Philip’s evanglization of a town in Samaria came to the attention of the apostles (Acts 8:4-17). When Peter and John arrived they observed that the Holy Spirit had not completed the process: an important part of every Christian’s baptism (cf., Acts 2:38). Once the apostles laid hands upon the recent converts the Holy Spirit validated the advance of the kingdom to include the Samaritans as well as the Jews.
Looking to add to his bag of magic tricks of sorcery, a man named Simon who had boasted of his greatness offered Peter and John money to be empowered to do what they had done: impart the Holy Spirit to others. Peter’s reaction cut to the heart of Simon’s self-centered motives:
“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 in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20-23)
Simon had believed the gospel message about Jesus, had been baptized, and, we can assume, had received the Holy Spirit along with everyone else. And yet, something was terribly wrong with his heart that led Peter to exclude him from participating in this new fellowship of believers. “…your heart is not right before God, ” Peter said; “…you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
At the heart of idol worship or paganism is the idea that if a person does exactly as required to satisfy the demands of one or more of the gods, the chosen deity will then bless them with any number of things such as fertility, plentiful harvests, rain, healing, prosperity, power, etc. Perhaps this was Simon’s challenge. Being obedient to the gospel was a means to achieve a goal other than to accept Jesus’ Lordship over his heart and to conform to the demands of a true disciple of Christ.
Indeed, this matter of the heart has always been a point of tension for the people of God (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:28-30; 5:29; 6:5-6). “Circumcise your hearts” Moses would tell the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 10:15-17). The challenge for them was to avoid falling into idol worship or paganism to satisfy their needs because this illusion would bring disaster upon them rather than blessing (Deuteronomy 29:17-19). This temptation to pursue paganism in their hearts while still performing their rituals in the temple persisted in Israel. Isaiah declared to them in no uncertain terms:
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught. (Isaiah 29:13)
They had fallen into the belief that they could outwardly perform their rituals without tending to the matters of their hearts.
So, perhaps what Simon experienced on that day was not much different than that with which mankind has always struggled: submitting one’s self to God in a way that does not require transformation of the heart in order to achieve something other than what a Holy God requires. As such, the story of Simon should inspire thoughtful meditation upon one’s own relationship to God in Jesus Christ. Shall we seek Him with all of our hearts or settle for going through the motions in order to achieve a self-centered, desired end? It seems to me that Paul’s own decision to orient every aspect of his life towards knowing Christ is a great place to begin:
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Isn’t this what Jesus Himself told us?
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis mine)
Yes, the Gospel is for all who will open their hearts to God! Validating the acceptance of the Samaritans into the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ, the apostles Peter and John themselves were empowered to take the Gospel to even more Samaritans as they began their journey back to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25).