Rusty was a friend of mine growing up in Duncan, Oklahoma. Rusty was a piece of art. A great guy. A good friend. Hard to figure out. On a regular basis he would undergo a metamorphosis of mammoth proportions. The continual transformations of Rusty were not unlike Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, the many faces of Michael Jackson, Michael J. Fox’s Teen Wolf, or the yearly makeovers of Madonna. Whenever some craze would sweep the nation, Rusty would show up at school the next day as the embodiment of the craze.

Some of you who are older will remember the disco craze that swept the nation during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Rusty was Mr. Disco. He had his silk shirts, a John Travolta swagger, and he could even sing with the falsetto voice of the Bee Gees. Rusty could move with the flashing lights, do “the hustle,” and recite all of Donna Summer’s lyrics by heart.

Rusty’s disco “daze” lasted until the next John Travolta movie came out, “Urban Cowboy.” Overnight, my friend hung up his silk shirts and gold medallion and put on his boots and hat. Rusty could talk with a Texas twang, ride a mechanical bull, and sing the songs of Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels. He wore a belt buckle that was as big as a serving platter. He had never been to Gilley’s, but Rusty could do the Cotton-eyed Joe and the Texas two-step better than the Urban Cowboy himself.

Rusty went through several other transformations while we were still in school, but each and every time we waited to see what next year’s model would look like. My friend Rusty is not that much different than many folks today. Young basketball players think that if they lace up a pair of Air Jordans, some how, some way, they will rise above the competition and soar through the air with the greatest of ease. Young girls think that if they can get the right look, the right friends, or wear the right clothes then their life will somehow reach the fulfillment they long for in life.

The kids don’t dream this stuff up. They simply watch the adults among them do whatever they have to do to get the right car, live in the right house, and dress to impress. The word “adult” is really a misnomer for our behavior is really not that different than that of our own children in so many ways.

What rests at the heart of this mad dash to fit in with what is popular, what is powerful, what is promoted on the big screen and in the pages of magazines? Many will tell you that the young people are simply trying to shape their own identity, to find themselves. By looking to those they can identify with, they can piece-by-piece shape their own identity and arrive at self-actualization. I don’t know what the psychologist have to say about the same mad dash exhibited in adults, but the struggle of who I am with who and what I desire to be is equally as evident among us adults. Rather than shaping our self-identity or transference, I think something much more basic is at work – power. By redefining ourselves according to those who hold power, hopefully we can gain a little of that power for ourselves. Friedrich Nietzsche, the atheist German philosopher, once said,

Not necessity, not desire-no, the love of power is the demon of men. Let them have everything-health, food, a place to live, entertainment-they are and remain unhappy and low-spirited: for the demon waits and waits and will be satisfied. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher. Daybreak, aph. 262 (1881).

Power. The desire to possess the power to stand at the podium of popularity, the desire to obtain the presence that commands the attention of the masses, the lust for attention, affirmation, and acceptance is strong indeed. We see it manifested in so many ways today by people, businesses, and institutions. Whenever something new, something hot, hits the market the masses rush in to beg, borrow, and barter in order to have it for themselves.

It is not just the people who suffer from this deep desire to possess the powerful and popular, businesses and institutions suffer from the same dilemma. A few years ago, a new church came on the scene, Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois just outside of Chicago. The Willow Creek Church does things in a very unconventional, non-traditional way. There is nothing wrong with the way Willow Creek does ministry. Throughout the history of the Church, the Church has always re-created itself in order to reach each new generation with the Gospel. What is wrong is not Willow Creek, but the countless hundreds of churches who have seen the success of Pastor Bill Hybels and Willow Creek and have sought to unpackage Willow Creek in their own town regardless of what the Lord may be calling them to do in that community. The Spirit of God was moving Pastor Hybels to do what he has done and that is why the church has grown from a living room Bible room Bible study to more than 15,000 members today. God does not call all churches to be Willow Creek, He calls them to be obedient to who He has determined for them to be where they are at in their own community.

I have arrived at the conclusion that whether we are talking about kids mimicking their favorite pop icon, a man whose wardrobe comes straight from the latest addition of GQ Magazine, a woman who is patterning herself after a powerful woman in her community, or a church trying to duplicate the successful ministry of another church – what we desire is some kind of potion, some kind of spell to cast to bring us power, rather than the powerful presence of the Spirit of God.

Our study today speaks so boldly to this situation that we see going on in our society today as we see Peter and John encounter a powerful man who has made his living convincing the folks of Samaria that he was the top dog, the big-man-on-campus. When Peter and John showed up and his puny power was exposed as lacking he looked for the latest “fad” sweeping the city. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today.

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, {10} and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” {11} They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. {12} But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. {13} Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. {14} When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. {15} When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, {16} because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. {17} Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. {18} When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money {19} and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” {20} Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! {21} You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. {22} Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. {23} For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” {24} Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” {25} When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. (Acts 8:9-25 NIV)

We spoke last week about how the Good News of Jesus traveled first to Samaria after it left the place where the beginning of the Church began, in Jerusalem. When Philip entered Samaria he entered a society that was not that much unlike like our own society today. There were many ideas of who God was and what He was like floating around on the streets. One of the men who was instrumental in spreading the misinformation about God was Simon.

I want us to look deeply into God’s Word so that we will not make the same mistake made by Simon, but before we do that I want you to notice something very important: Simon sought to bewitch the people with his own power. The followers of Jesus sought to bless the people with the power of Almighty God. Simon’s desire to bewitch and amaze the people couldn’t last because it was a fraud. Peter and John’s desire to bless has endured the test of time.

I want you to see what it was that caused the people of Samaria to hold Simon in such awe so that we can see why he took such a fall when the true power showed up on the scene. Take a look at verses 9-11 of our Scripture for this morning.

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, {10} and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” {11} They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.

Simon was a powerful man in Samaria, but there was no substance to Simon’s power. Simon held the people of Samaria in the palm of his hand because he supposedly had something they didn’t have – power. Simon practiced his sorcery in the city and it kept the people amazed. We don’t know what it was that Simon was actually doing, the Bible simply says that he was practicing magic. The people were like little children watching David Copperfield saw a woman in half or pulling a rabbit out of a hat. They couldn’t believe the sights they were seeing! The people of Samaria were amazed, astonished, at the works of Simon. The Greek word used in the verse means, “to be out of one’s mind, surprised, or amazed.” They didn’t stop to consider Simon’s self-serving ways, they simply marveled at his ability to do the things they couldn’t do.

There are two groups of people that we need to stop and take a look at this morning. First, we need to take a look at Simon and those like him who seek to sway people with their “magical” powers of persuasion and trickery. There were those who had come before Simon who had practiced the same craft of sorcery in order to gain power.

When Moses was commanded to go to Pharaoh, he was met with opposition by Pharaoh’s magicians. Moses was commanded to demonstrate the power of Almighty God, while the magicians were seeking to put Moses down and gain the power for themselves.

God commands Moses to have Aaron throw down his staff. Immediately, the staff of Aaron turns into a snake. Immediately following the transformation of Aaron’s staff into a snake, the Bible says that Pharaoh “summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians…” The sorcerers threw down their staffs and they became snakes as well. So, Moses and Aaron were showed-up eh? Wait just a minute. The power of God can not, will not, shall not ever be topped by any two-bit hocus pocus phony. The staff of Aaron which had become a snake swallowed up, not one, but all of the other staffs of the magicians!

Pharaoh wouldn’t comply with God, so God sent Moses back to Pharaoh. Moses had Aaron stretch out his staff over the waters of the Nile and the water was changed into blood. Nobody could drink the water. Nobody could wash their clothes in the water. The water was worthless to the whole nation. Once again, Pharaoh called his boys. The magicians stretched out their staffs and replicated the miracle of God.

Seven days passed. God said, “Tell Pharaoh, if you don’t let my people go then I will plague your whole land with frogs.” Pharaoh called his magicians and they conjured up frogs as well which didn’t help Pharaoh at all. Instead of putting Moses and Aaron in their place, he now had twice the frogs he had before his magicians performed their feat of magic.

Some days later, God said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go or I will send a swarm of gnats upon his land.” Pharaoh, had his magicians come, but this time something strange happened. The magicians, who may have thought in the beginning that Moses and Aaron were some upstart magicians recognized them for what they were and said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” Hocus pocus can’t stand the test of Almighty God my friend! God’s power is unparalleled in the universe. We can seek to employ sleight of hand or trickery, but eventually it will be exposed or what it truly is – fraud. God’s power never fails!

The same principle applies today. Whenever someone seeks to utilize some type of power to draw others to themselves, for their own glorification, eventually they will be exposed for what they truly are – frauds. The means we employ doesn’t have to be sorcery or magic, it could be watching money work its magic on the lives of others, putting a spell on folks with our erudite eloquence and our ability to enunciate elevated theorems and theories that most folks little or nothing about,, luring folks with our good looks and charismatic charm, or convincing others of our greatness with our bold boasts of self-assurance and egotism. It doesn’t matter which tool we pull out of our belt to bring others to the conclusion that we are something more than we really are, eventually it will be exposed as empty.

The second group we need to look at are the folks who were amazed at the works of Simon. The same group of people are walking around today rushing up on the latest, the greatest, and the most-up-to-datest to sweep the land. They have no firm hold on they are, they simply want to fit in with the folks who are popular. They don’t have any desire for the power that lasts, the power that will endure every test, they simply want the manner, the mode, the method of power that is powerful at the present time.

My friend, God condemns the use of sorcery or magic, the use of false power to sway folks. All throughout God’s Word He tells us to stay away from those who practice their craft because they will lead us away from God.

Do not practice divination or sorcery. (Leviticus 19:26 NIV)

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:31 NIV)

Keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries, which you have labored at since childhood. Perhaps you will succeed, perhaps you will cause terror. {13} All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you. {14} Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. Here are no coals to warm anyone; here is no fire to sit by. (Isaiah 47:12-14 NIV)

Stop and think for a moment how powerful God’s Words written long ago are to us in this day where we seem to have a propensity to trust in everything and everyone except for God. A woman anxious over the future of her children calls a psychic hotline to find out what the future of her children will be. A man, trying to start a business, pulls up next to someone with lots of capital and is willing to do whatever necessary to keep the friendship alive, no matter the price to be paid. A young girl, trying to fit in, is shown some attention from the star point guard on the basketball team and continually says “yes” so that she can keep her stock at school high. A man consults his horoscope each day to find out what the day will hold. Attaching ourselves to the purported powerful among us will only lead us away from trusting in and holding onto the One who truly possesses the power – Almighty God!

{11} They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. {12} But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. {13} Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

There came a time in Simon’s life when he saw the masses of people who use to follow him begin to follow someone else. Philip preached of the power of God made manifest in Jesus Christ and the people came en masse to be baptized. In verse 13, Luke tells us that Simon himself believed and was baptized. The end of verse 13 smells a little fish, and we are led to believe that Simon was more interested in the great signs and miracles that he saw come from the hand of Philip than he was in the One whom Philip represented.

{14} When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. {15} When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, {16} because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. {17} Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

This little section of Scripture has proven to be more divisive than almost any other in the entire book of Acts for the Church today. Understand that God never intended for it to be divisive, but it has only become divisive because we have used it as a tool or terror to alienate and isolate our brothers and sisters.

There are people today who will tell you that you do not receive the Holy Spirit unless you have been “baptized” in the Spirit. A second baptism beyond the immersion so many of you have experienced. Not only must you be “baptized in the Spirit,” but there must be evidence that the baptism took – speaking in tongues.

In the other camp are those who will tell you that the second baptism is invalid, that somehow this section of the Bible can be explained away. I think both groups should fall on their faces before Almighty God and ask forgiveness for dividing the Body of Christ. Is the experience of the Samaritans valid? You better believe it! Is the means by which they received the Holy Spirit, the only means possible for believers? Absolutely not!

Let me take a minute to explain what I am trying to get across to us. When the Spirit of God fell upon the believers at Pentecost, it wasn’t because someone laid hands on the people. (Acts 2:38-42) When Peter was at the house of Cornelius, the people there were amazed that the Spirit of God had come to the Gentiles. Not only did the people receive the Holy Spirit, but they received the gift of God’s Spirit before they were ever baptized with water. Take a look at Acts 10:44-48.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. {45} The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. {46} For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, {47} “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” {48} So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:44-48 NIV)

The Spirit of God, the true power of God, is given to each and every believer in Jesus so that we can walk intimately with the Father and live victoriously as followers of Jesus. The Holy Spirit can’t be manipulated by the desires of men.

In Acts 2:38, the believers received the Spirit of God when they were converted to Jesus, when they surrendered their lives to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:3,13, Paul says that every follower of Jesus receives the gift of God’s Spirit from the hand of God so that the Body of Christ may be built up. Take a look.

The Real Deal!
Acts 8:9-25