When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!
It is said that money talks. If it truly did, it would have to say, “Don’t count on me!”
We know that. But we also know money can be valuable because money has buying power. We like that. It means if we have money, we have the power to buy things we need. If we have enough money, we can even buy things we don’t need. We like the feeling of that power.
Simon was a common name at the time of Jesus. His half-brother carried that name, as did Simon Peter. In our text, we find Peter talking to one called Simon the Sorcerer. It was not a pleasant conversation.
We hear Peter say, “May your money perish with you!” He had not lost his temper. He was showing the man the consequences of his wrong thinking. Simon the Sorcerer thought that he could use the buying power of money to buy power from God.
For some time, he had practiced sorcery and amazed the people in Samaria. He boasted he was someone great and the people believed him. They said, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” Saint Luke tells us, “They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.”
That was before Philip came to Samaria to proclaim the message of Christ. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miracles he worked, they started to pay close attention to what he said. Luke caps the scene by writing, “With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:7,8).
That got the attention of Simon the Sorcerer! We learn Philip baptized many Samaritans. We are glad to hear that. We are perhaps surprised to hear, “Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw” (Acts 8:13).
One of those miracles was that this former fake miracle worker who had claimed divine power now turned in faith to the true source of power, Jesus, the Son of God.
Simon, the former sorcerer, was now a believer, but he was new to the faith and still had much to learn. He still tended to look at life through the glasses of his former life. He was still very impressed with displays of power and very much wanted to use such power in service to Jesus.
He thought he could buy that power. He still did not know that one cannot count on money. You can only count on Christ.
That became apparent when the miracle of Pentecost at Jerusalem was repeated in this city of Samaria. Hearing some Samaritans had come to faith in Jesus, Peter and John quickly traveled there and prayed that they might receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We are not told how the Holy Spirit made himself known. Were there tongues of fire on heads? Did they start speaking foreign languages? We don’t know. But it was obvious to everyone that the Holy Spirit had come upon these people.
When Simon, the former sorcerer, saw this, he offered the apostles money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
We have heard Peter’s answer. Buying power from God is not just impossible, trying to do so is a deadly sin.
But that doesn’t mean Satan will stop tempting humans to try that. The lust for power runs deep within us. The thrill of using power is appealing. Simon the Sorcerer isn’t the only one who wants to be known as the Great One. Thus, the danger of trying to bargain with God to exalt ourselves remains great.
Jesus points us in a different direction. He invites us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). There’s true greatness!
He paid for our salvation with his blood.
Now, that’s buying power!
It is vanity, Lord God, it is a sinful desire that makes us want to be recognized as great and powerful. Remind us that any power we have is from you and any good use of that power is always tied to carrying out your will. Teach us again the importance of the words, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.” Amen.
Points to ponder:
- Why is the thought, “If I only had enough money, I would have no problems” so appealing?
- Why are humans so attracted to those who claim to do great things?
- How can being humble be a sign of true greatness?
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Stillwater, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.