But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great…But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Acts 8:9, 12
We live in two cities: The City of Man and the City of God. “In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, ‘I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength’” (St. Augustine, The City of God). We live in two cities, but can only truly be citizens of one.
Grassroots and Gospel go together. God’s pattern, it would seem, is to work with the least: the marginalized, disenfranchised, outsiders, uncool, sinners. One has only to think of unclean hillside shepherds, uneducated Galilean fishermen, and the lowly carpenter of Nazareth to note how God starts His fire from the bottom. However, there are notable exceptions. With Simon, the magician in the city of Samaria, the Holy Spirit appears to start at the top.
Simon bewitched. Satan was on the attack in the City of God. In Acts 5, he assaulted the Church through the misrepresentations of Ananias and Sapphira. Stephen’s murder, in Acts 7, hurt every faithful follower of Christ in Jerusalem. With magical mimicry, Simon of Samaria was used as the Devil’s tool of deception (Acts 8). “Simon the Great” was a shameless self-promoter and like Narcissus, he beheld his reflection in the cheering echo chamber of his Samaritan crowds. Wonder gave way to blasphemy as the fanboys—small and great—ascribed divine status to Simon saying, “This man is the power of God…” (8:10b, emphasis mine). Entertainments can easily become enchantments, and Simon held his whole city spellbound (8:9, 11).
Citizens believed. Like small hinges turning big doors, “but” swings this passage and belief turns an entire city: “But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news…” Even after all God’s victories over the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, sin, and death, why are we surprised when He suddenly shatters the darkness over an entire city? Simon’s sorcery was no match for God’s Spirit!
Philip baptized. God the Holy Spirit defeats enemy principalities with overwhelming and decisive force. Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem was the provocative action which triggered the Church’s full-scale invasion of Satan’s Kingdom in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. But instead of killing her enemies, the Church converted them through Gospel proclamation. The conflict in view here is really a contest between two kingdoms represented by two names: Simon and Jesus. How was the conflict brought to a head? Philip “preached the good news of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ.” Not only did the Samaritans believe Philip’s message, so did “Simon the Great” and they all—from least to greatest—were baptized in the Jesus’ name.
God’s power completely transforms principalities through the Gospel. Samaritan hearts were changed from bewitched to believing. Their attention was turned from magic by miracles. Citizens were transferred from the kingdom of hell to the kingdom of heaven and from blasphemy through baptism. Devotees of Simon the Charlatan became disciples of Jesus the Christ and there was “much joy” in the whole city.
Our greatest is often God’s least. People who are “great” by the world’s standards can also be far from the Kingdom. Perhaps the Spirit started with “Simon the Great” of Samaria precisely because he was so far away. God appears to work from the top down when our values and vision is set by something other than “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
Has God’s power defeated your principalities?
The city of Jacksonville, Florida had dreamed for years of winning an expansion team with the National Football League. In 1995, that dream came to fruition and the Jaguars came to the First Coast. A late second season six-game winning streak gave birth to a wild-card playoff game and the Jags went to New York to face the Buffalo Bills. Excitement permeated every corner of our city and when our victorious team returned to Jacksonville International Airport that late Sunday evening in December 1996, they were greeted by ten thousand fans at the terminal.
For the next week, a sports commentator in Denver insulted Jacksonville and pridefully pontificated about the impossibility of a rookie team from Florida defeating the best and most seasoned team in the NFL at Mile High Stadium. Apparently, Broncos really can eat crow and when our team returned home in triumph, they were greeted in Jaguars’ Stadium by forty thousand ecstatic true believers. Several members of the team made their way onto the field to address the crowds gathered in the stands and those sitting around televisions in homes all over Florida. We were one win away from the Super Bowl when offensive lineman Tony Bocelli uttered these unforgettable words, “Jacksonville, do you believe in miracles?” A million souls erupted in inexplicable joy as our city was lifted to international acclaim.
In the week and two decades that followed, defeats kept the Jaguars out of the Super Bowl. But the power of God over principalities is not professional football.
During the Jaguars’ early days, a handful of players began an in-home Bible study. After a few years, the small group had grown into a church which now has a congregation of more than a thousand souls. Through the preaching of the Gospel in their church by non-celebrity ministers, many former football players have become Christians and have even been ordained as pastors in full-time ministry. Some of our city’s celebrities—our “greatest”—believed in the name of Jesus and those that were far have been brought near.
Ultimately, the City of Man and all who rule it will fall far short, but the City of God and He who rules her will live on in the ever-growing splendor of eternal glory.
Is Jesus Christ—the slain and standing Lamb—the power of your principality?