic group, the Apostles would have been prejudiced against them, and would have certainly questioned whether or not they had actually been converted.
4. Peter and John go to Samaria to see for the 12. The Samaritans have been converted as per normal, but may have had a somewhat deficient baptism: (v. 16) “they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” as opposed to Christ’s Great Commission: (Matthew 28: 19) “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Note: They probably did not have a deficient baptism – allow some author’s style into the account.
5. To show to the Apostles that the Samaritans indeed had been converted and accepted by God, when Peter and John laid hands on them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in foreign languages, just like the disciples on Pentecost. This sign would have negated the natural Jewish prejudice against the Samaritans.
6. This also makes the Samaritan conversions single stage as the rest of the conversions mentioned in Acts. (We’ll discuss John the Baptist’s disciples from Acts 19 later).
IV. What are we supposed to learn from this passage?
1. This unit shows the Gospel as it begins to expand away from an exclusive concern for Israel. The Gospel is for every person, regardless of race, nation, color, sex, or location on God’s green earth. Conversion of the Samaritans and the clear acceptance of them by God (with the Holy Spirit’s Pentecostal power) teaches us that crossing racial and ethnic lines with the message of Jesus and taking the initiative to do so are a foundational part of the mission of the Church.
2. Not all spiritual power is positive. There is false as well as true spiritual power: we must be on a continual guard not to be taken in by false messiahs, false prophets, magic, witchcraft, and anything of the sort.
a. Many may remember Ouija boards from childhood: they are dangerous, the first step toward satanic worship and witchcraft so prevalent in our young people today. There is no such thing as “safe magic.”
3. Christianity has nothing to do with magic. Those engaged in magic can see the real power of Christ and turn away if they repent. But Christianity and faith and the Holy Spirit cannot be bought. They are free gifts from a loving God to a repentant believer.
4. Pointing out false spirituality is not an act of hostility or hatred, as our “diversity” and “tolerance” oriented culture of today accuse us. It is a WARNING that not all spiritual activity is beneficial. To point out such error is an act of love for one’s neighbor.
5. Money and power almost always bring spiritual blindness. Christ said it was very hard for the rich to enter the kingdom (Matthew 19: 23-26). Paul said the love of money was the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6: 9-10). Any of us can all too easily be corrupted by these two dangerous traps.
6. Repentance is a very necessary event in our lives. We must do our own repenting, no one else can do it for us. Our sins cannot be forgiven without repentance.