Acts 8:9-25 Simon, And Getting To The Core.
There was great joy in the city of Samaria because of the word being preached, and signs and wonders including healings were performed (vv. 4-8). However, the city had some history of wonders being performed, but this was a history of sorcery, and one of the things which accompanied the apostles was the casting out of demons. Nevertheless, a man by the name of Simon could only see the power that accompanied the apostolic witness, and he wanted in on that power. Unlike the disciples who exalted the name of Jesus, Simon exalted himself and led the people to think that he himself was great, that he himself was the power of God (vv. 9-10). The people heeded him because of his sorceries or magic arts (v. 11). Sorcerers were regarded as false prophets (Cf. 13:6).
“But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (v. 12). Baptism was an added sign of commitment. Despite the joy associated with people being healed, the focus for the people was on the word preached, and they responded to the call to be baptized. Baptism was the sign of the new covenant, and both men and women were being baptized. We also read that Simon also believed and was baptized, but for him it was mere externals. The focus for Simon was on “the miracles and signs which were done” (v. 13). What peaked the interest of the apostles was the report that the people of Samaria “had received the word of God” (v. 14).
From the account Luke gives of the apostles, it is clear that the baptism spoken of was only an external exercise for all the people, for the apostles pray that they might receive the Holy Spirit. In other words, they wanted to ensure that those who had received the word were actually born again. To this end they sent Peter and John who laid hands on these believers and they received the Holy Spirit (vv. 15-17 Cf. 19:2; Mt. 28:19). Simon was a spectator to this. Rather than desiring to be numbered with these believers, he offered the apostles money thinking he could buy the ability to impart what was in fact a gift from God (vv. 18-19 Cf. Is. 55:1). Peter rebuked Simon and focused on his real need-that he needed to repent.
Peter called Simon’s activity “wickedness”. Not only did he command him to repent, but he told him to pray that God might forgive him, because ultimately he needed to be forgiven by God. Peter also accused Simon of being consumed with bitterness, because he was not called like the apostles were called, nor was he even sent out to preach with accompanying power, as was Philip (vv. 20-23). It is interesting that we have no indication of Simon repenting or praying himself that God would forgive him, as Peter had instructed him. Instead, he asks Peter to pray for him, simply so he could escape the judgment Peter spoke of (v. 24). All Luke states is that Peter and John continued to preach in the villages of Samaria as they returned to Jerusalem (v. 25).
Peter put the focus where anyone preaching the gospel must put it-on the heart. Everyone hearing the gospel must look to their own heart. Unlike the modern conception of the heart as the exclusive seat of one’s emotions, Peter told Simon that it was the thought of his heart that he needed to repent of and be forgiven for. It is one thing to give external assent to the word preached, and even to the external act of baptism. However, what really is of first priority is that the core of one’s thinking is actually the same as the confession and practice one gives externally. This is what it means to have integrity-that one’s external life is an actual real reflection of one’s core thoughts. No one else can do this for us-it must be the result of God working in us (Cf. Jer. 17:5-10).