Study 2 THE CASE OF SIMON THE SORCERER
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 8 -11)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 8:9-24
The fact that so many verses have been given to the ‘conversion’ of Simon the magician means that they must contain some very important lessons. The first few verses in this chapter are of triumph, progress and joy, because a great missionary movement was afoot (see verse 4); there was revival in Samaria; people were being converted, some were being healed, and others were being delivered from evil spirits. Our first reference to Simon is in verses 9-11, where we read of his powerful personality as a sorcerer and of his influence on the people. He heard the preaching of Philip and was greatly impressed by it, and when he saw people converted and confessing the Lord by baptism, he made a profession of faith and was baptised. Then Philip sent news to Jerusalem of what was happening, with the result that Peter and John arrived on the scene. This was a new situation among a new group of people, and in verses 14-17 we read that in order to attest the reality of what God was doing, Peter and John prayed for the new converts and laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (The Holy Spirit is received upon believing – look up and compare John 14:16-17; Acts 2:38-39). There was obviously evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, and when Simon saw this he asked to buy the power of the Holy Spirit! This led to all that followed…up to verse 24. What are the lessons we should learn from this solemn incident?
1. We must be prepared for disappointments in God’s work
It must have thrilled Philip when this well-known and outstanding personality, Simon, professed conversion, and when afterwards he was baptised – but what a setback it was when Peter and John came on the scene and challenged the reality of Simon’s conversion (verses 18-24)! Why do we get disappointments like this in the Lord’s work? There are three reasons:
- 1. Satan is very active. Wherever God is at work, so is the Devil, and one of his strategies is to counterfeit the work of God. Moreover, he does not let sorcerers go easily! We must always remember that we are engaged in a spiritual warfare – look up 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12.
- 2. We often make mistakes. Philip had to face this fact that presumably he had not discerned the lack of reality in Simon when he professed faith in Christ and asked to be baptised. But notice that Philip’s motive was right, and this is what God sees.
- 3. There are some lessons we can only learn through experience. It is so often through our failures and mistakes that we are warned and prepared, so that on future occasions we do not make the same mistakes.
What should we do at such times? See Philippians 3:13. We must not be beaten down by disappointment and discouragement from the Enemy.
2. Satan invariably shows himself after times of blessing
In verse 8 we read the positive words “there was great joy in that city”, but in verse 9 we move to the negative work of Simon. After a man has been converted, after a time of fresh dedication, after giving a testimony, then is the time to look out for the Enemy! The Lord Jesus was baptised (Matthew 3:13-17); now see how Matthew 4:1 reads! It was after the disciples had been on the Mount of Transfiguration that they came down into the valley and faced a situation where the Devil was at work (Luke 9:28-42). What is our safeguard? Look at James 4:6-10 – in this way we may be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
3. True conversion has to do with the heart, not only with the head
In Acts 8:13 we read that Simon “believed”, but look at verse 21! It would seem that he believed with his head but not with his heart (Romans 10:9-10). The devils believe (James 2:19); this means that they believe about the things of God and of Christ, but they do not trust in Him, which is to “believe” in the New Testament sense of the word. How do you stand regarding this matter?
4. There is need for catechising as well as for evangelising
Dr Alexander Whyte says that Philip was ‘a good evangelist but a poor catechist’ – that is, he knew how to preach the gospel but was not so skilled at speaking to people and ‘vetting’ them for baptism and church membership! Later, however, we see that he was indeed a good catechist (Acts 8:36-37). Before receiving people for baptism or for membership of our churches we must make sure they are truly saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), with a desire to live a separated, dedicated life – look up Romans 12:1-2.
5. God’s servants must be uncompromisingly faithful with each other and with their fellow-men
Notice how faithful Peter was in his dealings with Simon and how that he acted on conviction. He asked, ‘What is right in this situation…?’ It is not always easy to be faithful with those we are trying to help. One man said, ‘I like my pastor: he does not spare me!’ We should like friends of this calibre, for really they are our best friends (Proverbs 27:6). All this applies in our dealings with the unsaved. Let us always remember, however, that we are not the final judges of other people’s position in the sight of God – look what a hopeful verse Acts 8:24 is! Thank God, there is mercy with the Lord! Look up Psalm 103:8-12.
Do you feel you are beyond God’s mercy, that you have sinned so much that there is no hope for you? The Bible does not teach this – look up Isaiah 1:18.