Acts 8:14-25: Not for sale:


14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.  18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”  24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”  25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

In terms of Acts 8 as a whole, I think this extract from Alexander Maclaren is outstanding:

‘’The scattering of the disciples was meant by men to put out the fire, but, by Christ, to spread it. A volcanic explosion flings burning matter over a wide area.  Luke takes up one of the lines of expansion, in his narrative of Philip’s doings in Samaria, which he puts first because Jesus had indicated Samaria first among the regions beyond Judaea {Acts 1:8}. Philip’s name comes second in the list of deacons {Acts 6:5}, probably in anticipation of his work in Samaria. How unlike the forecast by the Apostles was the actual course of things! They had destined the seven for purely ‘secular’ work, and regarded preaching the word as their own special engagement. But Stephen saw and proclaimed more clearly than they did the passing away of Temple and ritual; and Philip, on his own initiative, and apparently quite unconscious of the great stride forward that he was taking, was the first to carry the gospel torch into the regions beyond. The Church made Philip a ‘deacon,’ but Christ made him an ‘evangelist’; and an evangelist he continued, long after he had ceased to be a deacon in Jerusalem {Acts 21:8}.

Observe, too, that, as soon as Stephen is taken away, Philip rises up to take his place. The noble army of witnesses never wants recruits. Its Captain sends men to the front in unbroken succession, and they are willing to occupy posts of danger because He bids them. Probably Philip fled to Samaria for convenience’ sake, but, being there, he probably recalled Christ’s instructions in Acts 1:8, repealing His prohibition in Matthew 10:5. What a different world it would be, if it was true of Christians now that they ‘went down into the city of So-and-So and proclaimed Christ’! Many run to and fro, but some of them leave their Christianity at home, or lock it up safely in their travelling trunks.

Jerusalem had just expelled the disciples, and would fain have crushed the Gospel; despised Samaria received it with joy. ‘A foolish nation’ was setting Israel an example {Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19}. The Samaritan woman had a more spiritual conception of the Messiah than the run of Jews had, and her countrymen seem to have been ready to receive the word. Is not the faith of our mission converts often a rebuke to us?’’

Regarding today’s specific passage, F.B. Meyer makes the point that some people seem to be particularly gifted when it comes to leading others into the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s blessing (14-17). I think he has a point, and my experience of church life, all-be-it limited, seems to bear this out.

As we saw yesterday, Simon was used to being on a pedestal; but the preaching of the gospel in Samaria put this all too human being into perspective. The populace got weaned off Simon and on to Jesus. Their attention was re-directed. Although Simon professed conversion and was baptised, reading between the lines it seems that he was still thinking about his own following; he wanted spiritual power for the wrong reasons.

What are we to make of Simon? Did he become a Christian or didn’t he? For me, the jury is out. I lean towards thinking that he professed salvation without possessing it. I think (22, 23) may indicate this. But perhaps not. We are all a complex mixture. We know from our own hearts that even after someone genuinely knows Christ, he/she can be a nest of vipers. Even after many years as a Christian you can be aware of poisonous motives and attitudes wriggling and squirming around your insides. Have you never wanted a right thing for the wrong reason?