God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we saw how John was transformed from someone who wanted retribution against those who rejected Jesus, to someone who wanted to welcome that same people group into the family of Christ. (If you’re interested you can learn more here: John’s Transformation: Acts 8:9-17.) Today we’ll see how a magician named Simon was confronted by Peter, and we’ll look at the way Simon sinned against God.
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. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 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. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for 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.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”Acts 8:9-24
“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.”
“Somebody great.” Simon wanted to be seen by the people as somebody great. I think many of us humans have as a part of us that desire to be seen by others as somebody great. It’s part of our nature. And as you already know, this is the opposite of what God finds appealing. God loves humility. He wants you and He wants me to be humble. It appears Simon may have had a problem in this area, so carrying around the weight of his own pride would be a difficult place for Simon to start from.
Toward the end of our passage we see Simon, who wanted to be seen as somebody great, and who is now a believer, offering the Apostles money in exchange for the power to lay hands on people in the way the Apostles did, so people would receive the Holy Spirit.
Peter responds to Simon in a very direct manner: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for 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.”
So what was Simon’s sin exactly? Some have suggested his heart was in the gall of bitterness because he used to have the Samaritans convinced he was somebody great, but now he’s lost the spotlight to Jesus. That seems like a distinct possibility. But I also think we can gain some insight from a verse in the middle of our passage. In verse 16 we read that the Holy Spirit “. . . had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Keener says the literal translation there is “baptized into the name.” And he goes on to say this could be a reflection of the way the ancients did business contracts. The person being baptized is effectively giving up ownership of their life and signing their life over to Jesus.
One important truth we find from Jesus’ sermon on the mount is that what’s going on in our hearts and minds is of great importance to God. Simon, it would seem, wanted God’s power. But what pleases God is when a believer wants Jesus, and God.
When a believer’s heart and mind and soul says, “Give me Jesus and God, whether or not the power comes with them, give me Jesus and God. That’s my desire.” I think that’s the heart Christ is looking for.
Jesus is the reward. God is the reward.
When we give up ownership of our lives and give ownership to Jesus, that’s when we can receive Him.
That’s the reward to pursue. Jesus himself is the ultimate reward.
And if Jesus is our goal, if intimate connection with Christ is what we pursue, we might even receive power from God as a result. But if we seek power from God for power’s sake, we’re guilty of the same sin as Simon the magician.
It reminds me of happiness. When I pursue Jesus, I become happy, and even better, I can be filled with joy and live the abundant life Jesus talked about. But when I pursue happiness, happiness eludes me.
So to me it seems that Simon’s sin is pursuing power for power’s sake.
The way Simon the magician desired power is different from the motivation of someone who desires the Holy Spirit to help them please God. If we just want the power in the way Simon the magician wanted power then I think it could be a sin.
But if we want the Holy Spirit because we want Him to help us love God well and love others well then we’re pursuing the Holy Spirit with right hearts, minds, and souls.
“Oh Father, be merciful to me and to the dear person reading this right now. Do Your good work in us and transform us into people who have desires and motivations that please You and bless You. We do want Your Holy Spirit to fall upon us, but we want that to happen so we can love You well and love the people You have given us well. We want Your Holy Spirit so we can be filled with enthusiasm for You and for what You’re enthusiastic for. Keep us far from the gall of bitterness. Keep us far from the bond of iniquity. Bless us with pure hearts. Make our hearts right before You.
“In Your Son Jesus’ name we ask these things of You.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,
InterVarsity Press, 1993, page 345
Love Like Jesus by Kurt Bennett, now available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.