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Is Your Heart Right Before God?

Date: Feb. 2, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 8:9-25

Key Verse: Acts 8:21-22

 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.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.”

Have you ever been hungry and picked up a good looking apple but when you bite into it, you find out that it’s all mushy and brown? It’s not very pleasant, right. My mom tells this story about the time when she drove to California with her sister. They stopped along the way at different diners, drive ins, and dives to eat. At this one place she ordered a cheeseburger. When they delivered it, she was hungry and it looked so delicious. But before she ate it she flipped it over to put some mustard and catsup on it only to find a huge roach imbedded in the meat. Imagine if she hadn’t flipped it over and actually took a bite. The crunch!?!? From the outside, both the apple and cheeseburger looked good, appealing, and delicious, but on the inside they were disgusting. Let’s see how this is connect to this morning’s passage, but first let’s pray.

We pick up today’s passage following Philip after he left Jerusalem because of the persecution. He scattered like everyone else except the apostles and ended up in Samaria. It was an odd place for him to be, because the Jews thought the Samaritans were disgusting and yet that is where he went. Maybe he remembered Jesus told them to be his witnesses to Jerusalem, and all Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. While he was in Samaria, he proclaimed the good news about Jesus, the Son of God, and the Spirit confirmed his message with many miracles; people were healed, demons were driven out, and there was great joy in that city. And that’s where Philip meets a shady guy called Simon. Take a look at verses 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,10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery.” There’s not a lot that we know about Simon except that he practiced sorcery (magic) and boasted that he was someone great. I heard that if you have to say you’re great, then you’re probably not. It’s one thing to make this claim himself, however Simon wasn’t alone, it seems that all the people (rich & poor, short and tall, smart and dumb, high and low) of the area also thought the same, or maybe even greater for they put Simon on the same level as God. We might associate Simon with Harry Potter, or real life magicians like Harry Houdini, or David Copperfield, Penn & Teller. Or maybe magicians with a darker presence like David Blaine or Chris Angel. There have been many magicians over the years and most of them are in it for entertainment, but there are some who are in it for the occult. Some of them dabble in darkness and are able to do things with the help of evil spirits. So we have to be careful. Whatever the case, Simon must have been able to do some pretty amazing things with his sorcery because he kept the people amazed for quite a while.

Now Simon may have had the attention of the Samaritans for a long time performing his tricks but that completely changed when Philip came to town preaching the gospel. Take a look at verse 12. “But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” It appears that Simon’s spell on the people had been broken when they heard the good news about Jesus and about his kingdom. Philip must have told them what the kingdom of God would be like. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21) God’s kingdom “Will shine with the glory of God, and its brilliance will be like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (Rev 21:11) And the gates will be made out of pearl and the streets made out of gold as pure as transparent glass. (21:21) And Jesus will be crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. There will be no need for the sun or moon, for the glory of God will be its light and Jesus its lamp. And Jesus will say,

“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” (Rev 21) Sometimes we forget about God’s kingdom and what it will be like. It will be greater than anything that we can imagine, but we let the things of this world cloud our vision of the wonder and beauty of Heaven. Please don’t do that. We need to be reminded time and time again to renew our hope. The crowds that followed Philip were overjoyed as they heard the wonderful message of God. They paid close attention to everything that he said. And the miracles that the Holy Spirit performed through Philip confirmed that his message was the truth.

The Holy Spirit performed its own trick and made Simon’s crowds disappear. Did Simon get mad because he was suddenly out of show business? Take a look at verse 13. “Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.” No Simon didn’t get mad, it seems as if he believed too. He was even baptized and he became like Philip’s stalker following him everywhere. It seems that even Simon was changed and he stopped practicing sorcery and followed Philip. This was the powerful work of God.

Verses 14 to 17 tell us, “14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit,16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” You know that it’s important when an organization sends its top two members to an event. You couldn’t get any higher than Peter and John, they were the leaders of the early church. Why would they send the top guns to a place that the Jews despised? This was a pivotal moment in history of the church. This was the first step to include people outside of the Jews. Up to this point the church was made up of all Jews, but now it was moving to half Jews and then it will move to the non-Jews: the whole world. Some people wonder how did the Samaritans believe and get baptized without having the Holy Spirit? We need the Holy Spirit to come into our heart in order to believe in the first place, so were they incomplete? Some scholars think that this event was more important for the apostles than for the people of Samaria. That the Holy Spirit was held back until Peter and John could get there so that they could see it with their own eyes and they would know that this was the genuine work of the God and not a counterfeit. It was the same God, same Spirit so that they would be one body, one church, one people. It was like the opposite of the tower of Babel. At one time the people were scattered, now God’s people are being gathered together.

It was a beautiful sight, with new believers, the Holy Spirit the restoration of people. Everything was going great but then Satan has to mess it up and something bad happens. Take a look at verses 18-19. “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.” It’s here that we see Simon’s inner heart revealed. Up until this time, everything looked fine, but now we begin to see what’s really going on. Just like that apple, or cheeseburger that I mentioned earlier, everything about Simon looked good. He believed, he was baptized, he stopped his old life and was following Philip around. He looks like a genuine Christian. But just because you do the right things on the outside doesn’t mean that you are right on the inside. Listen to what the Lord said to the prophet Samuel when he was anointing the king of Israel. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) We can only see what is on the outside but God can see everything. He not only knows what we’ve done, but WHY we’ve done it. He knows the motives of our heart. And Simon’s words reveal what’s going on in his heart. Even though he believes, still there was sin deeply rooted in his heart. And what I want to make clear here is that this is the case with ALL believers in the beginning. Each of us has to go from a new born baby believer to an adult mature believer and that process of maturing is called sanctification and it takes our whole life. Simon shouldn’t feel bad, but he had to realize the seriousness of his heart. Even though he was a spiritual baby, he couldn’t remain that way. Every Christian has to mature, otherwise we don’t grow.

Now listen to Peter’s response in verses 20-23. “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 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.” Peter’s response may seem a little harsh to us. Maybe he could have said, “No, no. We don’t need your money. This is God’s gift,” or something similar. But that would be our good minded human way of thinking.

This was a very serious situation. Simon thought that he could control God and make the Holy Spirit do what he wanted. Maybe Simon’s old lifestyle, where people called him god, started to creep back into his Christian life. If he wants to take the place of God, that is dangerously close to Satan’s desire. So Peter erupted in a Spirit filled rebuke. Maybe Peter remembered when Jesus rebuked him for doing something similar when Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mt 16:23) When Peter was thinking about his own desires and not according to God’s will, Jesus rebuked him harshly, even calling him Satan.

If you look at this from Peter’s point of view, the Samaritan church was a young, new church that was vulnerable in its early growing stage. And Simon was a powerful influence, given his history. If a young church get’s its doctrine mixed with wrong ideas, then the church is in danger of leading people down the wrong way to eternal destruction. So it’s very important to have our church doctrine correct- a matter of life and death. When there is persecution on a church from the outside, usually the result is that the church grows. However when there are problems on the inside of the church, that can cause it to die. There will always be sin on the outside of the church, that is not as serious as sin INSIDE of the church. This is a critical issue. Like I said earlier, Simon was a believer, baptized and a member of the church, but when he brings his sin inside the church, this can become like a cancer that spreads and kills the whole church body. Peter said, “For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin,” (v23) this bitterness that he was talking about wasn’t like the bitterness that we know, where someone is mad or upset. This bitterness is like sweet water and bitter water, if you mix the two, all of it is ruined. This bitterness is compared to poison, and if this got into the church it would kill it! The great empire of Rome was defeated by enemies from the outside, but it crumbled from the corruption from within. Just like a house that is being eaten by termites from the inside out. This is the reason why Peter reacted like he did.

God is always concerned about our hearts. This was Simon’s problem. Simon wasn’t ready to receive the Holy Spirit, if he got that power before his heart was right before God, things would have gone terribly wrong. This was a critical point in his life and Peter realized it and that’s why he rebuked him and told him to REPENT. It takes courage to speak like this to people. It also takes a special relationship. But it is sometimes necessary for believers to be rebuked to get us back on the right track. And because it’s a difficult thing for us to do, when we get rebuked and told to repent, we have to understand that the person doing it REALLY cares for and loves us because the easy thing to do would be to let it go. So the next time it happens to you, think about that before you get mad at them. Thank them for their real love for you.

Since Peter brought it up, what is repentance? Repentance is a change of mind leading to a change of action. Where we acknowledge that we are wrong and we need to change. But we can’t change ourselves, we need help from the Holy Spirit. That’s why we need to cry out to Jesus in prayer so that he will send us the Holy Spirit to lead us. But if we are holding on to our sin in our heart, God will not listen to us. Psalm 66:18 tells us, “18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” (Ps 66)

Why do we need to repent?

Repentance is of the utmost importance because sin brings God’s judgment and fellowship with God is only possible when we sincerely repentance. God, through his servants, calls us to repent as the only way to escape the judgment and receive the forgiveness and restoration that he offers. Repentance is the only way to escape God’s judgment. Listen to what God told his people through his servant Ezekiel, “30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ez 18) In fact that is the very reason Jesus came. He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Lk 5:32) “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Ja 5) God desires for all people to repent because he wants them all to be saved. “23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ez 18) God is patient with those who haven’t repented yet. Peter said, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”(2 Pet 3) God’s discipline encourages our repentance. The prophet Hosea said, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” (Ho 6:1) We need to take the opportunity that God gives us to repent.

What happens if we, in the end, refuse to repent?

God will not force himself upon us. He gives us the free will to choose. And if we choose not to repent, God will hardens the hearts of those who refuse to come to him. So he will make us stronger in our position against him. This is really scary to me. Jesus said, “14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Mt 13) If we continue to refuse to repent, God will make us stronger in our stand against him. Think about that for a moment. Is that what you really want? Do you want to remain as God’s enemy? That is why repentance is so important.

What happens when we do repent?

Repentance opens the way for God’s blessing. When we repent, we confess our lie and tell the truth and the truth sets us free. Simon was captive to sin, he needed to be set free from its hold on him. Repentance brings forgiveness and restoration. God said to his people, “14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Ch7) Repentance leads to life. (Acts 11) Repentance prepares the way for God’s kingdom to come to us. (Mt 4:17) However we have to know that even though we repent, repentance may not remove the effects of sin. (Nu 14. The Israelites repentance didn’t stop their wandering in the desert. Saul’s repentance was too late to escape God’s judgment on his kingship. (1 Sa 15) Even despite King David’s repentance the son of his adulterous relationship died. (2 Sa 12)) There are examples of those who did and didn’t repent. Remember King David and Saul or Peter and Judas.

Conclusion:

What happened to Simon? We don’t really know. However the early church fathers recorded that there was a heretical Gnostic sect of Simonians in the second and third century that traced their belief back to the Simon of Acts. And there are accounts that he went to Rome, during the reign of Claudius, where he was worshiped as a god and had a statue of him erected with the inscription, “to the holy god Simon.” We don’t know if these are the same people, it could be another group that wants to get some credibility by being connected to the early church. We don’t know. For all we know Simon may have repented after he was rebuked. Like Peter was rebuked by Jesus when he said, “Get behind me Satan.” Maybe he had a change of heart? I don’t know. But one thing is clear, we have to take the matter of repentance seriously. For if we don’t we will perish under God’s judgment. Repent, have a change of mind that leads to a change of heart. May God bless you, because of your humble and repentant heart.

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