Today’s reading is Acts 8:4-25.
Maybe you’ve heard the analogy of Simon the Magician in Acts 8, comparing his witness of the miracles of faith to that of showing a toddler a masterful painting. You can explain the work put into it, the technique, the symbolism, and brilliance of the painting to the toddler, and the impact on history it’s had, but all they pay attention to is seeing your pointing to it, the smile on your face, and the positive tone of voice and feel good enjoy themselves. They hear you, they see the appreciation on your face & in your voice, but they don’t understand the truth or the meaning of what’s before them.
Do you ever catch yourself seeing & hearing and finding amazement at the message, and not what it points to? A powerful sermon; someone’s moving testimony; your favorite hymn. Have you ever got caught up in the miracle as Simon did, without looking to the miracle it points to? Not that these works are not necessary in life, but they mean so much more when you take into account the living God behind them. Even Simon could believe & proclaim God’s miraculous moving work, but Peter tells him in verses 21 & 22, “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.” We can see & be amazed, but without moved hearts made right before the Lord & a living faith in the One who saves, we have nothing. It’s like Jesus’s parable of the Sower in Luke 8, when Jesus describes those planted on the rocky soil: “[they] are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” Without deep roots, a surface-level faith is sure to fall to the wayside when times get tough.
This is the essence of the warning Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 15: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” Believing in vain being the key here – Simon’s belief in vain, at the spectacle and immediate benefit of God’s gifts, and not the awe at the God they revere. Scripture is clear to warn those who fall into this trap will “fall away”, when we know instead we must vigilantly focus on the meaning of the Cross, instead of merely the Cross itself. God’s salvation is an incredible gift, much greater than the songs we can sing, the leaders we can look up to, or the stories we can tell; it is the living faith in God’s word and our adoration of Him that is our true gift.