DIMES FROM YOUR EARS!
Magicians have fascinated me from childhood. A fellow named Walt was our hometown sleight-of-hand expert. He came to our seventh-grade classroom one day and succeeded in holding us all spellbound by his amazing tricks. He pulled strings or ersatz wieners from a boy's shirt collar. Dimes materialized from ears. Whole bouquets of flowers appeared from nowhere. But, the greatest exploit of all was achieved when the adroit man of "magic" stood an apparently unwitting lad before us, and, with one deft sweep, snatched the still-buttoned shirt right off his back!
So intrigued was I about such feats that I lay awake at night puzzling over the secrets of such men. It was not until years later that I fully realized that it was all trickery, and relatively simple to accomplish.
ANCIENT MAGICIAN, SIMON
It is not difficult for me to imagine the hold the ancient magician, Simon, had on his fellow-citizens in the old city of Samaria. Before I was a Christian I am sure I would have fallen victim to his spell in short order. The Samaritans' hometown marvel, of course, far outstripped the man back in my native city. Walt got his powers form practice. Simon derived his from the devil.
The story of this Simon is in the eighth chapter of Acts. I have founf it a tale well worth studying. Fortunately, the structure of the account is not difficult. Simon is presented in "three acts:" Simon, the unbeliever; Simon, the believer; and Simon the rebuked.
Simon, the unbeliever, had mesmerized his peers. Backed by Satan, he had established such a reputation that the crowds, which witnessed his wizardry, acclaimed him, "the great power of god."
WE ARE NOT UNLIKE THE SORCERER! SEEKING SPOTLIGHT
A moment's reflection will force each of us to admit that we haven't been completely unlike the sorcerer. Before we judge the man mercilessly we do well to recall the many ways in which we have claimed to be "great." We may have made the assertion with a shout or by a whisper. There is no essential difference. Self-promotion is self-promotion, no matter how many decibels are involved. Basically, it is all a form of "spotlight-ism." It is the one characteristic all sinners have in common.
Simon loved attention. You and I love attention. The only real difference between him and ourselves is that he was probably more successful in getting it.
MY DAYS OF DREAMING ABOUT BEING IN SPOTLIGHT!
When I was a high-schooler, the notion that I was a great artist took hold of me. In fact, it almost strangled me! I was continually preoccupied with dreams of my own esthetic ability. Nurtured by well-meaning but mistaken parents and buoyed by the notoriety youthful drawings are certain to produce in any small-town, my fantasies thrived. Simon and I were very much alike in those days. What was the things you employed to get attention? You thought you were great, and the whole city said, "Amen!" The vast craving for attention, and the efforts to get it, were the same in both of you. The second stage of Simon's ignoble career is the most instructive.
SIMON STOOD FROZEN BY FAILURE - SEEING A COMPETITIVE POWER
One bright day a preacher came to town. His name was Philip. HE came preaching Christ. And Simon's self-centered world began to crumble. I can almost see Simon nailing up posters on Main Street, confident that his coming extravaganza would pull in the crowds as surely as it had been doing for years. And then my mind catches a glimpse of his face as he steps on the stage that night. It is so long he looks as though he could eat oatmeal through a stovepipe. The auditorium empty! Everybody is somewhere else, listening to someone else. Simon is alone. A rival has stolen his crowd and taken the spotlight. As he stands there, frozen by failure, he hears a great shout. Somewhere out on the street is the clatter if footsteps, punctuated by whoops of joy. Peering out the front door the "has-been" catches his first glimpse of the competitive power, which has robbed him of his cherished audience. What a sight! Caroming down the thoroughfare, wild with untrammeled joy, is a local townsman who, five minutes before, had been hopelessly paralyzed.
Echoes of praise ricochet from building to deserted building. Jesus, through Philip, had healed His first patient in the city of Samaria.
The amazed magician discovered that an outbreak of miracles was sweeping the area. He soon found himself giving rapt attention the words of the newcomer. His ears were open. His eyes were wide while he watched Deity in action! All around him people were crying out, "I repent! I believe! I want this Christ!"
And one day Simon found himself in a crowd headed for the nearest convenient body of water. Masses of newly converted Samaritans were submitting to Christian baptism. And Simon was still listening, still watching.
SWITCHING FROM SPECTATOR TO PARTICIPATNT
Then came his own moment of truth. He switched frOm spectator to participant, Acts tells us, "Simon himself also believed, and was baptized."
Many people, having read that phrase, have added words. They have caused it to say, "Simon himself pretended to believe." The reason for the alteration is that many find it unpalatable that Simon, a genuine Christian, could have offered money to buy a divine gift. But, I'm getting ahead of the story. Suffice it to say that the only available evidence indicates that the Samaritan converts and the Samaritan wonder-man all did the same three things. The believed, they were baptized. They followed Philip.
However, there is one additional things said about Simon. And it explains a great deal about his subsequent sin: "As he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed." The supernatural events became a kind of fixation with him. He was enthralled by the actions of Christ in an age when normal Christians were intrigued only with the Person of Christ. This is not an overstatement. A careful investigation of the entire book of Acts leads on the inescapable conclusion that believers generally took the supernatural in stride. Only the rebels were overwhelmed by it.
But, Simon, the believer, was not normal. He was still a stunned observer when he should have been merely a reverent worshipper. And it was this attitude that points the way to the fatal flaw in his inner life. When he saw a miracle he saw a grand, mind-boggling production, complete with audience.
THE IRRITATING THING FOR SIMON
The irritating thing was that he was forced to watch it from the wings instead of center stage. His problem was further aggravated by the coming of Peter and John. The church at Jerusalem had sent them to reinforce the work of revival. They came as specialists whose task it was to convey the fullness of the Spirit to the happy young Christians.
Visualize the situation. Stupendous miracles had been occurring. Demons had been driven out. A tide of pure jubilation had rolled over the town. Now it reaches its crest-the baptism of the Holy Spirit! Crowds are gathered once more. Peter places his hands on a Christian. Simon watches with anticipation. The power of the Spirit falls. Simon's eyes widen. The fire-burst within the receiving believer breaks out and visibly transforms him. Simon's mouth drops open, his pulse races, his mind reels. This is the miracle, which surpasses all that went before it! There is no more gracious work of God than that which He does in descending in force upon a trusting saint.
WANT ANYTHING EARNESTLY FROM GOD?
And before we sneer at what Simon did, we'd be well-advised to take a moment to admire him at least for one thing: he thought so highly of a gift of God he was willing to lay out lucre to get it. The truth of the matter is that very few Christians want anything form God earnestly enough to let their wallets be affected by their desire. Of all the parts of the human personality to be touched by the grace of God, the hip pocket it usually the last! Seldom does the power of God become more important than "king cash." Not so with Simon.
In one bold and awful outburst, he propositioned Peter and John. " Here is my money. My money is your gift."
To be completely frank, we must concede that whatever good intentions may have been strangely mixed into this act, they were vastly overshadowed by the twisted motive, which was still part of him.
CROSSING THE LINE AND THE REBUKE
May I suggest that Simon the believer had indeed crossed the line form the dark kingdom to the domain of God? But, in making the trip he brought something very ugly along with him- the persistent disease of "spotlight-ism." The thing that made him revel in the attention he had enjoyed as a sinner still impelled him as a saint.
Now comes the moment of scathing rebuke:
Peter used some scorching words to unveil the man's internal condition. Hear him: "Your heart is not right in the sight of God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray God that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the bondage of iniquity."
Distill this invective and you have the concentrated indictment: "wickedness," "bitterness," and "iniquity." All precise labels for the haunting sin of selfishness.
This was Peter's opinion of the ex-magician's case. More importantly, it is still god's opinion of every similar case.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF INORDINATE CRAVING FOR ATTENTION
The inordinate craving for attention is a carry-over from a life lived in service of the devil. It, unfortunately, surfaces repeatedly throughout the ranks of the people of God. It is written on the faces of all the offended Christians who were not asked to sing solos in the choir. It is obvious in the glares of the frustrated churchmen who failed to get elected to the church board.
It pollutes the atmosphere of homes where husbands did not get their full measure of TLC during their last bout with the sniffles. It defiles the conventions in which "eminent leaders" were not duly recognized by appointments to prestigious committees. It jeopardizes the planning meetings of Christian youth organizations. It throttles God's best efforts to produce revival. In short, it has the stench of hell about it!
It must be dealt with drastically. Peter knew this when he met it in Simon. His command was unequivocal, "Repent!"
DID SIMON REPENT?
The saddest thing about his story is its completely unsatisfactory ending. Simon was told to repent. Instead of doing so, he turned plaintively to the apostle and requested prayer. What an inane reaction to an enormous personal crisis. In a case like this, a prayer request is a simpering substitute for taking responsibility. Anyone discovering the presence of "spotlight-ism" in his life can scarcely expect to expel it by spiritual "buck-passing."
Repent means repent. Nothing less will do. Simon could have been a renewed, Spirit-filled believer. Instead, he came to terms with his pride and settled for a rebuke and a perilous future.
Which is the same a settling for nothing.
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