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(Acts 8:9–24) The Sorcerer

(Acts 8:9–24) The Sorcerer

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 8:9–24

Why do you call yourself a Christian? Because you think it will help you get through difficult trials? Because it seems to be the right thing to do? Or is it because you were a sinner in need of a Savior?


“The Sorcerer”

Acts 8:9-24

My 3 year old Charity watched some of “The Wizard of Oz” a few weeks ago - her sister and older brothers made sure she didn’t see the really scary parts with the wicked witch of the west. The other morning after she’d gotten up, she announced to me that she was Dorothy and that I was the Tin Man. So now, she’s seen wearing around the house, and even to my office on one occasion, her older sisters red shoes!  The only problem is her 3 year old tongue is having a hard time with “W”’s - She keeps calling the Wizard of Oz the Lizard of Oz.

If you’ve seen that classic, you undoubtably enjoyed the moment when Dorothy and the others are finally granted entrance into the great hall of the awe-inspiring Lizard - or Wizard.  Fire and smoke billow from either side of a large screen where the wizards face is projected as he speaks to Dorothy and the others in a menacing powerful voice.  Then, you remember, little Toto, goes over to a nearby booth and pulls back a curtain that revealed a rather small man, operating controls at a feverish pace.  It’s the Wizard who’se image is simply being projected on the screen.  Then, as he realizes he’s been exposed as a fraud, he still carries on for a line or two saying, “I am the great wizard.”        

The great Wizard, who had the entire people of Oz under his sway was a fraud.

This morning, I want to introduce you to another Wizard - only this time, it’s not make believe.

This man is a real live Wizard, or Sorcerer who had held the people of Sarmaria under his magical sway for many years - and he was about to meet his match.

If you return to Acts chapter 8 we’re introduced to him.  As you’re turnng I want to warn you that this passage is not only very enlightening - but frightening as well - and the warnings that emerge from Simon’s story are to be taken very seriously.

Let’s begin with verse 4 and set the stage for this dramatic series of encounters between the power of God’s Spirit and the power of this Samaritan sorcerer.

4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. 5 And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was much rejoicing in that city. 9 Now there was a certain man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city, and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 

The word for magic  refers to sorcery; men who practiced occult arts in order to impress people and gain a following.  Their magic included conjuring of demons, conversing with the dead, influencing the gods, providing charms for healing, divination, stargazing, phsycic prophecies and the like.

Simon was followed by people he dazzled with his occultic powers.

The fact that Simon wanted worship and adulation from the people in addition to their money and praise is implied in the next verse:

10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.”

According to church history, Simon was one of the founders of a heretical group known as the gnostics - among other things, besides denying the deity of Jesus Christ, they taught that there was a spark of the divine in every man.  Jesus was no more divine than you are - you need to live up to your deity.

Sound familiar?  There are a long list of false prophets and prophetesses today who encourage their following to recognize their own godhood - the answers are within you.

According to the Bible, the only consistent thing within any of us is a depraved nature.  That’s why you never need to give your child a lesson on selfishness - but you do have to teach them to share; you don’t have to teach them how to lie, but tell the truth.

Jesus  Christ didn’t come into the world to save basically good people who needed to understand that their low self image was clouding out their divinity. 

            Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. (I Timothy 1:15)

            While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)

My little 3 year old said to me the other day, “Daddy, I want you to come play in my room.”  I said, “Honey I can’t right now, I’m sorry.”  She came over to the desk and put her arm in my arm and said, “Daddy, I love you. . .now come into my room.”  Where do girls learn how to do that?   “From their mothers.”  “Honey I love you - now would you take out the trash and give me the MC.”

I better get back to the text here - when you read in verse 10 that he was called “the great power of God.”  you need to understand that that phrase was a reference to Simon’s view that he was claiming to be God incarnate.  That phrase would be used later by orthodox theologians in reference to both the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

One early church father, Justin Martyr reported that Simons indeed was claiming to be the Messiah.

Isn’t it fascinating to think that at the same time the true Messiah was revealing His power in Jerusalem through His following the church, in Samaria, the false Messiah was performing wonders and miracles and claiming to be the true expression of God’s power.

Make no mistake, wherever there is a true and bonified work of God, there will be a Simon Magus nearby.  And make no mistake - nowhere in this passage is his power denied.  In fact Simon had started, in aeffect, a deep religous movement - he had somehow related his leadership and miracles to the religous ideas of the Samaritans.

Notice his hold on the people:  11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.

His magic art was more than illusion - like the magicians in Pharoh’s court during the time of Moses - the underworld was, and is, capable of performing demonic, other-worldly phenomena.

Becuase the people who followed him had a limited perspective, they bought it, hook line and sinker.

I found it interesting to read in the news this past week about Steve Fossetts record setting hot air balloon trip.  He recently touched down in a rural village in India.  Evidently, he had created quite a stir - in fact, most of the people he flew over had come to conclusion that his silver balloon was actually the floating temple of the Hindu god Hanuman.  Since they couldn’t explain the phenomena - they had never seen air travel before of any kind - they were worshipping the balloon, convinced it carried one of their gods. 

You say - what primitive pagans!

Oh?  Well, in Tampa Florida these past few months, additional police have had to convene near a building just to handle the traffic and worshippers.  It is claimed that an apparition of the Virgin Mary can be seen on the side of a commercial office building.  People are flocking there with candles, holding prayer vigils, claiming healing, and all sorts of spiritual experiences.

Satan will gladly use a shiny silver colored balloon in India or an interesting shape on the wall of a building in Florida to create false worship of something or someone other than  the one true Lord and God, the ressurected and soon coming King of Kings, whose name and only name is jIhsou' Cristos -Jesus Christ.

Now notice:  12. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.

Now follow the chronology - you notice verse 9 again that tells us that “Simon, formerly was practicing magic in the city.

Past tense!  What caused their worship of him to stop?  Verse 12 tells us - their is an incredible movement now following the miracles and message of Philip.

Philip is telling them about Jesus Christ - the true incarnation of God.  And the Holy Spirit is drawing hundreds of these listeners to true faith in Christ.

What’s Simon going to do?  He’s losing his following?  He’s losing his gravy train!  He’s been outmanuevered by this evangelist from Jerusalem.  What to do?

 13 And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip; (in other words, if you can’t beat em - join em; you might add a fourth point in your notes and call it, “His profession!) and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.

John Phillips wrote, “What Simon coveted was not the Master but the miracles, not the Savior but the signs.”

Simon wanted to retain contact with his former followers; as the text will reveal in a moment, what he really will want is a way to get the power of the Apostles for himself.

 14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent 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 upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.

Next Lord’s day, I will deal entirely with this paragraph - since it is one of the key passages used by the Charismatic movement to teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an additional, or subsequent experience to conversion; instead of, as I am teaching, a simultaneous part of conversion.  This is an important passage to understand, so we’ll deal with it alone - I want to retain our focus on Simon.

Now notice verse 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands - (here it comes - ) he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, Simon viewed Peter and John like he must have viewed Philip - they are fellow magicians - magicians often sold each other their tricks and their incantations.  Philip had some great tricks - but wow - this Peter and John trick was the best.  While the text doesn’t tell us, these believers may have also experienced healing and other mraculous things.

Simon reeked with crass materialism - a lust for power - a desire to fulfill his own agenda - and so he asked if he could buy the Holy Spirit.  “Say Peter, I’d like to buy that Holy Spirit trick - that’ll put me back in business - I just need the secret to your Holy Spirit abracadabra - Say, Peter, John how much does God cost anyhow?

20 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 no part or portion (inheritance) in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

As far as Peter is concerned, he’s already seen Annanias and Saphira fall dead at his feet for seeking to buy prestige in the church - I honestly blieve, Peter thinks Simon may very well breathe his last here as well.

“Simon, the intention of your heart is wickedness.” 

John Phillips again writes:


But Simon responds tragically in verse 24.  “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

In effect, “I don’t want those consequences you’ve mentioned. . .”  But I will not change my actions either.  I will not repent - “to change your mind” - to move from defending your sinful, hopeless state to admitting you are a sinner in need of a Savior!”   Simon said, “Nu-uh”  my heart stays the same - but, if you will, you pray for me yourself that nothing bad happens to me.

Lessons from a First Century Hypocrite:

It’s possible to fool most of the saints, some of the time, but never the Savior.

I can’t help but wonder if Philip or one of the other believers who witnessed Simon’s dramatic conversion and baptism were not a little embarrased!

Simon had temporarily fooled them - like many today, he was a member of the body, baptized; he could give you the date of his altar call confession!  But only Simon knew, he didn’t know God - he only wanted to use God...

Ivan the Terrible was as bad as he sounds.   He was the first Russian ruler to be crowned tsar and to hold that official title was Ivan IV, known as the Terrible.  Even as a child, this pampered boy was known for throwing cats and dogs off the roof of the Kremlin for fun . . . cat’s I can understand . . . but not dogs!   He grew up to treat people like he had treated animals.  Ivan believed he was divinely chosen to rule Russia, so any of his acts, no matter how terrible, were acts of God.   One act was torturing the citizens of a nearby city who were considering defecting to Lithuania.  In five weeks he killed 60,000 people.  On March 18, 1584, Ivan died.  Following the custom of the organized Russian church, it was declared he died a monk.  His head was shaved in monk like fashion and he was buried in a monks robes.  I guess they expected God would be fooled by the funeral proceedings and welcome Ivan home.   They Went That-A-Way, by Macolm Forbes

You can’t fool God with a long robe - He isn’t tricked by a necklace with a big cross attached.    Someone wrote, “In the choir of life, it's easy to fake the words but someday each of us will have to sing a solo before God.”

You can fool most of the saints, most of the time, but you will never fool God.

It’s possible to follow all of the rules, most of the time, and not have a relationship with Christ.

Simon went through all the religious motions - Simon was always in the front of the crowd - volunteering to carry Peter’s briefcase - he would have been the one to say, “Okay, everyone quiet down and listen to my friends Peter and John.”

In fact, this passage shows how close a person can come to salvation and still not be converted.  Simon heard the Gospel, saw the miracles, gave a profession of faith in Christ, was baptized; and yet, he was never born again. 

It isn’t until later that we discover it was all a mirage - it was smoke and mirrors.  It was man, behind a religious curtain, feverishly working the controls.  There was a spiritual face on the public screen.  It looked good.

All the outward trappings were there!  He was following the rules - but he’d never been redeemed.  Had it not been for Peter, who pulled back the curtain, Simon would have not only been a member, but probably a leader in the Samaritan church

Is that happening today?  Are there Simons on the church roles today?  Do churches baptize Simons today?  Yes. Part of the blame lies within the church itself - we busily sell God to the masses as the healer, the soother, the one to fix your family, prop up your business, inject you with happiness and slap you on the back - He’s a grandfather, a coach, a mechanic, a financial partner, a buddy, and ultimately a contractor who has created a nice place called heaven where we’ll all go one day and finally get what we deserve.

Don’t upset me with talk of holiness or judgement.

Did you read the newspaper article - this past Wednesday.

            READ N & O ARTICLE

Fascinating - don’t tell me about the negative side of things - I like to say heaven - but not hell.   I like to believe in heaven, but not hell.

My Biblical Archaelogy Review summed it up well as it reported in it’s “Tabloid Watch” some recent discoveries reported in supermarket discoveries.

            READ “BAR”

“Use the power”  - give me a God that can be used to fix my life and make it comfortable.  That’s Simon - give me a power that will return me to prestige and position and popularity, and success and money and adulation - if God can do that - I want Him - but don’t tell me about a cross to bear - about suffering - about spiritual discipline - don’t mention sin or holiness or judgment.

Just me me the God of love - and even then, just give me a little bit of Him - not too much - just a little of the loving God - not the God of Peter who judges righteously - but a little bit of the God who will just help me get through the day.

            READ POEM

And how did you come to God - and why?  Did you want to add Him to your bag of tricks for handling the difficult issues of life?  Did you want His impressive name added to your list of references?  Or did you come to Him as a sinner - exposing to Him your guilt and sin “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”  Have you thrown yourself upon His grace alone, for salvation.

You are not born again by sinning less - and you do not purchase the Holy Spirit by gifts to the church, membership in the church or baptism by the church - Peter says,  “Forgiveness is free”.  

But you have to come to him and admit you can’t pay for it!

And say in effect,

            “Lord, here is my sinfulness for your sinlessness:

            My wretchedness for your righteousness

            My guilt for your grace

            My helplessness for your Holiness.

No more working at the controls; no more smoke and mirrors - no more fascade! 

I love the way the hymnwriter penned it:

Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that thou bidst me come to Thee, Oh Lamb of God I come, I come!


In just a moment I’m going to ask someone perhaps it’s you to stand to your feet -

“I’m not a Christian - I’ve tried to live like one - I’ve tried to make other’s believe I was alright before God - but God knows my heart like He knew Simon’s heart.  I’m not really a child of God.  If you were to ask me, “How I knew I was going to heaven,”  my answer would include, “Well, I’m doing the best I can. . .”  My friend, no one goes to heaven becuase they tried hard, but becuase they gave up trying and simpy trusted in the finished work of Christ. 

Perhaps you’re here this morning and you know you’re not a believer and you’ve resisted this Holy Spirit - yet His voice pounds in your heart this morning - “Repent and receive the Lord Jesus as your own personal Savior.”

Maybe you’re a little different from the above - yet you do not know for sure you’re on your way to heaven - and you would like to make sure - I’m going to ask your to stand right where you are.  

Just as I am without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God I come, I come.


I would like to buy three dollars worth of God please,

I would like to buy just a little of the Lord.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

Not enough to take control of my life; I'll keep

Just enough to equal a cup of warm milk

Just enough to ease some of the pain from my guilt.

I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please;

I would like to find a love that's pocket-sized.

Not enough to make me love a lesser man.

Not enough to change my heart; I can only stand

Just enough to take to church when I have the time,

Just enough to equal a snooze in the sunshine.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want the warmth of the womb, but not a new birth.

I would like to purchase a pound of the eternal

In a paper sack guaranteed or money back.

You see, I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please;

I would like to hide some for a rainy day,

Not enough to require change in me,

Not enough to impose responsibility;

Just enough to make folks think I'm O.K.,

Just enough to get through another Sunday.

I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.


 Simon Magus as an unsaved man.  His false profession could be replaced by genuine conversion.  The essential prerequisite to regeneration is repentance and there had been no repentacne in Simon magus’s life.  So Peter preached repentance to Satan-blinded, money loving, power-hungry sinner, whom every one else had thought to be a believer.  But Peter said he was in bondage to bitterness.  He had deeply resented his loss of influence and power and was bitterly jealous of the evangelist and the apostles.  He envied their power.  His crafty mind had seen a way to recoup his own waning influence if only he could get his hands on the power hey had.  He had hidden his secret rage and resentment, biding his time.  He was Satan’s tool and Satan’s fool.

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