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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Are you really saved? Acts 8:9-25:

Last time we saw that Philip, one of the seven due to the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem had to move to Samaria. He had an effective ministry amongst the Samaritans which was authenticated by miraculous signs and wonders. The whole scene is somewhat confusing in that up until now the gospel had been preached to and had affected mostly Jewish listeners. Now it was being preached in Samaria to a people who had turned their backs on orthodox Jewish faith and who were considered by the Jews to be heretics of the worst kind. The confusion is made more difficult by the entrance of Simon the sorcerer.

Simon’s credentials:

The fact that Luke tells us that he was the sorcerer tells us much about this man. He was a pagan. A follower of the occult, involved in magic arts and divination but there is more. Look at his nick name, he was known also as the “Great Power!” This was the name by which the expected Messiah would be known, what Simon declared about himself was that he was God’s Messiah! Luke records that he was also known by the people as the divine power. This man by his own estimation and that of many others was divine. He was god on earth; that tells us much about him and helps us to understand what is happening in the passage. The people have been used to seeing him about his business, amazing them with his ability and no doubt his preaching. The people were under his spell and consequently bound by the god whom he served. The devil is the one who claims to be the great power. Simon is also portraying what the devil promised to Adam and Eve in Eden. Satan told them that if they followed his directives rather than God’s then they would become like God or a great power! Simon had fallen foul of devilish influence; he was leading people to hell rather than heaven. We would do well to keep this in mind when we see and hear of people who are caught up with devilish practices, they always point people to hell!

There is something else that is helpful in this passage for us; we do not find Philip treating Simon differently in any way and neither do Peter and James later on. They are not fazed by the man’s reputation. The gospel far supersedes any power that man or the devil might aspire to! Many Christians today feel the need for spiritual jiggery pokery when it comes to dealing with people who are under the influence of the devil. It is right to be cautious but always to remember that “He that is within us is greater than He that is in the world!” The devil is no match to God, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who will believe and that includes the Simon types! Philip simply proclaimed gospel truth and Simon was affected. The way that he was affected we will deal with in a moment or two but before then we need to remember that whenever the gospel is preached there are many unknown quantities in the congregation and so we must preach the word faithfully without fear or favour whatever we might think of our audience. We offer the gospel simply and faithfully to all, whether rich or poor, old or young, good or bad or even dignitaries or tramps. Whoever they are they deserve the gospel to be preached honestly and fairly!

Simon’s faith:

These really are amazing times, we are quite jealous that the gospel does not seem to be so effective here in Wales. Many had believed in Philip’s preached word and had been baptized. Simon was one of them, but these were confusing times. It was the beginning of the spread of the gospel. Jesus had told His disciples to spread out from Jerusalem into Samaria where Philip was at this time and then to continue into the whole world. The confusion came when Samaritans and Gentiles started to be converted! Samaritans are interested in the truth but is it really a work of God? That was the problem for the church in Jerusalem. They had heard the reports and needed to check out whether this is real or bogus. Peter and John are therefore commissioned by the Apostles to go and check it out.

When they arrive they discover that Simon and many others did believe in the gospel. They had also been baptized as a sign to show that they had changed their allegiance to Christ but there was something sadly missing. Their faith was in the truth of the gospel but it had never been applied to any of them by the Holy Spirit of God. They were simply faithful believers but not yet disciples. Peter and John recognise the confusion and so deal with the difficulty. It is at this point that we have to be very careful. This is not a passage for us to build a doctrine upon, these were confusing times and the confusion is being dealt with. God by His Spirit is at work powerfully through Peter and John. He had given them the authority and the faith to lay hands on these believing people in order that God through them might work powerfully in true saving grace. We cannot be truly saved until God the Holy Spirit makes our hearts His home!  Many on that day experienced God’s grace but clearly Simon did not!
So what of Simon’s faith? The evidence shows that he had no saving faith at all. It is true to say that he was fascinated by the gospel and enjoyed the association which he had with it by following Philip to observe his ability to work miracles. Simon also thought that he could pay for the gift that Peter and John had to impart the Holy Spirit! The “great power” was being somewhat upstaged and so to be at the centre of attention he needed to be able to do just as these men were doing in the hope of eventually upstaging them and once again becoming “king-pin!” Simon’s faith was in himself alone. He was therefore merely a religious man that now believed in Jesus. He may have said the equivalent of the sinner’s prayer, he would have testified to faith in Jesus when he was baptized. He had been baptized as a declaration that he now followed Jesus but he was in reality unconverted! You may consider me to be rather harsh in saying this but bear with me for a few moments and I will show you why I believe that to be the case. Before then we need to consider Simon’s faith and apply it to our situation.

There was a new church being born, people in Samaria were being converted, they were committing themselves to Christ and to the gospel and ultimately to each other as the church. They were becoming one in heart and mind just as the believers in Jerusalem had become. They were trusting God for their salvation and then there is this “all important Simon!” He is different, instead of being under authority he wants to be the authority. There are people just like that in the church, they are involved, probably have been baptized, have a great testimony. But they are unconverted, they are interested in Jesus for their own purposes, they might even have great theology and great bible knowledge. They may orthodox and appear to be model Christians but they are trusting in their own ability rather than on Christ. If you are one of them beware:

Because there is a strong warning from Peter to such people:

Peter’s warning:

Look again at verses 18-23. Let me read them from J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase of the passage:
“When Simon saw how the Spirit was given through the apostles’ laying their hands upon the people he offered them money with the words, “give me this power too, so that if I were to put my hands on anyone he could receive the Holy Spirit.” Today we might be tempted to treat such a thing lightly and with indifference. We often bury our heads in the sand rather than confront error. Peter was not like that, he was horrified at what Simon was saying. Peter recognised that Simon was in mortal danger and he was not afraid to tell him as it really is. Our English translations do not fully reveal what Peter actually said to Simon. They all simply say that Peter says may your money perish with you. That does not have the full impact unless we link it to John 3:16 where it says that God gave His Son in order that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but will have everlasting life. The problem is that the word perish has lost its full power because we use the same word for a feeling of cold and a slow deterioration of goods. J.B. Phillips says this: “But Peter said to him, “to hell with you and your money!” In the footnote he also adds “These words are exactly what the Greek means. It is a pity that their real meaning is obscured by modern slang usage!” These truly are strong words that many today would take offence at but equally many would also in Simon’s day. Simon himself seemed to have taken it well but we will soon discover the effect that it really had. Before then, there is a lot more that Peter boldly declared. Listen to J.B. Phillips again: “To hell with you and your money! How dare you think you could buy the gift of God! You have no share or place in this ministry, for your heart is not honest before God. All you can do is repent of this wickedness of yours and pray earnestly to God that the evil intention of your heart may be forgiven. For I can see inside you, and I see a bitter man with jealousy and bound with his own sin!”  Peter did not fall for Simon’s false profession or his apparent zeal to be with God’s people. He was not interested in his money to buy power but he was free with the truth. He did not shy away from telling it as it was. Gospel witness requires straight talk, to treat Simon with kid gloves at that stage would have left him in self-security and also it would have given the church the impression that wrong thinking is OK-ish! Peter simply told Simon “unless you repent you will go to hell and that is where the money you offer deserves to be also.” The church does not need the money of unrepentant people who think that by plying the church with finance then they gain gifts from God. God hates such an approach and so should the church. If you are trusting in what you give whether it be money, time or effort to the cause of the gospel then with Peter the church must say “to hell with your efforts along with you because you are also full of evil intent.” We must also say along with Peter there is hope; you must repent of such thinking. Call on the mercy of God for the forgiveness of your sin and you will be saved. 

 So what was Simon’s response to Peter’s plea?

Simon’s response:

Verse 24 says it all: “please pray to the Lord for me that none of these things that you have spoken about may not come upon me.” Did he not listen to Peter? Peter said to him “you must repent!” I am sure that Peter and the church prayed for Simon but the prayers of the saints never saved anyone; it is the personal prayer of repentance by an unrepentant sinner that brings salvation to the person. Simon wanted it to be done for him and whilst he continued in that frame of mind he continued living in unforgiven sin he would ultimately walk through life and into hell. Peter was not his priest; he could not intercede on behalf of Simon! We have a Great High Priest in heaven who intercedes on behalf of repentant sinners. He has made the offering which is acceptable to God and by which relationship is made possible! Peter never was and never will be God’s vicar on earth. That is our Jesus!
Peter’s strong words it appears were like water off a duck’s back, they had no effect at all on Simon; but what about you? The church has many strong words for you; will you take notice and do as Christ commands? Will you repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order that you might be saved.

Interestingly after Peter had spoken with Simon he and John left it at that. They left Simon to consider what had been said and they went on their way. Christians we would do well to take notice, at this point it has all been said. We do not need to have classes or debates we simply leave the work to God’s Holy Spirit, He is far more convincing than our little arguments can ever be. Our command is to declare the gospel and to trust god to give the increase. Let us not meddle in the work of the Holy Spirit.

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