Summary: A series of character sketches through the book of Acts - Simon Magus.
Acts 8:9-24 – God’s Power Through God’s People #6: Simon Magus
Today we are continuing our journey through the Book of Acts. We first started in chapter 1, looking at how Jesus promised the Holy Spirit for all of us to live upright lives. That was followed by Judas, a fellow who let sins ruin his life’s potential. Next we looked at Peter, whose life changed drastically, and who changed the world for God. Then we looked at a guy that Peter helped: a crippled beggar who was healed and used by God in Jerusalem. Last week we saw how Barnabas made such a difference for God by standing up for people.
Today’s message involves a fellow who was really interested in power, after seeing God’s power in action, but it was his downfall. His name is Simon, and his story is found in Acts 8:9-24. Let’s read.
Let’s look at a little background into this story. The church had been growing, centred in Jerusalem. Religious leaders, who were Jewish, grew tired of these new Christ-followers telling all the people that the Jewish ways were not enough for salvation: a person had to believe in Jesus. A fellow named Stephen was brought before the Jewish council, and rebuked them. They would not tolerate it anymore, and had Stephen killed for his faith. In a couple of weeks, Stephen will be the focus of the Sunday sermon, on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
After Stephen’s death, the Christians scattered from Jerusalem and took the message to others. Jesus said that: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria…” By the time of Acts 8, the disciples were indeed in Samaria, which is where they found Simon.
But what was Samaria? This is a relevant question. It was, and still is, a region north of Israel, north of Jerusalem. As you may be aware, it was populated by a group of people who didn’t get along well with true Israelites.
You see, what had happened: the kingdom of Israel was divided in the reign after Solomon, into the northern tribes and the southern tribes. There were 10 northern tribes, known as the Kingdom of Israel, and 2 southern tribes, known as the Kingdom of Judah. The southern tribes were defeated in 586BC by the Babylonians, were taken away into exile, but were eventually allowed to return. The Jews of the NT trace their origins back to these exiles.
The northern kingdom is a more complicated issue. They were defeated by the Assyrians in 722BC, some 150 years earlier than the southern kingdom. Now, the Assyrians also sent their defeated foes into exile, and these Jews lost their ethnic identity. They were assimilated into the culture of other lands, and became lost in history. They are known today as the Lost Tribes of Israel.
But not all of the northern kingdom peoples became lost. Some were able to flee south to Jerusalem, where they gradually assimilated into the Judahite population. Others, especially in the rural areas of Israel, remained and were assimilated to the incoming people of the Assyrian empire. These were the Samaritans. They were half-Jews, half-foreigners. The result was mixed blood, and mixed beliefs. The people adapted some non-Jewish religious beliefs to become a hodge-podge of worship and tradition.
Several hundred years after the Assyrian exile, that can be seen in this guy named Simon. He is often referred to as Simon Magus – Magus meaning magician. Other times he is Simon the sorcerer. Either name is fine, because what’s important is that you can see the attitude. He is Samaritan, with some traditional Jewish beliefs, but quite willing to mix them with other beliefs as he saw fit. The OT clearly condemns witchcraft, but nonetheless, he practiced it.
And the magic isn’t just sleight-of-hand, like today’s magicians, or rather, illusionists. No, what he practiced was real magic, communicating with demons to make the physically impossible actually happen. He likely spent a lot of money over the course of his life to buy books and spells, and to receive the training necessary, to be able to accomplish his tricks.
He had been fairly well-known in those parts. The locals called him the Great Power. They thought he was divine. They thought he was someone powerful. He had amazed them for so long with what he could do. But that changed when Philip the evangelist showed up in town. He preached the gospel, and people’s lives were changed. Many believed the message that Philip brought, and were baptized.
Even Simon heard the message, believed, and was baptized. Now, in my research, I found preachers who feel that it was a show, or not genuine. They don’t believe that Simon was really saved. I found others who go the other way, as well. Yes, he believed in Jesus, and at the time he meant it.