By Sam E. Stone
The church of Jesus Christ began in Jerusalem (Acts 2), but it did not stay there. Just as Jesus had directed, the early believers moved out of the city, bearing witness to their faith “in all Judea and Samaria” as well (Acts 1:8). Today’s text focuses on the ministry of Philip in Samaria. Like Stephen, whom we studied the past two weeks (Acts 6:8–8:2), Philip was also one of “the seven” chosen to be servant leaders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-7). They actively bore witness to their faith in Christ, even as they helped widows in the congregation. Later Philip is referred to as an “evangelist” (Acts 21:8).
As he preached in a Samaritan city, great crowds came to hear him. They saw the miraculous signs he did, including the healing of many paralytics and cripples. The purpose of these miracles was to confirm the message preached (Mark 16:20). But there was a problem—a sorcerer named Simon. Today’s text provides an up-close look at the conversion of one who practiced this evil.
The apostles remained in Jerusalem when the persecution of the church intensified. Many Christians left the city and began taking the gospel wherever they traveled. Jesus had told his disciples they would be his witnesses in all the world. Philip was very well received, but a famous sorcerer there still held many in his grip. This man boasted that he was someone great, and all the people . . . exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” Claiming to be God’s personal representative, he performed amazing signs. Simon was boastful and proud. He solicited praise from those he tried to impress. Throughout Acts, miracles are shown to be in mortal conflict with magic (13:6-12; 19:11-20).
Simon saw that the miracles Philip performed were different than his. He was astonished by the great signs he saw. These were not tricks to fool people so you could get their money; these were the real thing! Seeing these signs convinced him they truly had God’s power. Like countless others in Samaria, Simon also believed and was baptized. W. R. Walker rightly observes, “No good reason exists for doubting the genuineness of his faith. It was imperfect, but he was only a beginner. All faith is imperfect at first. It is a thing that grows.”
When news reached the church in Jerusalem of the receptivity of those in Samaria, they sent Peter and John there. Interestingly Peter is not pictured as the one over everyone else, directing them. Instead he and John were sent by the other apostles to view firsthand this evangelistic effort. They prayed for the new believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit. The believers had already received the gift of the Holy Spirit upon their baptism into Christ, of course. This is promised to all repentant believers when they are immersed (Acts 2:38). The apostles prayed that these new believers could perform miraculous signs just as Philip had done. They placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. These powers of the Holy Spirit seem to have come only with the laying on of hands by the apostles (see Acts 6:6; 19:1-7; 2 Timothy 1:6).
In Simon’s past life, he was used to buying secrets and magic tricks from other sorcerers. Then he could use them to advance his career and secure wealth. J. W. McGarvey suggests, “His overruling avarice, mingled with a passion for popular applause . . . prompted him to make the offer. . . . The blinding effect of these passions prevented him from seeing the wickedness of either offering money for this power, or of intending to sell it to others.”
When he tried to purchase the Holy Spirit for his use, Peter bluntly told Simon, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!” The apostle told him, “Your heart is not right before God.” Then he commanded, “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you.” Simon quickly asked them to pray for him. When a non-Christian believes, he is told to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), but when a believer slips back into sin, he is told to repent and pray. When Simon learned he had done wrong, he immediately repented, like the Simon did who rebuked him (W. R. Walker).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.