By Dr. Mark Scott
The four lessons of October focus on the two most famous apostles (Peter and Paul) giving bold testimony. Three of the lessons focus on Peter’s bold testimony. Peter used Jesus’ “keys” (Matthew 16:19) to open the door of faith to the Jews (Acts 2:1-47). Now Peter, with great help from Philip, used those same keys to open the door of faith to the Samaritans (8:9-24). While the Samaritans were geographically close to the Jews, they were ethnically far from them (2 Kings 17:1-41).
Simon’s Initial Conversion
Simon was a common name in the ancient world. At least nine different people are called Simon in the New Testament alone (Matthew 4:18; 10:4; 13:55; 26:6-13; 27:32; Luke 7:36-50; John 6:71; Acts 8:9-24; 9:43). The Simon in Acts 8 is usually known as Simon Magus. He was a magician (practiced sorcery), and essentially played for the other team. While this word magus can refer to astrologers like the Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-11), here the word means someone who taps into the spirit world for power (the occult). Evidently it worked. He amazed all the people of Samaria.
The word great (mega) occurs in our text. Simon thought he was great. The people of Samaria, both great (high or influential) and small gave Simon their attention saying, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” This self-assigned title kept Simon a long way from humility.
It did not take the people of Samaria long to discern the difference between the counterfeit power of Hell and the genuine power of the gospel. Philip, one of the seven servants selected in Acts 6:1-6 to “wait on tables,” was also an effective preacher. He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. That phrase does not appear often in Acts, but when it does the gospel is expanding into new areas. The Samaritans followed their faith in baptism.
Simon knew his gig was up. He believed and was baptized. There is no good reason to suspect that Simon’s faith was not genuine. Luke consistently uses the language of belief and baptism to describe a believer.
The Apostles’ Ongoing Conversion
The persecution that followed Stephen’s death (Acts 7:54–8:3) caused the Christians to scatter. But as they scattered, they evangelized (8:4). The apostles, on the other hand, stayed in Jerusalem (v. 1). Perhaps they were hiding, perhaps they were not viewed as a threat by the religious authorities, or perhaps they were a bit slow to embrace a greater ethnic appeal of the gospel. The Samaritans received the gospel and more. But maybe the trip north by the apostles was just as necessary for their conversion of sorts as it was for the Samaritans.
The mother church in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God. This means that the Samaritans had received the gospel message and had become believers (Acts 8:6, 12, 13). The apostles prayed and laid their hands on the Samaritans so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the Samaritans had received the Holy Spirit when they were originally baptized but had not received the miraculous powers of the Spirit. After all, Simon saw something (v. 18). Or perhaps God withheld the gift of the Spirit, ever so briefly, until the apostles had arrived so that the apostles could witness God’s heart for the Samaritans—a Samaritan Pentecost experience of sorts. Witnessing such would help the apostles jettison more of their racial prejudice. Everyone has a need for ongoing conversion.
The Reconversion of Simon
No one matures in Christ instantly. Three of the biggest sins are money, sex, and power. Simon’s weakness was power. He so wanted the Holy Spirit that he offered them money. It seems that he not only wanted power—he also wanted the office of apostle. Peter gave a bold testimony to Simon. Peter told Simon money cannot buy God’s gifts and the problem was the corruption of the heart.
Peter gave the standard advice that any Christian who falls into sin needs to hear: Repent of this wickedness and pray. Simon was not asked to be re-baptized, but he was asked to turn around and seek the Lord. There is no reason to believe that Simon was not sincere when he said, Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.
Simon Peter became Simon Magus’s best friend because, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5, English Standard Version).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.