Today’s Chocolate: Splendid 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Acts 8
Stephen’s death was a bit of a sucker punch to the early church. Not only did they have to cope with the loss of one of their most devout members, but also Jerusalem turned hostile to the faith. The majority of the new Christians had to disperse to other regions, and Saul spearheaded the persecution efforts, imprisoning many of those who stuck around. But you don’t get diamonds without pressure, you don’t get pearls without irritants, and it takes a lot of (ahem) fertilizer to make a rose.
For starters, if the majority of the early church hadn’t been pushed out of Jerusalem, Philip might never have come into his own. One of the twelve apostles, Philip does absolutely nothing whatsoever of interest in the synoptics, though he gets a little more airtime in the gospel of John, introducing Nathanael to Jesus and at the Last Supper asking him, “Lord, show us the Father” (John 14:8). But this chapter is Philip’s.
If Jerusalem has turned so hostile to the gospel, perhaps other cities are more receptive–which is why Philip goes to Samaria. The Samaritans are remarkably open to the gospel, especially as it comes with miracles of exorcism and healing. A well-known former practitioner of magic named Simon even believes and gets baptized.
You may know Simon by the epithet Simon the Sorcerer, but that’s not entirely fair. As soon as he shows up in the story, Luke notes that he previously was practicing magic. Wherever the word comes up, it’s always something he did in the past, never a part of his identity. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call him “Simon the Simonist.”
“Simony” is the practice of purchasing authority within the church, so named for Simon. He used to enjoy considerable esteem in Samaria for his arcane practices, and while he evidently gave up the magic when he converted to Christianity, he misses the admiration. Wanting the same power the apostles have, he makes a bid to buy it from them, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (19). But the Spirit isn’t for sale, and Peter tells Simon in so many words that he can die with his money if he thinks he can buy God. Simon’s cut to the quick and asks for the apostles to pray for him.
So Peter kind of takes over toward the end of Simon the Samaritan Simonist’s story. But Philip isn’t done yet. Let’s take an extra day on this one and check out Philip’s continued adventures tomorrow.