Can you buy God with money? One guy tried. And while we might scold him for it, truth is our modern day church often tries to buy God with good works, church attendance, giving in the offering plate, some sort of “commitment”, etc… In both the case of the man in Acts 9, and in our more modern version, God really isn’t for sale. In fact, sometimes instead of getting favors, prosperity, health, and an easy life in return for following God, we might get some “bad” things. Thank goodness.
Sound crazy? Let me explain…
First, there was this dude named Simon in the area called Samaria in ancient Israel. During that time, when the message of Jesus was first preached there, he actually became a Christian. At least on the outside.
Simon, as it turns out, was a magician of sorts. The Bible calls him a sorcerer, but it doesn’t say anything about demons or Satan or spiritual powers, so he was probably more of an ancient illusionist or mentalist. He regularly amazed people, and had a great following. The Bible says, “They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. ” -Acts 8:11
He must have been pretty good.
But when Phillip, and later Peter and John, came up to Samaria to preach the message of Jesus, God worked some miracles through them and it amazed Simon. The Bible says he was “astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.” -Acts 8:13 This also indicates that Simon was more of what we think of as a magician these days, because here we see he was “astounded” at the real thing.
Then of course, came the part about buying God. When Peter and John were there, laying hands on people so they would receive the Holy Spirit, Simon tried to buy that power. “When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” -Acts 8:18-19
And Peter’s reply was pretty harsh, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. “-Acts 8:20-21
Simon had a heart issue between him and God. He was excited about the power he could have, the things he could receive from God, the benefits he could experience, but… that’s looking at things all wrong. And it still is.
Jesus followed God and it got him crucified on a cross.
Moses followed God and he wandered in the desert for 40 years.
John the Baptist followed God and he was beheaded.
Paul was beheaded.
Peter was crucified upside down.
Matthew was killed with a halberd.
Stephen? Stoned to death.
Mark? Dragged to pieces.
In fact, all but 1 of the original 12 apostles, died violent deaths because they refused to back down, or recant, the message they believed to be true. (John died in prison or shortly after release) Many of their contemporaries like Paul or Mark died similarly. Even Luke was reportedly hanged. Paul summed up the message he died for, by writing:
“For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.” -I Corinthians 15:3-8
Because of this, Paul was arrested, tortured, put on trial, called insane, ridiculed, and eventually executed. Try preaching THAT. “Hey everyone, God has a plan for your life, and it includes torture and death!”
Got to admit though, sitting here in modern times, I’m grateful for Paul going through that. It’s a lot easier for me to believe because of it.
If Paul and the others had received a financial windfall for following Christ, it would be easy to believe they preached the message in order to get the money. Like Simon the sorcerer, there would have been a motive for their religion. Since the result was quite the opposite, it’s more logical to believe they were dying for something they sincerely believed.
This isn’t just the Bible talking. The eventual death of the 12 disciples of Jesus, the hundreds more who were around Jesus at the time, and many thousands more that followed in the Roman persecutions and Dark Ages, are largely not chronicled in the Bible, but in tradition and history. The book of Acts records the death of James, and the death of Stephen, but most of the letters and accounts were written while those people were still living. Since the information comes to us from outside the Bible, this is not merely a case of a church constructing a Bible to say these things. History says this. They died. Horribly. All the while proclaiming that Jesus was for real.
And for me, that’s a bit reassuring. Because in my opinion, people don’t just do that for something they know isn’t true. I don’t think Simon the sorcerer would have died for his magic. But I know for a fact that Paul died believing in a God who raised the dead.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing.” -II Timothy 4:7-8