Last time, we saw that the first person to die for their faith in Christ was Stephen. And on the day he was killed by the members of the Sanhedrin, a terrible persecution broke out against the church. All the believers except for the apostles were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.
When believers in Jerusalem started being dragged off to prison, almost everybody in the church got out of town.
Philip, who like Stephen was also one of the original seven deacons called to the minisitry of feeding widows, went to the city of Samaria.
Samaria had long ago been the capitol city of the northern kingdom of Israel after civil war split them from the southern kingdom of Judah. When the northern kingdom was captured by the Assyrian empire, it was populated by people relocated from other parts of the empire. By the first century, Samaritans were hated as half-breed Jews.
But Jesus had brought the gospel to the Samaritans. He stopped at a well outside of Sychar, a Samaritan city, and revealed to the woman at the well that He was the Messiah. When crowds of people started coming out of the city to see Him, He told the disciples,
John 4:35 "Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest."
On another occasion, one of the Samaritan villages didn't receive Him. In anger, James and John volunteered to call down fire from heaven to consume them. But Jesus said that He had...
Luke 9:56 ...not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went on to another village.
And so, while the Jews had washed their hands of the Samaritans, the Christians had not. Philip went to Samaria and started preaching Christ to them.
Notice that Philip went in proclaiming Christ, not politics or policies. There were a lot of issues that separated Samaritans from the Jews. But what he focused on was the fact that they were separated from God, Who loved them and wanted them to be saved. He kept the message centered on Jesus Christ.
The Samaritans gave attention to Philip's message about Christ. And they heard and saw miraculous healings and deliverances from demonic possession.
One of the guys who heard the gospel and believed was a man named Simon. Simon was a magician who impressed people with his abilities. He also pridefully claimed to be someone great. His magic was so incredible that the people called him, "the Great Power of God."
But then Simon believed and was baptized. He started to follow Philip, and was amazed at the signs and miracles. If he was a trickster, he saw that this was the real thing. If he'd been using occultic power, he saw that Philip's miracles were far more powerful than what he'd been doing. (Like Moses and the magicians in Exodus 7-8.)
I like the way Luke wrote this. Three times, he uses the same Greek word, "ex-IS-tay-mee," which means "to be thrown out of position, to be beside yourself, astounded, out of your mind, to be thrown into wonderment." Simon was astonishing the people (v.9), and astonished them with his magic (v.11), but now he himself is astonished (translated "amazed" in verse 13).
The apostles in Jerusalem heard that lots of people were getting saved in Samaria, so Peter and John went down there themselves.
When they arrived, they realized that although people were sealed by the Spirit when they were saved, none had received the baptism of the Spirit. So they laid hands on them, praying the the Spirit would fall upon them. (We discussed this work of the Holy Spirit at length in our first study of the book of Acts, so I'm not going to repeat that lesson.)
When these people received the Holy Spirit, an obvious change was taking place. Many of them were undoubtedly speaking in tongues, and others were prophesying. There was enough happening to see and know that something supernatural was occurring.
Simon had been a magician for many years. So it was probably second-nature to Simon when he offered Peter and John some cash to learn how to impart the gift of the Spirit. After all, magicians frequently buy and sell great tricks to each other.
But Peter was not happy. He rebuked Simon for trying to obtain the gift of God with money. He told Simon that this action and attitude was wicked, and needed to be repented of.
I do not hold to the popular pastoral position about this passage. Every study I've ever heard taught on this goes on and on about how Simon wasn't really saved. But saints, I'm going to stand up for Simon. Not for his actions, which were clearly wrong. But I believe that this falls under the heading of "stupid things that new believers do."
After all, Simon had believed. He'd been baptized. And he'd dropped everything and followed after Philip.
Admittedly, he had some trouble breaking with the past. Peter said he had bitterness and iniquity. His bitterness probably stemmed from the fact that he used to be the biggest "somebody" in town, and was now no one of note. His iniquity was obviously that he was trying to buy the ability to impart the gift of the Spirit. He was probably trying to be "somebody" again, in a Christian context.
But had Simon committed the blasphemy of the Spirit (Mark 3:29)? This may have even been a "sin unto death" (1John 5:16), but was it the unforgivable sin? Of course not, because Peter told Simon to pray that the intention of his heart might be forgiven - blasphemy of the Spirit cannot be forgiven.
I just can't teach, "Believe, get baptized, follow the ministry, but say one wrong thing, and you're headed for hell!"
Yes, we must rebuke sin. But we must also expect "growing pains" to take place in new believers. Don't wash your hands of them and write them off as unsaved because they mess up, even if it's really bad.
As for Simon's response in verse 24, this doesn't have to be translated, "But Simon answered..." It could just as correctly be, "And Simon answered..." Literally, it is, "And Simon answered, 'Petition you for me to the Lord, so as not one may come on me of what you have spoken." I don't read this as being any different than when any of us ask for prayer.
Saints, I never want to teach anything that discourages a sinner from repenting. Because that's not the heart of God. For He is...
2Pet. 3:9 ...not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.