Whilst in Samaria Philip encounters a man called Simon, who had previously practiced magic. This is not a card-tricking entertainer, but an occult and satanic kind of magician. People were so enamoured with Simon that he was known as the power of God that is called Great. The Samaritans really believed Simon was somebody special.
Philip’s preaching seems to hit home, however, and Simon believes along with many others. He is baptised (8.13) and sticks with Philip and witnesses the great miracles performed.
Taking the words of Matthew 16.19 very seriously, the apostles sent to them Peter and John. They prayed with and for the new believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit in new and fresh ways (vv.16-17, cf. Ephesians 1.13-14). Simon sees this and grossly misunderstands (vv.18-19). Simon seems to think that the Holy Spirit is a power to be wielded and not a person to be obeyed, and offers the apostles money to become a dispenser of the Spirit. Simon wants to buy the kind of indwelling that comes by grace alone. The Holy Spirit cannot be controlled by human hands and the idea that we can buy the ability to distribute His power is so wrong. Consequently, Peter has strong words in response to Simon’s request:
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could acquire God’s gift with money! You have no share or part in this matter because your heart is not right before God! Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that he may perhaps forgive you for the intent of your heart. For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin.”
(Acts 8.20-23, NET)
Peter knows that the blessings of the Lord cannot be bought (Isaiah 55.1) and rebukes Simon in the strongest terms (v.20). Simon’s understanding and attitude towards the gifts of God, and therefore the Lord Himself, are wrong enough for Peter to see and correct but this is done with the goal of restoration:
“Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that he may perhaps forgive you for the intent of your heart. For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin.”
Simon passes all responsibility back to Peter (v.24) and whilst we read nothing else of his journey, he certainly gives us much to think about;
∼ Was his conversion in vv.12-13 real or did he simply go along with the crowd to perpetuate his local celebrity?
∼ Did he truly repent of this (v.24) or simply hope that Peter would do that for him?
We would do well today do dwell on the example of Simon here, but more than that, to dwell on the truth that the rich and deep indwelling of God’s Spirit that Simon wished to purchase is actually available to us all for free (Isaiah 55.1, Romans 8.9,1 Corinthians 12.13). What Simon tried to purchase, the indwelling Holy Spirit, is free for you and for me because Jesus purchased this powerful privilege for us with His death and resurrection.