Devotional Reading: I Corinthians 1:18-25
Lesson Scripture: Acts 8:9-24
Lesson Aims: To summarize the lesson; to explain why God’s gifts are not for sale; and to always remain humble and grateful on our faith journey.
Background: Luke continued to chronicle this history book by revealing the highs and lows of the early church. Oftentimes referred to as “Acts of the Apostles” or “Acts of the Holy Spirit,” the book ultimately defended the faith for both Jews and Gentiles, thus aiming for their conversion. Acts also pointed to the church’s triumph over opposition. The Gospel spread in phases according to Jesus’ statements in Acts 1:7-8. On the Day of Pentecost, after listening to Peter’s sermon, Jews from all over the Mediterranean world repented and were baptized. Three thousand of them returned to their homes, carrying the Good News. That was phase one. The second phase was launched after Stephen’s death. The believers in Jerusalem faced great persecution at the hands of Saul; they fled to safety! Philip, “one of the seven” (Acts 6:3-6), ended up in the region of Samaria.”
Some manuscripts identify the city as Samaria; the old capital that was later renamed Sebaste” (Zondervan’s NIV Study Bible). There he proclaimed Jesus with miraculous signs – evil spirits came out of people and many were healed. Even though the Samaritans had nothing to do with the Jews (I will explain later), the message fell on fertile ground. The people repented and rejoiced!
Lesson: Simon Magus (magician/sorcerer) observes his followers listening to another. He too converts and begins to watch Philip’s every move. To fully appreciate the remainder of this lesson, a little history must be injected. The Jews in Judah (Palestine) had nothing to do with the Samaritans. This dates back to the Assyrian conquest of Israel (the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC).
The Jews there were deported or remained to mix with others that the Assyrians brought in. Considered a “mixed race,” they embraced Yahweh and anticipated Messiah, but they also infused magic and sorcery into their worship (syncretism). By the way, they claimed to be descendants of Abraham. Now, Simon is one of their spiritual leaders with great power. He is considered to be a chief representative of God. When the people begin to follow Philip, Simon loses his influence over them. He converts also and shadows Philip closely. He is amazed at the man’s power! Word reaches Jerusalem about the Samaritans’ conversion; “so the apostles send Peter and John to affirm the unity of all baptized believers” (Echoes Adult Teacher Commentary). Notice that they don’t preach because of their confidence in Philip. The people heard the Word and were baptized, but the Holy Spirit hadn’t come.
The apostles lay hands on them, praying that the Spirit will come. It does! Simon wants that power. His desire is so great that he approaches the apostles and offers to buy it. Peter immediately reprimands him by stating that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God. Peter condemns him. The rebuke is so strong that Simon asks Peter to pray that it does not happen. Scripture doesn’t say if Simon’s conversion was real initially or after his encounter with the apostles.
Application: Was Simon trying to regain his status in Samaria? Do we join the body of baptized believers to gain status, power and/or influence? The key issue here is God’s power is not for sale!! His gifts are exactly that – gifts. God doesn’t give them out based on race, ethnicity, status, education or portfolios! God decides who gets what. That’s great for all of us who can’t ask our parents! Faithful living is characterized by a humble heart and gratitude for all that He has given, is giving and will give! Power without love is an earthly illusion that does not fool God. Humility comes with growth and opens our eyes to the fact that it isn’t about us but GOD!