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A Demonstration of the Power of God

Acts 8:1-25

Jim Davis
 

Acts 8:9-11
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, 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." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. (NIV)


When I read stories such as this one from antiquity, I realize that there is one thing about men and women of every age that never changes --- it is human nature. Human nature leads us to look for someone to show us a shortcut for a quick trip to wonderland. We are looking for a quick fix to meet all our needs. The Samaritans believed that they had found such a person in Simon the sorcerer. They believed that they had found " . . . the divine power known as the Great Power." They were held in awe by his magic. Simon boasted that he was some great person and people from all walks of life gave him their attention.

Simon was the David Copperfield of his day. The only difference was that David Copperfield tells you that his magic is only an illusion and Simon wanted people to believe that his magic was an allusion to a divine source. "He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention . . ." That in and of itself is what made it devilish. We don't know what he was actually doing, the Bible only says that he was practicing sorcery. Simon practiced his sorcery to gain power.

There are many today that utilize power to draw others to themselves for their own glorification. We have seen many of them exposed as frauds. There are all kinds of people boasting today about their ability to bring you health, wealth and prosperity. I have always noticed that these people are either selling something or are looking for a hand out. I think that Peter speaks of such individuals.
 

2 Peter 2:18-19
For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity-- for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (NIV)


In 1985 an ad had this heading, "The Most Important Money/Power/Romantic-love Discovery since the Industrial Revolution." The ad described a new knowledge that would give a person the ability to beat any opponent "in every area of business and romance." The promoters of this scheme appealed to a basic human trait--selfishness. And it's selfishness that causes people to crave power so they can gain prestige, wealth, and ego fulfillment.

What is done for power today isn't any different than what Simon the Sorcerer was doing. An otherwise decent man expressed this sentiment: "Sure, I may trample on others on the way up. But I can't let that bother me. Somebody is going to be on top of the heap. Better me than another person."

Many are more than willing to exploit the weakness of human nature. Some of these people are even found in churches. Paul spoke of these types of individuals who were present in the church at Corinth. In addressing the problem Paul told the Corinthians "You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! What anyone else dares to boast about-- I am speaking as a fool-- I also dare to boast about." (2 Corinthians 11:19-21 NIV)

A preacher attended a service put on by a famous faith healer. He was a man who had milked millions of dollars from earnest people by the faith healing racket. The preacher attended the meeting just to hear what he was saying. The faith healer began preaching a sermon that sounded like a good gospel message. As the preacher sat and listened to the man, he began to think that maybe he was wrong about this man. That is, until he came to the invitation. Rather than giving an invitation to the thousands who were present to come to Christ, this is what he said, "If you want to know God, then have faith in my prayers. If you want to meet God, believe that my prayers will lead you to God. Come forward and kneel here, and I'll pray for you." The whole direction of his message was toward himself and his prayer.

False Christianity always attempts to interject a mediator between a believer and God. Counterfeit Christianity tries to insert a priesthood of one sort or another, a mediator, someone great, and someone who has an "in" with God, someone who has a special channel to God that other people don't have. When you hear that sort of thing, you know that you are hearing again the same kind of falsehoods that you find in the book of Acts. "There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:5)

If you can convince people that God is so distant and so far removed that only a few have access to his power then this puts you in control. They will to look at you as the "Great Power of God."

Teaching the Sermon on the Mount, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones says we should not pray for power but ask God to help us to be better Christians. We should long for more genuine humility, a deeper sense of God's presence, a greater degree of holiness, and a more Christlike love. The matter of power should be left in God's hands. Then, if He gives it to us, we will use it properly.

The Power of God is Real

In Acts 8 Philip is preaching in a hostile world. In troubling times, it is often hard to see beyond the immediate difficulties. Troubles have a way of blinding us to God's potential for each of us. Philip lived in troublesome times; just look at the context of this passage.
 

Acts 8:1-5
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. (NIV)


Philip was in Samaria because he was fleeing for his life. He wasn't a bigwig apostle; he was an ordinary Christian. He had just left a job serving tables in Jerusalem. (Acts 6:1-5) When Philip was forced out of Jerusalem he comes to Samaria and finds the people caught up in witchcraft and sorcery.

Wherever you find sorcery, witchcraft and the occult, you will find people who are bound by their own fears. Many of the people in this city were bound by Simon's sorcery. Many ordinary Christians believe the gospel is unable to reach such a world. Yet, God empowered Philip to preach in Samaria.
 

Acts 8:5-8
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city. (NIV)


The New Testament world was comparable to what Dickens said in his writings, "It was the best of times and the worst of times." The blood on the cross was still fresh. Jesus Christ had just died to save a world so lost that it didn't know which end was up. That is what made it the worst of times; humanity had never been so lost. It was enslaved to passion, fear, witches, warlocks, astrology and demonic possession. As we look around in our world, we realize that things aren't much different.

We see overwhelming forces of evil all about us. We believe that we are left powerless. We believe that there is not much we can say or do to make a difference. We have lost sight of the liberation that God continues to offer through the gospel message.

There are many things that evidence that we have lost sight of the power of God today. We look to people with personality plus to make the message more effective. We continue to appeal to the sinful nature to make the message of the gospel more effective. We turn to entertainment, programs, and we are looking to change the way we do things to make the gospel more effective. Something's certainly do need changing, but change in and of itself has no power to energize believers. It is hearts that need to be changed so that we might comprehend the power of God available to win the lost.
 

Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)


There is one concept that jumps out at us throughout the book of Acts -- it is God's power to save in the worst of circumstances. As a matter of course, this is the one fact that is stressed from Genesis through Revelation. The power itself never resided in those doing the preaching or teaching. The power was unmistakably God's power.

Philip as an ordinary Christian accustomed to waiting on tables came into this city preaching the power of the risen Christ. When the power of God demonstrated God's reign and potency over the demonic spirits, paralytics and cripples, it was a proclamation of freedom to those bound, by fear and superstitious beliefs. The miracles performed only testified to the power of the risen Christ. They were a testimony to what Christ did, to what he was doing, to what he could do and to what he would do for them.

Philip didn't come encouraging them to take a shortcut to wonderland. Philip focused them on Christ. He didn't preach Christ to bring attention to him; he preached Christ to liberate them from their bondage to trickery and sorcery. He didn't preach himself as an authority; he preached the kingdom of God by the authority of Christ.

When Philip came preaching Christ, his focus was on what Christ had to offer. He didn't have his hand out, but he did extend a helping hand. This is always a good sign of what is real and what isn't.

No matter how many are easily deceived, I sincerely believe many are searching for something real to build their lives upon. When Philip came to Samaria preaching Christ the people were still searching for something more real upon which to build their hopes. They were willing to compare what Philip had with what Simon the sorcerer offered. These people were acquainted with Simon as he demonstrated his power through sorcery. They followed him because he had amazed them with his magic. But now they see more than magic, they behold the reality of God's power as Philip does what no mere mortal can do. It is not trickery; it is real, and even the sorcerer knows the difference. Philip wins hands down.

Discerning minds know the difference. They had been tossed back and forth with the cunning deceitful ways of the world. As they beheld Simon's sorcery they understood the deceitfulness of the way of the world.

Philip drew a sharp contrast between the reign of God and the rule of the world. In contrast Philip came to give them clear direction for living by offering each of them personally the power of God for healing. He offered the power they were searching for to overcome the problems of life. They were encouraged to surrender to God's reign for their lives.

Philip Preached Surrender

The following verses speak of the Samaritans surrender to God's power.

Acts 8:12-13
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. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. (NIV)


They were baptized. Baptism in and of itself denotes a surrender of our old value system. In baptism we relinquish control of our lives to the regenerating power of God through a willingness to die to ourselves as we symbolically submit to bury the old self in water. We must realize that it is one thing to know the facts and quite another thing to surrender our lives. Merely accepting the facts will not empower us to reach God's potential. We can only find the resourceful regenerating power of God through surrender.

It is hard to surrender to deep-seated change. You can't do it without God's help. It’s easy to turn inward and become focused on ourselves. It’s only natural. After all, we’re programmed that way. All our lives we grow up thinking that we are the most important person we know. We spend our time trying to please ourselves.

Even Christians can fall into the trap of becoming refocused on themselves. You see, at the core of human nature there is a tendency toward selfishness. It’s a part of what we call the old nature. It’s habitual, and habit patterns are hard to break. Sometimes it takes
powerful forces or events to blast us out of these comfortable patterns.

Real change can only be done through the regenerating power of God. When Simon was converted to Christianity he saw the great possibilities the power of God offered him, but he wasn't looking for the regenerating power of God. He wanted a power that he could buy and sell with money. He continued looking for a financial investment for personal gain. He wanted the power, but he wanted it for himself. He believed the facts, but he continued to be controlled by the power of Satan.
 

Acts 8:13, 18-20
Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw . . . 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! (NIV)
Simon discovered that it was impossible to walk in the spirit without giving up his commitment to live in the flesh.

It is amazing how personal testimonies seek to witness the reality of God while keeping the focus on self. We convince ourselves that we can believe in God without giving up faith in ourselves and without changing the focus of our lives.

I briefly saw a television evangelist at the end of  his program selling tapes about how to financially independent. His appeal was, give your life to God and discover financial independence. He was selling the tapes for $250.00.  I think this is why Simon the sorcerer came to Christ. Peter said: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!" (NIV)

Christ doesn't you offer you financial independence, but he does offer you an eternal hope that you can bank on. That is why the people in Samaria gave up their fears and came to Christ, they were tired of the trickery of the world. They wanted something more substantial.

Conclusion:

Philip's proclamation of Jesus Christ brought great joy to that city. Deep down inside they knew the trickery of a sorcerer offered no hope beyond this world. Philip's preaching revealed the eternal dimension of life. What a reason to rejoice!

Sometimes I think we feel like Chippie the parakeet. Gary Carr tells the story of Chippie the parakeet. "Chippie never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage, sending a song into the air; the next second he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

"His problem began when his owner decided to clean his cage with a vacuum. She had stuck the nozzle in to suck up the seeds and feathers at the bottom of the cage when the nearby telephone rang. Instinctively she turned to pick it up. She had barely said hello when--ssswwwwwpppppp! Chippie got sucked in. She gasped, let the phone drop, and switched off the vacuum. With her heart in her mouth, she unzipped the bag.

"There was Chippie--alive but stunned--covered with heavy gray dust. She grabbed him and rushed to the bathtub, turned on the faucet full blast, and held Chippie under a torrent of ice-cold water, powerwashing him clean. Then it dawned on her that Chippie was soaking wet and shivering. So she did what any compassionate pet owner would do: she snatched up the hair dryer and blasted him with hot air.

"Did Chippie survive? Yes, but he doesn't sing much anymore. He just sits and stares a lot. It's not hard to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over! It's enough to steal the song from any stout heart."

A world that has been sucked in, washed up and blown over can find reason to rejoice in the power of God found in obedience to the gospel.

The true gospel message offers the real thing. Jesus Christ offers you freedom from bondage. He is not a fake who is seeking anything your money, but he offers you something that is priceless -- salvation.
 
 

 

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