No one could accuse Luke of glossing over confusing and unappealing parts of the story! We have already seen how Ananias’ and Sapphira’s actions led to judgment and death (Acts 5:1-12), and now we have the story of Simon the Sorcerer, whose name gives us the word ‘simony’ (‘the buying or selling of spiritual or ecclesiastical privileges.’) (Acts 8:4-17) Simon was obviously someone used to influence and power (he amazed people and boasted of his greatness and was even called ‘the Great Power of God’ by some), but even he was impressed by Philip and responded to the gospel message. (Acts 8:10,13) Nonetheless, when the apostles arrived in Samaria and he saw people receive the Holy Spirit after they laid hands on them, he asked the apostles for that ability too! (Acts 8:17-18)
Peter’s rebuke was swift and to the point: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!’ (Acts 8:20) He pointed out that wrong heart attitudes were behind this request (Acts 8:21) and urged Simon to repent immediately. Bitterness and sin have a captivating effect on us, and it can take a lot to deliver us from these things.
Some have wondered why Simon was given a chance to repent, when Ananias and Sapphira apparently were not. Perhaps this is because given their background, they ought to have known better, whereas Simon represents one for whom conversion from such a corrupt background really did mean a complete turnaround. Tradition has it that Simon’s repentance was short-lived and some said he was really an antichrist who continued to practise sorcery, but the Bible has nothing more to say about this character other than in this passage, when he appears to repent and take notice of Peter’s warning.
We are grateful for the fact that the gospel offers us all ‘countless second chances’ (‘Second Chance’, Rend Collective). Repentance is a vital – and ongoing – part of our response to God. Simon may have been led astray by his misguided view of the spiritual world as a place of bargaining; in truth, we are all tempted to believe that we can earn God’s favour instead of understanding the truly radical nature of grace. When we grasp the truth of God’s unearned favour, that He loves us and blesses us because of His generous nature rather than anything we can do, we are set free to live thankful and grateful lives.