Event(s): The Gospel extends to Samaria; Simon the Sorcerer
Today’s Text:Acts 8:4-25
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 8:26-40
Stephen had just been martyred and his death resulted in igniting the first mass persecution of The Church. This open hostility towards believers was most present in Jerusalem, so believers began leaving Jerusalem to find a safer place to live. The good news is, they didn’t let this persecution silence them. Instead, they took the message of the Gospel with them, and began to spread it wherever they went.
The Bible uses the word, “scattered”, the same word Jesus had used when sharing the parable of the sower, “scattering seed”. Like leaven, like seed, the work of the kingdom cannot be stopped. Even if sin abounds, God’s grace that much more abounds (Romans 5:20). And whatever the enemy intends for bad, God will use it for His good (Psalm 21:11; Genesis 50:20).
“God works maturity and redemptive good in the midst of evil.” –The New Spirit Life Bible
Acts 8:5 “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria” In Matthew 10, we find the names of the first twelve disciples. Among them was a disciple named Philip, however this Philip is not the same one. This Philip, like Stephen, was most likely a Hellenist Jew (see day 11 for more on what this terms means).
In his willingness to take the Gospel to Samaria, we begin to see Jesus’ words fulfilled from Acts 1:8, that the Gospel would spread – first to Judea, then to Samaria and then ultimately, to the ends of the earth. Philip wasn’t looking for a safe place to land. There was enormous racial tension between the Samaritans and the Jews. And at the risk of being rejected, possibly even harmed, Philip took the Gospel to the Samaritans because he knew it was important for them to know that God had united them in Christ.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit has a way of changing our hearts. One of the ways we can know we have been touched by the love of Christ is when we discover a newfound love for people we may have once thought intolerable.
Acts 8:6 “the things spoken…and…the miracles which he did” Again, we see the life of believers marked not only by what they said, but by their acts, as evidenced through miracles and healings.
Acts 8:9 “Simon, who previously practiced sorcery…” The sorcery Simon performed was an ability to control people and/or nature, by demonic power. Obviously, this was a counterfeit of the real thing, but it made him very popular amongst the people. So, part of the way he promoted himself was to make people think he was a “great power” whom God had sent.
Acts 8:18 “he offered them money” Simon wanted to buy the ability to lay hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. When we first read this, we can (hopefully) feel something in our hearts that tells us that’s wrong. God’s gifts are gifts; people cannot purchase them. Jesus paid the price for anything we receive as a result of our relationship with Him. But being so new in the faith, and having been familiar with receiving payment for unusual manifestations, Simon probably didn’t quite know how to process what he saw. However, it wasn’t just ignorance that prompted his assumption that the gift(s) of God could be bought. There was something much deeper at work here.
Acts 8:23 “for I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound with iniquity.” Peter immediately discerned bitterness in Simon’s heart, as the source that prompted that assumption. For whatever reason, Simon was bitter, and at the root of his wanting this gift, was a desire to control people with it. This is probably why he turned to sorcery in the first place–because it allowed him to experience a degree of power. It allowed him to draw a sense of significance from what he did.
Simon had an inner wound, but was going about trying to heal it with a counterfeit method. He dealt with his wound by controlling others through sorcery, but what he didn’t realize was that he was the one who was actually being controlled – bound in his iniquity. Simon desperately needed to experience forgiveness. He needed to experience God’s forgiveness for going about this the wrong way, and he needed to forgive whatever or whomever he was bitter towards, so that he could be freed from what bound him so tightly. Until he did that – his iniquity – his propensity to live according to the leading of his flesh vs the Spirit – would have the upper hand.
One of the greatest inhibitors to sensing the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to hearing the voice of the Lord in our hearts, to operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit….is unforgiveness. It is no surprise that Peter referred to it as poison in verse 23 because to our soul, that’s exactly what it is. Ask anyone who has walked with God for a number of years, search the scriptures to see how the enemy attacked the fathers of our faith, and you will find that the single most popular trap the enemy lays for God’s people is to cause them to become bitter about something.
If we are to walk in the acts we read of throughout the Bible, if we are to experience all This New Life has to offer, then we must learn above all, how to guard our hearts and keep them pure. If there’s any wound there, we must be quick to admit it, and honest enough with ourselves and with God and let Him heal it. We must not harbor pain, which will only lead to bitterness, bondage, and a misuse of the power and authority God gives.
The MSG Bible captures the heart of Psalm 139 so beautifully, “Investigate my life O God, find out everything about me, cross-examine and test me…” Today, let’s be honest before God and ask Him to search our hearts to see if we are harboring any offenses. It may be something that happened years ago that we finally need to let go of. It may be a tiny little snarky remark someone said at work yesterday. Whether big or small, those offenses can add up and clog our receptivity to the Holy Spirit. By focusing on God’s great forgiveness towards us, we can access His grace to forgive others.