God’s People, part 141 – Simon Magus

Read Acts 8:9-25

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Capital: Fall of Simon the MagicianPart 141: Simon Magus. The account of Simon Magus (or Simon the Magician) is an interesting one and it has captivated the imaginations of many people throughout the past two millennia. For instance, in Irish lore, Simon Magus came to the aid of Druids who were fiercely denouncing Christianity and, in Ireland, he became known as Simon the Druids.

Another example is the church of Santa Francesca Romana in Rome. That church was supposedly built upon the spot where Simon Magus died following a confrontation with Peter and Paul. In Danilo Kiš’s collection of stories, The Encyclopedia of the Dead, the opening story retells the confrontation between Simon Magus and Peter the Apostle. In that story, he asks to be buried alive in order to, like Jesus, be resurrected from the dead in three days. That didn’t, in the story, turn out so well for him.

Of course, none of these stories are historical and none of them really find much relation to what the Scriptures have to say. One must also wonder why is Simon portrayed to be such a “bad guy” in these legends. Was he portrayed that way in Scripture. What do we know about Simon?

So, here’s what Scripture tells us about this Simon the Magician. First, he was a Samaritan magician and/or sorcerer. He was well known for his “signs” and spectacle and he proclaimed himself to be someone great. In fact, the Samaritans referred to him as “the Great One­­–the power of God”, that is until Philipp the Apostle came and converted the Samaritans to be followers of Christ.

Now, one could imagine such a person of ill repute might grow bitter and jealous of Philip and see him as a threat; however, Simon did the opposite of that: He CONVERTED to Christianity. So far, it’s really hard to see why Simon is considered such a weaslely character in the legends about him. Once we move on to the arrival of Peter and John in Samaria, then we begin to understand what the fuss is all about. Whether or not, it holds up to the hype is up in the air.

In Acts, we are told that Peter and John arrived in Samaria to check out the great work that Philip had done. We are also told that upon their arrival, they laid hands on the believers who were then filled by the Holy Spirit, which had not yet been sent to them. Once he saw this, Simon offered money to Peter in hopes that Peter would give him that power in exchange. This outraged Peter who scolded Simon, by saying, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought!” (Acts 8:20, NLT)

With that said, Peter did not just condemn Simon Magus. In fact, he did not condemn Simon at all; rather, he sharply scolded him and then challenged him to repent of his sins. According to Peter, Simon Magus was filled with bitter jealousy and was held captive by sin. That much I think is clear. Simon was someone who saw himself as a great and powerful person and, while he may have converted to following Jesus Christ, he still wanted to be seen as a great and powerful person. Hence why Simon offered to buy the power of gifting the Holy Spirit to people.

Certainly, his jealousy and sin led him to foolishly try and bribe Peter; however, the Scriptures never tell us what became of Simon. Was he completely written off by the Apostles after he refused to repent, learn, and change? Or did he repent and change afterward? We simply do not know. We do know that Simon responded to Peter’s call for him to repent by saying, “Pray to the Lord for me that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!””  (Acts 8:24, NLT)

So, what do we make of the account of Simon Magus and his confrontation with Peter? One thing is for sure, Peter did not confront him in Rome with Paul, nor did he seemingly have ANY connection to the Druids in Ireland, and he most definitely did not ask to be buried alive. These are all legends that further smear a man that, for all we know, might have repented and lived out his days serving the Lord. We ought to be cautious and allowing extra-Biblical legends to lure us down a path of sinful judgment.

But we ought to be challenged by what we do know of Simon Magus. We know that God will have no part in bribery! We cannot buy our way into heaven, nor can we buy God’s favor. As a pastor, I have seen people use money and status to hold the church hostage. I have seen people threaten to withdrawl their money and/or their presence in order extort the church into following their will. That kind of behavior is NOT of God and it is not Christian.

There are other ways in which we can fall into such traps as well. We can try to bribe God with our works, with our money, with our prayers and just about every other means. We need, as Christians, to make sure that we repent of the times we have done that and cease to employ such sinful methods. We cannot buy and own God. Period. Let us be challenged by the hard lesson that Simon Magus learned so that we can avoid following in his footsteps.

“For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel.” – Martin Luther

Lord, give me the wisdom and humility to know your grace is the reason I am saved and that there is nothing I can do to earn my way into your favor. Help me to trust in you fully! Amen.

2 thoughts on “God’s People, part 141 – Simon Magus”

  1. Yes, we definitely shouldn’t try to bend the will of the church by threatening to withhold our money or our service.

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