Thursday, October 25, 2012

Power Brokers

Unit II – “Who Understands Faith?” In a quick review of our prior lessons, the Christians had multiplied greatly and the Grecian (Hellenistic) widows did not believe they were receiving their fair share from the common daily ministrations like the Hebrew widows. The disciples found it necessary to have the multitude choose seven men among the Greek and Hebrew widows to be appointed. We were introduced to Stephen (Acts 6:8-15; 7:1-2a) who not only administered the daily portions among the widows, but did great wonders and miracles among the people. His ministry became that of an evangelist. Jealous Jews bribed men to be false witnesses against him. He was brought before the Sanhedrin Council and charged with blasphemous words which promoted the destruction of the Temple, the Law, and the customs of all the Jewish traditions. When asked whether the charges were true, he welcomed the opportunity to defend himself. Acts 7:2-53 Stephen’s courage to speak the message of God before the enemies he faced on the Council caused his martyrdom. We shall explore the repercussions that come upon those (power brokers) who treat faith as a commodity. Our lesson is recorded at Acts 8:9-24. The devotional reading is recorded at 1 Cor 1:18-25.

The martyrdom of Stephen had caused a great persecution against the church causing the church to scatter throughout Judea, Samaria, Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch. Acts 11:19 The Lord had commissioned the Gospel be spread to all nations. Acts 1:8 The scattering churches became preaching churches while the apostles remained in Jerusalem. We are introduced to Philip, initially appointed as a deacon (Acts 6:5), who is now an evangelist (Acts 21:8) in Samaria preaching Christ. He is healing the sick, helping lame to walk, and performing miracles through faith in Christ. Unclean spirits came out of the persons they possessed in the name of Jesus. There was great joy in Samaria. They were happy to see their family and friends well again. The Samaritans were happy as they converted to Christianity. Acts 8:1b, 3-8

‘But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.’ Acts 8:9-11 Entering our lesson text is our power broker, Simon. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a power broker in modern times today is a person who exerts strong political or economic influence, especially by virtue of the individuals … he or she controls.1 It would not be difficult for Simon to exert a strong influence over many people. He was well known in the city by all. He had used his satanic magic tricks to the end they had considered his powers to be of God. They believed him when he called himself “the great one”. He captivated the imagination of people from all social classes with his sorcery for his personal gain and personal glory. The Samaritans would do whatever Simon requested because they held him in high regard. In actuality, he was the great imitator. He was not able to do anything in his own power. He came in the power of satan who has never created anything, but has always imitated God. Satan will change the Word of God and imitate His power. Gen 3:1, 4; 2 Pet 2:1-3

‘But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.’ Acts 8:12 Philip preached the message of Good News from God. It was a message of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ and reconciliation with God. It was a message of faith in Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. God confirmed Philip’s message with signs and miracles. It was obvious the Samaritans believed the preaching and miracles of Philip more than the antics of Simon. It did not matter how long Simon had been among them. Or that he had a great influence over them. It did not matter that Simon was a Samaritan. In the end, they believed the Good News from God. Philip made sure the Samaritans believed before they were baptized. It was the believing in Christ Jesus unto salvation that was most important. It was not the water baptism that saved them. Everything must be done decently and in order. 1 Cor 14:40

‘Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.’ Acts 8:13 Even Simon professed a belief in the Good News preached by Philip. He knew the power behind the miracles and signs performed by Philip were genuine. Simon knew his sorcery was inferior in comparison. He believed Christianity was true, that the multitude was accepting it, and he wanted it to advance his power, influence, and popularity. So he professed a belief in the message Philip preached. Everyone is not converted who professes a belief in the Gospel. Philip had no way of knowing Simon’s true beliefs. Only God knows the hearts. Philip baptized Simon in water and they remained together. Simon was mesmerized by the miracles and signs performed by Philip. He was so far outdone by the proof of these miracles and signs, he did not understand or experience their spiritual power. See Zech 4:6

‘Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.’ Acts 8:14-17 Philip was not an apostle. He worked very successfully preaching the Good News to the hurting crowd in Samaria and water baptizing them in the name of Jesus. He was not able to lay hands in order to baptize them in the Holy Ghost. Once the apostles learned of Philip’s evangelistic success, they sent two apostles (Peter and John) who had been with Christ from the beginning of his ministry. Peter was the leader of the apostles to whom Christ had given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. (Matt 16:19) Peter and John had been taken to a high mountain (along with James) where Jesus was transfigured before their eyes during his life. (Matt 17:1-3; Mk 9:1-3; Luke 9:27-29)

It is unknown who went to Jerusalem to advise the apostles of Philip’s success with the Samaritans. There was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans. The former (Jews) believed themselves better and would not mingle with the latter (Samaritans). The latter were actually Jews who had fallen under conquest, after an Assyrian invasion, and began to intermarry. They still believed they were descendants of Abraham and Moses, kept traditional Jewish practices, and were looking for the Messiah. It is unknown why God chose the delay of the baptism of the Holy Ghost after the Samaritans believed and were baptized. There was no delay in the Jews receipt of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The Jews also did not receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, but there was a”… sound like the blowing of a violent wind which came from heaven…” They were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues as led by the Spirit. (Acts 2:1) However, God is not limited to one manner of anything. The Samaritans believed, were baptized and, after prayer, the apostles laid hands on them before the Samaritans were able to receive the Holy Spirit. It has been assumed that this was God’s way of bringing the Samaritans back into fellowship with the Jews.

‘And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.’ Acts 8:18-19 Simon may very well have been telling the truth when he professed his belief in the Gospel (vs. 13), but he was yet steeped in worldly thoughts surrounding his selfish motives. Out of the abundance of his heart, he spoke. Matt 12:34; Luke 6:45 He was a new convert and did not know the awesomeness of God. Simon had followed Philip in amazement of his miracles and signs. He had no deep understanding of any spiritual implications that were godly. He yet wondered how to perform the miracles he had seen done on many occasions by Philip in the name of Jesus Christ. Now when he sees the apostles lay hands and bestow the Holy Ghost on the congregation it is another power he must possess because it would serve him well in his trade. He approaches Peter and John, offering money to gain the knowledge as to how to lay hands and produce the power of the Holy Ghost on an individual. When Philip arrived in Samaria preaching and teaching Christ, Simon’s business as a power broker took a hit. He did not have as much influence. But he followed Philip to see what miracles/signs he could imitate as tricks. The laying on of hands would be icing on the cake.

‘But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.’ Acts 8:20-23

Peter immediately rebuked Simon sharply. His words were not soft and gentle, but meant to get Simon’s attention. He told him his money was no good. Simon couldn’t buy the Holy Spirit, faith, nor could he purchase salvation. Peter told him his heart was in the wrong place before God. Confession and belief is not enough. Salvation is also a matter of the heart. Romans 10:9-10 Peter knew Simon was a new convert and apprised him of his sin. Repentance was necessary (a changed mind and heart) with sincere prayer to God for forgiveness. He had to repent because he was an unconverted sinner and his prayer would not be heard until he had repented. Finally Peter stated that his actions were those of an unsaved person. Simon was branded as being both “…in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” Peter saw him as both an idolater who would become a deadly influence among the people and someone enslaved by sin. This was not a good position for anyone, especially someone professing a belief in Christ Jesus unto salvation.

‘Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.’ Acts 8:24 Peter had deeply impressed Simon, but how alarmed was he? Did Simon really repent before he requested the apostle(s) to pray for his forgiveness by God? Or was he simply afraid of God’s judgment and intended to continue in his ways after he received prayer from the mighty apostles? Who do you think he preferred to influence?


Written by Deborah C Davis

No comments: