Simon Magus and the Samaritan Pentecost

Last night our Thursday night Bible study group looked at the first 25 verses in Acts 8.  It was a great time of fellowship and study.  The big challenge that came out of the study was this: Philip shows us that loving the Samaritans by sharing the gospel with them is what God would also have us do.  Are we loving the “unlovable” people in our lives, or are we simply ignoring them and talking with our same circle of friends?

Here are my notes from last night…

PJW

8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

This is an example of one of the greatest miscalculations in history.  Satan has recently been completely flummoxed by the amazing triumph of Christ:

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:15)

And here we see that far from that triumph being a momentary one, Jesus has sent His Spirit to indwell His followers, and instead of persecution squelching the fire of the gospel it only serves to fan its flames. And by the killing of Stephen, we see that Satan’s strategy of annihilation – a strategy that was predicted in Gen. 3 – has backfired, and caused men and women to leave their homes and flee…and take their new found lives and passion for the gospel of Jesus to the utter most parts of the world.

From the perspective of those new Christians this must have seemed like a tremendous setback at the least and a scary and dangerous situation for their families.

 

8:2-3 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. [3] But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

This word “ravaging” is an amazing word describing Saul’s actions.  In the Greek it means literally, “to treat shamefully or with injury, to ravage, devastate, ruin.” John Stott puts it colorfully, “The verb lumaino expresses a brutal and sadistic cruelty.”

This is quite a characterization – one that enables us to understand more of Paul’s words when he says:

 

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Tim. 1:15)

 

Note the force of the description, that he “dragged” them off to prison. Oh how zealous he was for doing the right thing in the name of his religion…

 

8:4-8 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. [5] Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. [6] And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. [7] For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. [8] So there was much joy in that city.

And here we get to see the results of the proclamation of the gospel.  The strife that these new Christ followers encountered when one of their own was murdered has been turned into joy for many many people – starting with people of Samaria.

We also see no clearer example of what it means to both love your enemy and love your neighbor.  For the Samaritans and the Jews had “no dealings” with one another.  But there were neighbors, and Christ had instructed His disciples to go and proclaim the good news to them and all the ends of the earth.  Here is the first partial fulfilling of the great commission of Christ.

I also can’t help but smirk with delight at the reaction of the demons.  Thus far this chapter is a record of the defeat and embarrassment of Satan.  For thousands of years he had been able to “roam to and fro” on the earth (Job 1), but now his power had been severely limited by the dynamic spreading in of the kingdom of God.  You see, Christ ushering in the kingdom didn’t simply mean that He would be reigning from heaven, it also meant that He would be expanding His kingdom on the earth and using His disciples to do that! His renewed image-bearers would now be adopted and sent on a mission empowered by His Holy Spirit. What an amazing paradigm shift!           

 

8:9-11 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. [10] They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” [11] And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.

One can’t help notice when reading this passage that Simon’s entire life revolved around himself. His goal was to be noticed and to proclaim to others how “great” he was.  So quickly we get a character sketch of a man who practiced magic, and went around telling all who would listen how wonderful he was. He sounded like a huckster…but the sad thing is that his magic tricks were convincing enough to have fooled many into believing him.  But all of that was about to change…

8:12-13 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. [13] Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

When Philip came to town the power of God overwhelmed those who had previously been impressed by Simon’s amateur magic show. The contrast between the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and the shallow tricks of a conjurer couldn’t have been more pronounced to these people, and it changed them forever.

In the second part of the passage we see that “even Simon himself believed” and then was baptized.  There has been a great deal of speculation as to whether or not this man was ever truly converted, it is my opinion from the context clues we read in the text, that he was not genuinely converted, but rather “amazed” into believing these guys were something great – maybe even greater than himself!

After all, he was a magician, and he looked on admiringly at the abilities these apostles had to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons.  He probably thought they were in the same line of work, and that he’d stumbled on some “real pros!”

8:14-18 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, [15] who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, [16] for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [17] Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. [18] 

This is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, some might say.  The difficulty arises in that we see here another instance in which the Holy Spirit doesn’t yet fall on these Samaritans despite their believe in Christ.  They have apparently been made alive from the dead, but have not yet been permanently indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  The reason this is so odd is that it is not the usual operation of the Spirit today.  For as we know, it is the usual practice for the Spirit to immediately come to live within those whose hearts have been quickened by His power and confess the name of Christ in belief.

Some have wondered why Peter and John came themselves to lay hands on them.  Why would the great pillars of the early church need to be there for this to happen?  It isn’t as though God needed their help to give these people His Spirit. In fact we see no other instance in which it requires an apostle to be present for the Spirit to “fall” on someone.

There are all kinds of suggestions about why this is, but from what I have read and can discern, the most plausible is that the purpose for the event to have occurred this way would be so that God’s work of redemption for the Samaritans would be widely spread, and a matter of public knowledge.  God is proclaiming that His salvation is not simply for the Jews alone, but for all who will believe, and He uses His apostles to confirm the fact that He is working in the Samaritans.

Later Peter will travel to the God-fearers, and the gentiles and the Spirit will fall on them to the great amazement of the church in Jerusalem.  In fact, it’s probably safe to say that had Peter not reported his eye witness account of the Spirit falling on the house of Cornelius that many would not have believed. But Peter’s presence confirms for the church that God is working in a way in which they had previously thought impossible.

God is still showing these people that He is a God who is steadfast and keeps His promises.  He is fulfilling His promise to Abraham that in him the nations would be blessed.

8:18b-19 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, [19] saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

If it wasn’t obvious that Simon’s confession/belief wasn’t genuine before, it ought to be now.  He simply sees that the apostles have something that he doesn’t, and wants it for his own.  He wants to use the power of God for his own gain.  Frankly, I don’t think he fully understood what he was asking, or else he wouldn’t have been so overt in his request.

Today we have a saying/term for those who try to use money to gain the favor of the church or the blessing of God – we call it “Simony.”

8:20-24 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! [21] You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. [22] Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. [23] For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” [24] And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

These are strong words from Peter.  He says that Simon is in the “gall of bitterness” and the “bond of iniquity.”  These are the words that confirm to many scholars that Simon was never saved in the first place.  Being in the “bond” of iniquity is not what characterizes Christians, for listen to what Paul says in Romans:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)

What I see here is a man who is still enslaved to sin and needs to repent. But what is his reaction to Peter’s rebuke?  It is a desire to avoid the punishment, not to repent.

Simon is like a wretched characterization of so many people in this world who want all the blessing of God, but do not want to truly repent of their sins. They want to be in heaven, but they’re hoping Jesus isn’t there!

Secondly look at what Peter says “You have neither part nor lot in this matter.” I think he says this because that’s exactly what Simon wanted – he wanted to be a part of getting the “credit.” Obviously that’s not what the focus on ministry is all about.  It’s not about the minister its about the One he represents.

8:25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Despite the run in with Simon that didn’t stop their mission, they kept on preaching the gospel. This verse seems like an afterthought, a tidy conclusion to the incident with Simon and the amazing Pentecost that just occurred in Samaria.  But its far more than that, it’s a testimony to the faithfulness of God.

Think about it, when you encounter a difficulty spiritually or emotionally, its easy to get depressed or to allow that incident to consume your thoughts. We sometimes get weighed down in the paralysis of emotion while we turn the incident over again and again in our minds.

But God offers us a greater grace to get past these trials and continue to do the work He has laid out for us. That is the faithfulness of God – to secure our hearts and comfort us by giving us the peace that passes all understanding.

So more than just an afterthought, this is a record of the faithfulness of God – even in the small things.  He will not allow one man to disrupt the spreading of the gospel.

Study Notes 2-10-13

John 11:28-44 – The Raising of Lazarus

11:28-29 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers.  When someone is touched by the words of Christ and their heart is captured by God, they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.

The second thing I think is notably here is the reaction of Mary – she “quickly” rose up and went to find Christ. This reminds me of Philip and how he quickly and immediately obeyed the Spirit in Acts 8.  This is a trait of a true follower of Christ.  When we are called to His side, when we are asked to do something, do we obey?  Or do we hesitate?  Do we run to our master, the healer, the Lord?  Or…do we stay in our homes sobbing over a loss or a heartache. Mary, as stunned and hurt as she was by the loss of her brother ran quickly to find Jesus.  May we do the same.

11:30-32 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring.  They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites.  What was on their heart and their mind here was what they knew of Jesus: absolute love. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents. He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve!  He came to serve! Incredible how these women knew the heart of Christ so well, so for them, this wasn’t a big mystery. If Jesus had been there, His love would surely have spilled out over our brother. “That’s just who He is”, they think. Their hearts loved His heart.

11:33-36 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Compassion for His Sheep

If these verses don’t show you something of the humanity of Christ, then you are not reading the same text I am reading.

Mary is in tears – not simply a small stream of tears, she is weeping. She is weeping for her brother, but also because she has been stirred again emotionally by the presence of Christ.  It’s not been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened it all over again and she bursts forth in tears. The love she has for Jesus, and the painful reality of her loss are intersecting in a mass of human emotion that simply cannot be held back.

And Jesus sees this and his spirit is “greatly troubled” and He too begins to weep.

Why is this His response?  It is because of the love He has for His sheep. His compassion for His children is evident here in these verses.  I believe John recorded this incident for a reason. He knew the impact of these verses. John is concerned to show that Christ Jesus understands our pains, He understands our sorrows. But more than that.  He doesn’t simply understand it – for we could well believe that He understands it being, as He is, a all-wise all-knowing God – but He also empathizes with us.  He enters into our sorrows with us.

We are well familiar with the precious words of Hebrews 4:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys.  The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!”  The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation. Jesus appears to have been angry not only over the painful reality of sin and death, of which Lazarus was a beloved example, but perhaps also with the mourners, who were acting like the pagans who have no hope.”

So the Lord was upset on several levels.  The scene is a complex one.  He is not simply in tears for His dear friend and the family of Lazarus, but also for a world whose response to death is not fully defined by the realities of God. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom whose power would forever be emblazoned on the lives of His followers to the point which death would be no match.

You see, death here seemed to have the last say, and the attitude of defeat among the mourners smacked of Satan. It showed off his blinding power that these people would have no hope in the reality of glorious nature of the world to come.  Christ came to change all of that.  And when He saw the people mourning with no hope for tomorrow, He was indignant.  This is why His raising Lazarus from the tomb was a major sign (A major wake up call to Satan also) of the ushering in of His kingdom. It’s a blast on the trumpet, it’s a major red flag to the enemy that his time has come and his days are numbered, for the Prince of Life is here, and He will allow no more deception about the truth of God’s plan for eternity.

Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier.  A large part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. A big part of the gospel has to do with what happens after death. This is what gives us hope.  There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that day of judgment.  But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul.  And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.

Joined with Christ

Furthermore, because we are one body, and have been united with Christ as His bride, just as He enters into our sorrows and pains, so we too are called to enter into His sorrows as well. We identify with His sufferings and remember that just as He persecuted we shall also be persecuted.

I think it’s so important to remember that we are joined with Christ. We receive the benefits of this – justification, righteousness, and eternal life – but we also are going to be persecuted for identifying ourselves with Christ.

Personally, when I look at how the Lord identifies with us, I marvel to myself that we have such a loving God.  A God who could have sat back and ruled the world from on high, but instead who chose to come down to us.  He came down here, and He entered into our toil, our frustrations, and our tears.  He knew what it was to walk on this earth. He knew what it was to lose a loved one.

I love the fact that He has identified with us in our suffering. I love the fact that angels and all God’s elect children can look at the cross and say, “see how He loved them!

The Impending Victory

But what is perhaps most beautiful about this chapter is that He gives us a preview (as I mentioned above) of what the consummation of His mission will look like when He comes back. The sadness we endure now is like that of Mary and Martha. We weep because we are dying and we exist in a dying world. We have loved ones with cancer.  We have children who are sick. We have pains and ills and death all around us. So did Christ.  So that will make the victory all that much more sweeter when we enter into His presence and He banishes death and sickness once and for all!  That is why we say: “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

This is a statement of confusion and perhaps doubt.  It’s hard to say without having been there, but one thing is obvious and that is that these people had no clue about the plans of God, or the ways of God. Their statement reveals a doubt that is probably part of what Christ was angry (“troubled”) about. Their unbelief in the sovereignty of God and their anxiety over the death of their friend is exactly what Satan would have wanted – it’s a reflection of a world that was lost in sickness and death, mired in a world without hope – at least that seems to be their perspective.

11:38-40 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” [40] Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is likely still filled with a righteous indignation as mentioned before).

Martha’s response to Christ’s instruction is one of unbelief – this is what tempers us from having been led to believe she had the kind of faith that Abraham had (see above).

SIDE NOTE: D.A. Carson talks about how some of the Jews thought (superstitiously) that the soul of a body hovers above the body for three days prior to finally departing. So waiting four days to raise Lazarus from the dead would have crushed their superstitions. I love how Christ’s perfect timing crushes our doubt and shows us that He alone holds the keys to truth and life.

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

We see in Christ’s response to Martha that He isn’t concerned about the odor of Lazarus, He’s more concerned with the revelation of His glory.

This revelation of His glory is the key – and as I mentioned before, Martha is not going to see the glory of Christ in the way that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but rather she will see His revealed character, power, and person pouring out through His majestic work of resurrection.

I want to add some thoughts about the practical purposes of understanding this concept of Christ’s glory and what it has to do with us.

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 we read the following:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We see here that there is a transformational effect from simply “beholding the glory of the Lord.”  John explains in his epistles that:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

So there is this connection again between us being transformed, and us beholding Him in His glory.

For the longest time I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. What is the connection here between us becoming like Him and us beholding Him?  It’s hard to read 1 John and really put your finger on how that will happen – but we can look to how it happens in inches during our lifetimes here on earth – and that’s exactly the purpose of what Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians, and why Christ came to raise Lazarus from the grave in John 11.

How is it that we behold His glory here?  We behold His glory because we see His revealed character in His actions and words, and the Holy Spirit uses this Scripture to touch and transform our hearts.  This is a supernatural thing. This is why we can’t “earn” our way to heaven because we can’t make ourselves righteous!  Our doing is our beholding.  And we behold by reading, by praying, and by asking for Him to change us into the image of Christ, which He is gradually doing.

This is the nitty-gritty of sanctification, and its also why reading the Bible and meditating on Christ’s actions here and every word that proceeds from His mouth, is so important.  That’s consequently why I teach expositionally!  I want you to be changed into the likeness and image of Christ. He’s using this Word to do that.  He’s using John 11 to do that, so I want you to take in as much of it as possible, knowing not only that He is using it to gradually melt away the dross of this life, but that one day (as we wait in faithful hope – see Rom. 8) He will radically finish the job simply by the great revelation of His character and person: His glory.

11:41-42 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. [42] I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Carson points out that this was not a public prayer meant to “play to the gallery” but rather He sought to “draw His hearers into the intimacy of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father” and “demonstrates the truth that Jesus does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father’s will.”

There are a few parallels between this prayer and the High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, but the one that stood out to me the most was how the Father and Son had already been (obviously) in previous communion.  It seems that they had already agreed upon raising Lazarus, and that now Christ is thanking God the Father for “hearing” Him and for granting this miracle so that He may be glorified that people might believe.

Every time we hear Christ pray, or instruct us in prayer, we ought to pay close attention.  For this is His insight and instruction as to how to communicate with God, of whom He is One with the other two persons of the Godhead.  Surely He knows more than anyone how to speak with His Father.

11:43-44 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are several key points that we see here.

First, the “divine imperative”, as Augustine termed the creation of the world, is seen here in Christ’s powerful control over the life and death of His creatures.  We see that not only is this man the Messiah whose long awaited and desired coming had finally arrived, but he is the very Son of God who called creation into existence millennia prior to this moment.

Second, Lazarus’ rising from the dead was a sign of greater resurrection to come, especially that of Christ’s resurrection which was now only a short time away, and of course of our own resurrections once Christ comes again.  And it was also a sign that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Earlier in chapter five, Christ said this:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36)

Third, the power of Christ is on full display in this amazing moment. D.A. Carson notes how some theologians remark that this power seemed to be so awful (awe-inspiring) that had He not specified the name of “Lazarus” that all dead people everywhere would have had to obey His fiat. This is a clear example of Christ calling us from the dead, and the irresistible nature of that call. His grace is so powerful and so effective, that when He calls you, He will not fail in His mission to bring you all the way from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Lastly, as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a clear indication that the kingdom of God was upon them. Christ was ushering in His spiritual kingdom in a way that no man could deny. George Ladd once said that, “…the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from it’s power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”