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Simon Says

Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  31:00
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My Dad - the Sorcerer

This is my father, the sorcerer.
Since he was 10 years old, my dad has been practicing magic. If you have seen him in action… he is really, really good. People always ask me if I know how he did it, and I always smile mysteriously and kind of mumble like “I just can’t say.”
But sometimes, internally, I am like “what the garbage???!” I have no idea how he did that!
I always thought he should combine the magic act with his day job, a medical physicist focused on cancer treatment.
Kazaam… your cancer is gone! People tend to lose patience when your “Kazaam” is a multiple month process of varied and repeated treatments… but there’s something there.
Sorcery - illusions. He is doing things you may not understand… but it is tricky. For the record: my Dad does not have mysterious magic powers. He has practice and misdirection, skills and speed won through lots and lots of practice.
He isn’t really a sorcerer, he is a really good liar.
Now, my Dad the sorcerer has now performed at camp twice. He performed two years ago at our “Signs” camp for the teenagers and this year at Junior camp. He amazed the children with his magic.
So, today, I would like to pay my Father for all services rendered. Just take a picture of that with your camera phone app. It’s “definitely real”.
But the truth is, the camp can’t afford to pay my Dad’s “magic appearance” rate… it’s actually higher then his “medical physicist cure your cancer” rate.
The amount is an insult. And the attempt to pay changes the character of the encounter. It transforms a “gift because He loves” into a “business transaction” (and an offensive one at that).
It’s time to talk about money. And sorcery. And Jesus.

Recap

Acts 8:5–8 ESV
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

Simon the Sorcerer

Acts 8:9–11 ESV
But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.
What kind of sorcerer was he?
practice magic, sorcery. This is where our word “magic” or “Magus” actually comes from. It is borrowed from Persian, a member of the priestly “Median” tribe.
Was he an illusionist? A conman a trickster?
Justin Martyr, himself a Samaritan, writes 100 years later that Simon was empowered by demons to perform magic and later honoured in Rome as a God.
Trickster or demonic, this was a man of great influence.
The people were “amazed” (a word which will come up again and again. This was a man of widespread power and influence.
… and then Philip comes to town.
Acts 8:12 ESV
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Sea change. We might expect a confrontation between Philip and Simon in the same way we see a power struggle between the apostles and the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
Instead, Simon surprises us:
Acts 8:13 ESV
Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
The people “believed” or “had faith”. Simon had faith. He believed. There is no shade of difference between the two here, the same faith, same word, same tone.
And Simon was baptized… and then glued himself to Philip. He’s the guy at every service, hearing every sermon, watching carefully all the signs and miracles… and now it is Simon who is “amazed”. Astounded! Astonished!
Are these believers in Samaria? I would have to say so. Believers in Christ, baptized in his name, by a deacon no less.

Next Step Christianity

Acts 8:14–16 ESV
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Fascinating thing. Are there two baptisms now?
My expectation is that this is, similar to Pentecost, a special initial impartation of the Holy Spirit, and subsequent believers receive the Holy Spirit immediately. But some smart people see here two baptisms, one in the name of Christ, one additional baptism in the Spirit, and some charismatic movements are built around this principle.
It specifies “baptism in the name of Jesus” as the reason, like maybe Philip missed a step. Just in case, I always baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is the command given by Jesus.
So the apostles rectify this.
Acts 8:17 ESV
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
This receiving sounds “visible”, witness-able. Something happened, something changed.
Acts 8:18–19 ESV
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Maybe that’s how he acquired his other powers.
Maybe that’s just how he thinks the world works. It likely works that way in every other aspect and dimension of his life. It doesn’t say he is being arrogant. It doesn’t say he is being rude. He could have the best intentions in the world for what he will do with the power.
Maybe it doesn’t seem all that wrong. It’s an upgrade. It’s the “Next Step” in the Christian journey. And “they”, the other Christians, are getting it.
But at the end of the day… Simon attempt to acquire the Holy Spirit.
“Acquire”. That’s an important word. He attempts to purchase the Spirit of God.
And what does He want to do with it? Heal people? Cast out demons? What is the specific Holy Spirit power Simon wants?
“to lay hands on others to pass on the Holy Spirit.” He wants to be the guy that other people receive the Spirit from. Perhaps he sees this power as a way of regaining his hold over the Samaritans, gaining a “Share” in the leadership.
But whatever his reasoning, Simon tries to buy God. The power of God, the person of God, the gifts of God.
Acts 8:20–23 ESV
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
Rebuke. Harsh!
This is phrased like a curse: may your silver perish...
Your “heart is not right” (or straight or honest) with God. You aren’t aligned at all.
“In the gall of bitterness”. Gall is a bitter fluid secreted by the liver.
There is a bitter poison in you. It’s gross! You taste like bile, I just threw up in my mouth!
The harshness of this language. But it is an emotional reaction to how GROSS what Simon just said.
“in the bond of iniquity”.
Trapped, tied up in your sin. Crippled by it, held back help captive!
Peter reacts harshly because this “misunderstanding” puts all the Samaritans in danger. Simon is an influential guy.
and Simon does repent!
Acts 8:24 ESV
And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Simon does pray, and does repent. It is concerning that his prayer speaks of escaping the consequences of his sin rather than to change his heart or change his life.
and the disciples go home
Acts 8:25 ESV
Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
There is no real closure in the story of Simon, other than the clear statement that the gospel continued to flourish and take root in Samaria. This challenge, this encounter could not sow it or stop it.
Is the sin of Simon in you?
That misunderstanding of who God is? That misalignment of heart?
Have you ever tried to buy God or His gifts?

Buying God

This is no joke. Having written my sermon and playing with this phrase “Buying God” I searched it on Google. Curious if there was a t-shirt or something. This came up. To be fair it wasn’t the first result (there’s an interesting looking book by this title), but apparently if you want to buy God… Best Buy is the place to do it!
Throughout church history people have paid money for spiritual positions in the church. “Donate” land and your son becomes a Cardinal or a Bishop.
This was the famous destination for rich 3rd sons. 1st son inherits, 2nd son to the army, 3rd sons to the priesthood.
You know what that’s called? “Simony” after Simon.
Everything else in our lives is ALL about acquiring. Acquiring wealth, knowledge, power and influence, and using that to succeed in life, we are Simon’s in every other dimension of life. Do we really think that doesn’t influence the way we approach God?
We have all the habits and patterns of “mercantile Christianity” or “consumer Christianity”.
What can I get out of this? I am willing to put in “this much”, and how much return do I get? We can be all the way sincere in it. I am willing to be SO generous in how much I will pay for the next step Christian upgrade...
It is such a familiar model, and there is a line of religious vendors waiting and eager to sell.
Is that all that uncommon in us?
God, if you do this (thing that I want), I will “do this thing that I should have done anyway).
If you tithe 10% or more you will get a special blessing from God!
Or just in the way we think of the gifts of God after He has given them.
This is “my gift”. My ability to discern, my gift of preaching, or teaching, or mercy, or wisdom, or discernment, or leadership, or generosity… pick your list of spiritual gifts.
And what will “I do” with my spiritual gift?
Do I think of them as mine, earned, acquired and at my disposal?
We can’t buy God. He has already purchased us.
God is not something you acquire.
The Holy Spirit is not something you acquire. He acquires you. Always.
We are bond-servants, slaves unto Christ, purchased from bondage.
You hear how radical a difference that is?
If Simon is thinking he has anything at all to offer that would “purchase” something from God, much less purchase the indwelling of God Himself...
How radically flawed His idea of God is!
How radically Simon is missing out on grace. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us, the freely giving gift of God. The spiritual power and authority, gifts of the Holy Spirit. If you miss out on grace you are missing out on the heart of God.
Of course his heart is “not straight with God.”
Now some GREAT scholars take this as evidence that Simon’s “faith”, his “believing” in the verses above isn’t “saving faith.”
But the text doesn’t say that, does it? To me, Simon seems sincere… just tragically confused. Misaligned in heart and certainly jealous of others, trapped by his sin.
But is that true of any of us?
1 Corinthians 6:19–20 ESV
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
You are not your own, you were bought with a price.
If ever we think we are “buying” God… His Spirit… his gifts, his power… we are so deluded. Our hearts aren’t “right” with God. We must repent.
We have it completely backwards!
We do not acquire God or the His gifts. We are “acquired” by God, purchased and redeemed, wholly His, and He gives His gifts to us or through us however He so desires!
We aren’t merchants who have made a savvy purchase, we are slaves who delight in His service!
Repent of efforts to “acquire” God or His gifts and recognize that we are wholly and forever His.
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