In Acts 8:9-25, we find the story of Simon the Magician. Now when we say “magician” here, we’re not talking sleight of hand, illusions, or camera tricks, but supernatural stuff. When it comes to the content of what such a magician might do, R. C. H Lenski explains that,
The range of their arts extended from the conjuring of demons, dealing with the dead, influencing the gods, to charms for healing, divination, stargazing, and the like. The more pretentious employed formulae and ideas that were derived from Oriental theosophy and mystic cults, or combined these with Greek ideas.R. C. H Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles
Simon’s world was quite familiar with magic as evidenced later in Acts where a number of new Christians burn all of their magic books, equating to 50,000 pieces of silver (Acts 19:18-19). The New American Commentary, estimates that, “If the piece of silver concerned is the drachma, the most common Greek silver coin, that would come to about $35,000 in current silver value” (John B. Polhill). At that time there was no printing press, so any kind of book cost quite a bit of money, though magic books fetched a particularly high price in general. Ancient people obviously put quite a bit of stock in such books, because you don’t shell out that kind of cash for something unless you believe it’s worth it. You also don’t burn things of that kind of worth unless you have been convinced that there’s good reason to do so—and Jesus is good reason to do so.
But in our ignorance we sometimes mess around with the occult as a joke. We play around with things like Ouija boards and then walk away, possibly carrying a spirit we didn’t walk in with. Though you can buy these objects in the kid’s section of the store, Ouija boards are so dangerous that even occultists will warn you against using them. For example, Marcia Montenegro (who, before she became Christian, was a professional astrologer and teacher, the president of the Metropolitan Astrological Society, and a chairperson of the Board of Atlanta Astrology Examiners) informs her readers that Ouija boards are “like using a telephone without knowing whom you were calling” (Spellbound, chapter 14, ¶1). Yes, even occultists think Ouija boards are dangerous. The occult is no joke.
After Philip shared the gospel with Simon’s city, Simon and others believed and got baptized. Simon even went so far as to continue on with Philip, apparently hoping for a deeper discipleship. And it’s there that we witness a huge flaw in Simon’s thinking. After watching Peter and John pray for others to receive the Holy Spirit, “he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 8:18-19). Peter gave Simon a very strong rebuke for his proposed transaction:
May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.Acts 8:20-23
Simon was going to need some work. He had been buying spells and practicing magic for so long that he thought the Holy Spirit worked the same way. But God’s presence and gifts do not operate in this way (which is a lesson some charismatic churches need to learn urgently with their gross donation tactics—“we’ll send you a prayed-over handkerchief for your healing if you donate just $20!”). You cannot buy God. All of the things in the Kingdom of Heaven, from spiritual gifts to salvation itself, are gifts from God and are given by his choosing, not ours.
Fortunately for Simon, he seemed to receive Peter’s rebuke and replied, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 8:24). Though due to comments from the early church fathers, we wonder if Simon stayed repentant or left the faith. As David G. Peterson point out,
Simon is not mentioned elsewhere in the [New Testament], though the second-century Christian writer Justin Martyr, who was himself a Samaritan, represents Simon as empowered by demons to perform magic and as later honoured in Rome as a god…. Irenaeus…. describes him as the founder of the sect of the Simonians and as one ‘from whom all sorts of (Gnostic) heresies derived their origin’. However, there is nothing in Acts to suggest that Simon was the initiator of Gnostic doctrine, even though this became a widely accepted tradition in early church writings.David G. Peterson (The Acts of the Apostles, “The Pillar New Testament Commentary”)
Regardless of where Simon’s journey did or didn’t go after this moment in Acts, the Bible still presents us with a story of the gospel coming to a man steeped in the occult. Do you have that kind of evangelistic love? A love so deep that you would evangelize to a person practicing the supernatural ways of demons? To a medium? To a satanist? Because we learn through this story and others like it that God is actually willing to extend the invitation of salvation even to such people if they repent and leave their magic behind.
I’ve seen this invitation extended before. I think of the time I attended Darren Wilson’s Furious Love conference, based around his documentary of the same name. The movie featured footage of Wilson’s ministry team praying for and evangelizing to people who practiced New Age and other forms of the occult. Because of this movie content, some witches attended the conference in attempts to curse it. Darren acknowledged their attendance from the stage and then told them that he loved them. I had never heard the love of God extended to witches from a church stage before and it blew my mind.
Yes, God extends the gospel even to people who are in that deep. And if we share his eyes of love, we will do the same. For Jesus has come to set the captive free.