Three Lessons from Simon the Magician

Last Lord’s Day in our congregation we were confronted by the unsettling figure of Simon the Magician in our series in the book of Acts (8:9-24). Luke seems to include his story in his treatment of the Samaritan church for the same kind of reason he includes Ananias and Sapphira in his chronicle of the Jerusalem church: to serve as a sobering warning to all churches. In particular he is a warning of at least three things:

1. The reality, power and danger of magic.

How many Christians think there is no such thing as magic? Listen to what John Wesley said on the subject, writing in his journal in 1768: ‘the giving up of [belief in] witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible.’ The Bible affirms clearly the existence of supernatural power, and gives many illustrations of how people successfully harnessed demonic power. 1 Samuel 28 records the story of Saul trying to contact spirit of Samuel through the medium of Endor. Whatever else this episode tells us, it shows us the reality of a spirit world. Whether it was actually the spirit of Samuel who came up out of the ground, or an evil spirit pretending to be Samuel, there is no question that a spirit appeared.

Or remember how the magicians of Egypt were able to perform some genuine miracles. Pharaoh’s wise men, sorcerers and magicians were able to turn their staffs into snakes by their occult arts, and to imitate the first two plagues on Egypt.

Simon the Magician was a man steeped in the occult who practiced real magic. Luke emphasizes just how successful he was in Samaria: They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ (Acts 8.10) He may not mean much to us, but he was a household name in Samaria—in the poorest and in the richest homes. Nor was Simon some cheap conjurer, pulling rabbits out of a hat or coins out of people’s ears: …they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. (Acts 8.11) You don’t keep a grip on the popular mind year after year by doing the same old tricks over and over. Simon the Magician had tapped into real supernatural, demonic power.

2. Believing the truth in your head is not the same as trusting it in your heart.

The commentators debate back and forth whether or not Simon was a true Christian or not. The reason why some are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt is because of Acts 8.13. When many people in Samaria were believing the message about Jesus Christ that Philip was preaching …even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. Simon the Magician believed the gospel. It’s not that he pretended to believe the gospel—he really did sincerely believe the message about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He of all people in Samaria had no problem believing in supernatural realities—he had witnessed them at work first-hand for many years.

But it becomes clear that although he believed the truth in his head, his heart was unchanged. Peter is given the ability by the Holy Spirit to look inside Simon’s heart and what he sees is very unpromising: ‘…your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.’ (Acts 8.22-23)

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Source: Church Leaders