Sermon: Simon, a Man Amazed With Magic and Not With Christ (Acts 8:9-25)

Simon, a Man Amazed With Magic and Not With Christ

Acts 8:9-25

Introduction

I once counseled an elderly lady named Caroline who was extremely troubled over that fact that she could not speak in tongues.  She was fixated on this topic and it had become really an idol to her.  She even doubted her salvation based on the fact that she could not speak in tongues.

The more I spoke with her, the more apparent it became that for her speaking in tongues would be something that would cause others to admire her and think more highly of her than they currently did.  In her mind, she would be an elite Christian while everyone else remained normal…God would then show that He loves her more by giving her this gift.

Her desire was much like a man named Simon who lived in Samaria who heard and saw the power of Christ through Philip and the Apostles.  He too desired to be looked up to and be, as it were, the center of attention.  Simon wanted all the ohhs and ahhs in his direction.  So, Simon was obsessed with power which came through magic and tricks.

Primary Claim

We must stand in awe and find amazement in Christ alone.

Human Condition Met By the Text

This passage today challenges all Christians to reevaluate our commitment to Jesus Christ.  We may even ask our self the question, Why did I come to Christ?  Or Why am I a Christian?  Is it so I can get something out of it, like heaven or God’s blessings…or am I a Christian because Christ is my treasure and in Him alone am I amazed and in Awe.

Please hear God’s Word for Grace Community Church…

Acts 8:9-25 (ESV)
9 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.
10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”
11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.
12 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.
13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John,
15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
25 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.

1. Amazed With Magic

9 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.
10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”
11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.

12 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.
13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Simon the sorcerer was a very important man in Samaria.  He had kept the people amazed with occult magic for a very long time.  So, before Philip entered the area of Samaria Simon was the star attraction.

This magic was occult fueled and demonic in origin.  This probably accounts for the great many exorcisms that Philip did in the name of Jesus as he came to the land.  Many people were demon possessed probably in part due to Simon’s witchcraft and occult sorcery.  Simon even calls himself great.  This man is the power of God that is called Great.”
Most scholars believe that calling himself great went far beyond that to even placing himself along side of God, in other words, Simon was calling himself divine.

As was typical in other ancient Jewish literature dealing with magic, here is some of what Simon probably was engaged in…

DIVINATION: The exact meaning of this practice is unknown.  The word seems to convey the idea of obtaining an oracle.

OBSERVER OF TIMES: The meaning of this word is uncertain, as the list of words used in various translations indicates (practice soothsaying, practice spiritism, fortuneteller, enchanter, etc.).

ENCHANTER: Because of the similarity of this Hebrew word to the word for snake, some scholars are of the opinion that there is a connection to snake charming. Others believe that since there is a similarity of hissing sounds between enchanters as they chant and snakes, this accounts for the similarity of the words.

WITCH: The RSV uses SORCERER. Exodus 7:11 tells us that Pharaoh had this group among his court advisors. Nebuchadnezzar also summoned his sorcerers to recount his dream as reported in Daniel 2. These men were using natural means to promote the belief that they truly had supernatural powers and to lead the people into a superstitious, pagan way of life which turned them away from the true and living God.

CHARMER: The Hebrew word reflects the sense of binding or casting a spell. The usual translation is enchantment, which refers to the means that the charmer uses in attempting to influence people.

CONSULTER OF FAMILIAR SPIRITS: A variety of terms including medium, necromancer, ghost, and spirit of the dead, are used to describe this Hebrew term. I Samuel 28 describes a medium; a person who supposedly can make contact with the dead.[1]

For Simon magic brought him fame and no doubt fortune as well.  He was important and literally called himself divine.  For Simon, magic meant power.  Power was the end and magic was the means to get there.

For the people, they were amazed by the show.  Magic for them was the end.  They were in awe of Simon and all he could do.

Luke reports that the people hear Philips message, believed and were then baptized.  They believed the message about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ they were all baptized.  So they believed in God’s kingdom or His eternal rule and reign.  They believe in the name of Jesus, all Jesus taught about Himself and about man’s need for a Savior.  When they all believed they were baptized.

So far so good.  The people hear the Word being preached and understand and agree, they see the signs that accompany the Word as proof that God’s Word is true and they believe.

13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

Here is a troubling verse in which there has been much debate over the centuries.  Was Simon a Christian?  After all, it says he believed and was baptized.  Was he saved at this point?  It very clearly states that he believed and was baptized.  Is it possible to believe and be baptized and still not be saved?  Are there other places in the Bible that might help us understand what is going on here?  Before we look, let me say that Simon was not a Christian he was not saved.

John 2:23-25 (ESV)
23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.
24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people
25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Here is an example of a large group who, John states, believed in His name when they saw signs and wonders.  It also says that Jesus did not entrust Himself to them.  The issue was that this large crowd believed more in the signs and wonders than in Jesus’ name.  This helps us discern what is going on with Simon.

Simon had some level of belief but it was mainly focused on the signs and wonders Philip was performing than in the message he was preaching.

Signs and wonders were not the end.  They were intended only to point forward to Jesus Christ.

Acts 2:5-8 and 12 (ESV)
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.
6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? …

12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
Here we have a correct response.  These at Pentecost were not distracted by the signs and wonders but looked past them to whom they pointed.  Simon on the other hand, stays focused on the miracle and not the message nor the Savior.
2. Amazed With Christ

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John,
15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
When Philip entered into the region of Samaria, he was also performing wonders.  Philip and his signs of healing and demonic exorcism now amazed the people who had previously been amazed by Simon and his occult magic.

Acts 8:4-8 (ESV)
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.
6 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.
7 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.
8 So there was much joy in that city.

Previously, the people paid attention to Simon and his magic.  Now they are paying attention to Philip because he is preaching Christ and God is working signs and wonders through him.  Simon had no message of eternal life and his magic was infinitely small compared to the miracles God worked through Philip.

There is an immeasurable difference between being amazed by magic and being amazed by Christ.  I pray we are amazed by Christ and all He has accomplished and never get tempted to think that miracles are equal to Christ or the Gospel message.

3. Desiring the Sign Over the Savior

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Peter is not fooled for a second.  Simon doesn’t love Jesus he loves the signs.  He doesn’t rejoice in being saved from sin but longs to be able to perform as good a miracle as the Apostles.  Simon wants people to admire him as much as they do the Apostles.  His heart remains unconverted and Simon remains in his sins.

When Peter declares, may your silver perish with you, he is telling Simon that he still remains unconverted and his heart is still very wicked.  He wants power more than he wants Jesus.  He wants what Jesus can get him not Jesus Himself.

Do you see the slight nuance that made a world of difference?

Philip preached the Gospel of Christ and to prove that it is true, God used him to heal and do other miracles.  These signs pointed to Jesus not to themselves.  So whether the Gospel is coupled with signs and wonders or not, it is Jesus who must be loved and desired not the signs.

It isn’t seeing a miracle, believing in the miracle, nor is it baptism that saves but only the power of Christ alone that saves.

Simon want fame and fortune rather than Christ.  We must be careful never to desire the sign nor anything else over Jesus.

Remember Caroline at the beginning? What ever happened to Caroline and her intense desire for the gift of tongues?  I wanted to expose her sinful desire for this gift.  So I asked her, what would she say if God did grant her the gift?  She thought a moment and then said, I’m not sure, maybe I would tell others about Jesus and His love for them.  Then I said, why don’t you start now and do it in a language they can understand much like on the Day of Pentecost.  Then I went on to explain that her covetous attitude concerning speaking in tongues is fueled by a sinful desire to have people think more highly than they should of you.  She desired the sign more than the Savior.  She was distracted by the sinful inclination we all have to seek fame and notoriety.  Don’t be fooled into ever substituting anything for Christ.

Primary Claim of the Text

We must stand in awe and find amazement in Christ alone.

 

 

 


[1] The following is a summary of these practices as explained in The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke and published by Moody Press.

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