What Does Great Look Like? | Acts 8.9-13

Acts 8.9-13

I wonder how often you compare yourself to someone else? 

Not often? Sometimes? Daily? Perhaps many times a day?

We all know that comparisons are a bad idea – and yet somehow we all do it. Perhaps it’s a way of working out our identity? 

  • If I’m like them then… dot-dot-dot
  • If I’m better at this than they are then… 
  • I’m rubbish at this in comparison to them so…

Well, today’s verses are the first half of a story all about comparisons, that of Simon the magician and the Disciples – in this case Philip who had been appointed a deacon in chapter 6. 

After the murder of Stephen and outbreak of violent persecution against the early church many fled Saul and his thugs, or ‘were scattered’ – and Philip goes to a city in Samaria. Not to hide and keep his head down, but to tell them about Jesus. If you remember from the woman at the well in John 4 there were Samaritans who had already come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but here Philip is telling these non-Jewish people the gospel, and accompanying it by healings, deliverances and others signs and wonders. 

Simon the Samaritan magician was a big cheese in that city and because of his powers people listened to what he had to say. He had advertised himself as ‘someone great’ and for a long time had amazed and impressed the people. Luke doesn’t tell us how Simon got these powers, or what he used them for – that apparently doesn’t matter. What matters is that he was the ‘big dog’ spiritually in those parts. 

That is until Philip showed up. And he is offering something far more profound. Yes there were signs and wonders, hope for the disabled, the sick, the oppressed – but he was also proclaiming the good news of God’s upside down kingdom; where the poor and weak are honoured, where the lost and alone are welcomed home, where the leaders serve and the least given value and dignity. And all in the name of Jesus. 

Philip’s power is from the Holy Spirit and he is using it to bless others, to transform their lives, to offer not just tricks and magic, which gain him a reputation and status, but to offer eternal hope and reconciliation with God. 

And the people want that. They know good news when they hear it, and the signs and wonders they see give his words authority. Even Simon wants that hope, that reconciliation with God. He knows when he’s outmatched, in both power and wisdom! 

Of course we hear more about his discipleship journey and misunderstanding of how that power works in the coming verses, but for now it’s good to recognise that Simon had the humility to know that the power he had was nothing compared to the power of God’s Spirit demonstrated by Philip. 

Simon compared his own life, his own reputation and wisdom with what he saw and knew that he was lacking something. 

Many people read this story – especially the coming verses – as Simon being on a power grab, trying to pay the Apostles for the Spirit and their authority, and getting a firm rebuke from Peter. But I think that might be doing him a disservice. Here is a man who doesn’t try to shut Philip down, who doesn’t criticise or undermine his message. Here is a man who is drawn to the kingdom, drawn to Jesus, who understood something of spiritual power and knew it when he saw it. 

Here is a man who stays with Philip, who wants to learn who even gets baptised. 

It makes me reflect on who there is around us, even those with power and status, who might be looking for something more. Who might be drawn to the Kingdom – and the King. Who we might offer to pray for, to demonstrate the power and love of God to? It is good and right that we reach out to help the poor and vulnerable, we know that – many of us try to do it. But perhaps there are others around us. 

  • Our senior colleagues or boss? 
  • Wealthy family members who seem to need nothing? 
  • Community leaders, police officers, politicians, those carrying weight and looked to for wisdom and answers. 

We can feel that we are less than them in the comparison game – but perhaps like Simon, they are looking for more. Looking for a kingdom of hope – and a King to follow. Perhaps they’ve realised that their wisdom isn’t enough for the responsibilities they face, for the pressures others put on them? Perhaps your being up front and brave about your faith in Jesus, offering to pray with them – or for them, might be just what they are in need of? 

Words and wonders, the testimony of his own life – even in the face of persecution made Philip’s message incredibly powerful, so much so that many believed – even the most unlikely. Human nature hasn’t changed, nor has the gospel. Let’s take encouragement and follow Philip’s example, you just never know who might meet Jesus as we do! 

Let us pray: 

Lord Jesus we thank you that you reached down to the poor and vulnerable but also those who, though rich and powerful, were lost and lonely. We ask that you would give us eyes to see all those around us that are in need of you and that you would give us the wisdom to speak the courage to pray and the power of your Spirit to show them what a life transformed could look like. That the weight doesn’t have to be on their shoulders because you are willing to take it. Show us how to love those who need it. We ask it in your name, Amen.