“Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, ‘This man is what is called the Great Power of God.’ And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ 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 no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.’ But Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.’” (Acts 8:9–24).
We’re introduced to Simon, a magician, who was called, “The Great Power of God” because of his sorceries. For a long time, people sought him out to help with their problems. They gave him great heed because they believed he held a special wisdom and knowledge.
Luke writes that Simon, “formerly was practicing magic,” that is he no longer did. He believed the gospel, was baptized, and stopped practicing magic. He abandoned his claim to greatness when he encountered the One who was truly great, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So amazed was he at the saving power of Christ, that he followed Philip to learn as much as he could. He observed the signs and miracles, but as many of us would do, he drew conclusions based on his past experiences.
None of us comes to faith in Christ with full understanding of the Christian life. All of us have misconceptions about many things. That’s why the Great Commission includes teaching people to observe all that Christ commanded us (Matt. 28:20). Baptism and teaching are both elements of the Great Commission. We don’t just invite people to Jesus and go knock on the next door.
Luke matter-of-factly drops a theological bomb into the text: The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet fallen on anyone in Samaria. They’d only been baptized in Jesus’ name. What’s noteworthy is that Philip baptized everyone who believed without distinction – both “men and women alike” (v. 12). There was no multi-tiered standard for considering candidates for baptism. They believed and were baptized – period.
The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to pray for people to receive the Holy Spirit, something that Philip, evidently wasn’t called to do. The apostolic seal was essential to the proper establishment of the church in those early days. Though no apostles remain, God’s Word tells us what we need to know to maintain biblical order in the church (1 Tim. 3:15).
As Simon watched people receiving the Holy Spirit when the apostles laid hands on them, he drew a conclusion from his past. He’d received his powers for magic by buying them, and concluded that the apostles’ gift must work the same way. He wanted to be able to impart the Holy Spirit to people as well. So, he offered to pay Peter and John for the gift.
Peter, rightly rebuked Simon leaving no room for doubt that God’s gifts of grace cannot be bought. Some have thought that Peter’s reprimand revealed that Simon was a false convert, not a true believer, but listen to what Peter said: “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (v. 22).
He extended grace to Simon in the midst of a sharp rebuke. He didn’t just cut him off. He called him to repentance. Peter’s response lacked the gentleness that Jesus had showed him (Luke 22:31-32), but the message was the same. There is forgiveness to those who humble themselves before the Lord.
Simon responded, humbly I think, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (v. 24), demonstrating a contrite heart that was willing to turn from any remaining sin (and we all have some) in order to follow Christ fully and faithfully. He asked the apostles to pray for him that he might not fall into the horror of Peter’s words.
We’re not told if they laid hands on Simon to receive the Spirit, but nothing more was said. The matter was closed. A new believer was corrected and responded appropriately. The apostles moved on.
I cannot believe that Peter, whom Christ so graciously restored after he’d denied Him publicly three times, would proverbially through Simon under the bus for a single, ignorant indiscretion. Rather, the big fisherman must’ve embraced him and restored him as the Lord had done the apostle.
Remember, the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Gospel power overcomes all our sins, every single one, from first to last.
To God be the glory.