And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
This was the way the story of Jesus spread throughout the world, and it happened in a relatively short period of time. First, through the preaching of Peter and John, and the healing of many diseases, large numbers of believers in Jerusalem (at one count, 5,000 people) were added to the church. Then, threatened by the success of the church and the belief that Jesus was not the Messiah and that this was a cult that needed to be quelled before it gained any more ground, the persecution began from the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Little did they know that they were only stoking the fire, as their persecution scattered believers like burning embers throughout the region, each believer acting as a missionary appointed to spread the good news of Jesus wherever they went. One of those places they went was Samaria, next on the list of God’s agenda for the growing church, and the apostle who first went there to preach was Phillip.
“Crowds [in Samaria] listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:6-8).
Now in Samaria there was a man named Simon who was a sorcerer and magician who amazed the people and claimed to have the power of God. When Simon saw the miracles Phillip was performing, he was amazed, and he too believed and was baptized.
So when the apostles in Jerusalem heard about what was going on in Samaria, they sent Peter and John who came and laid hands on the new believers and they received the Holy Spirit. Most likely there was visible evidence of the Holy Spirit among these believers much like there was in Jerusalem at Pentecost mostly to show the apostles that this was the same thing. We don’t know for sure whether there were tongues of fire present again, but there was probably speaking in other languages — something to indicate a power no human could duplicate. It was significant enough that when Simon saw it, he immediately offered Peter money to receive the same power. Peter was appalled that Simon would try and buy God’s gift. “I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin” (8:23).
This is the first evidence of someone trying to benefit from commodifying the gospel. It makes me think of the money, power and glory that have compromised many ministries in our culture in the last few decades as a multi-billon-dollar Christian subculture has gained influence in the church, in politics and in the world. In such an environment, you can’t always be sure about motivations and ambition. The early apostles would have dealt severely with such a thing as Peter did. The gifts of God are always given to bless others, never to bless ourselves or increase our personal empires. Are we kingdom builders or empire builders? When we further the kingdom of God, we all benefit.
Simon did not come to the church confessing his sins and humbled by what Jesus Christ had accomplished for him through His death and resurrection. He was enamored by the power of God, and since he was already in the “power of God” business, he wanted some of it for himself — so much so that he walling to pay for it.
There will always be counterfeit Christians. Wherever money, power, sex and/or glory come into play, there will always be shysters to take advantage of the opportunity. Beware any opportunity for personal gain around the spreading of the gospel message.
The power that comes through the Holy Spirit is never for us. Nor is it ever an end in itself. You don’t get the Holy Spirit so you can get the Holy Spirit. What’s the point of that? The power of the Holy Spirit operates in us to lend credibility to the gospel message. Acts is a book of evangelism and new beginnings. It’s about a message that transforms. As far as the story goes, Simon was not transformed. He was still the same Simon, trying to use the power of God to further his own agenda. Had he been transformed, he would have been remorseful of his own trickery, and he would have wanted to learn as much as he could about this new gospel at the feet of the apostles. He would have repented of and loathed anything that had to do with his own glory or the manipulation of people to his own ends.
Politicians have used Christianity for political gain. Pastors, athletes, faith healers, and television evangelists have used the gospel for personal gain. These are empire builders, not kingdom builders. There is a big difference. Empires are centered around a person; the kingdom is all about God.
Remember, “He must increase; I must decrease.” HE>i