Read: Acts 8:5-25
Stephen’s death at the hands of the Sanhedrin caused many to flee from Jerusalem. This scattering of disciples served to spread the gospel to distant places, as well as some that were not so distant. Before Saul’s conversion, we are invited to read an account of Philip’s successful ministry in the evil place called Samaria. This area is discussed throughout the gospel narrative as a place of all kinds of religions and beliefs. They were despised by the Jewish people, yet Jesus ventured there without hesitation.
Philip was moved to preach and perform miracles in Samaria. We don’t read a lot about his ministry, except to see it must have been pretty amazing.
When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. Acts 8:6
Luke reports there is great joy in Samaria as a result of Philip’s work.
The focus shifts to Simon the Sorcerer, a man who was admired by many for his amazing works. The mention of sorcery alongside the miracles of Philip provides a sharp contrast for us to consider. I’m convinced there are many battles fought in spiritual realms, but I have little understanding of how, when, where, or who conjures up such warfare. The prevalence of casting out spirits in the New Testament leaves little doubt that their presence exists. It’s just not something we see in our everyday walk or ministry. Maybe this is an indication of a problem?
How all that works out is a mystery to me. What we do read is that Simon, and others, respond to Philip’s altar call and accept Jesus.
Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. Acts 8:13
The news of the gospel spreading in Samaria reached the apostles, so they sent Peter and John went to see. The words don’t indicate they were sent to validate Philip’s ministry, but their actions are interesting, to say the least.
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. Acts 8:15-17
How is it that the Holy Spirit had not come on any of them? Philip preached, they believed and were baptized, but in this case, it wasn’t complete until the apostles showed up. In looking at commentaries and other wild opinions about what was happening here, I’ve come to the conclusion that Peter and John’s mission was all about uniting the Samaritans with the rest of the Christ followers. Their appearance, laying on of hands, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, was the key affirmation our forefathers needed to see for the benefit of spreading the gospel, even to the dreaded Samaritans.
The Sorcerer — Again
In light of this amazing act, Simon the Sorcerer is highlighted again. Perhaps he wants to get some of this action to add to his magic show. His business sense takes control and he offers to pay the apostles to learn this new magic.
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.” Acts 8:18-19
It’s interesting that though Simon had accepted the gospel (Acts 8:13), he wasn’t one that Peter and John laid hands on.
Peter sees straight through his act and knows his heart has not changed. Instead of a blessing, Peter rebukes him strongly:
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. Acts 8:22
This is a good example of how to handle someone who is not properly motivated to help the local body of Christ. The rebuke is strong, but there is an opportunity to improve. Pray for forgiveness.
Simon’s response shows that he has truly not changed at all. His only concern is that nothing bad would happen to him. He could have asked for forgiveness. He could have asked that they pray for his sinful heart, but this is not the case.
The Gospel Spreads
Enough about Simon, the good news is that there is Great News! The Samaritans are welcomed into the family, those who truly repent and believe, and the word about Jesus continues to infiltrate men and women beyond the sacred walls of Jerusalem.