With every day of ministry, I am reminded of one powerful fact: God is doing a new thing. There is not a day that goes by that I am not in awe of God’s power and majesty. I am humbled to be part of the church’s powerful transformation. Today’s reading in Acts witnesses to this new thing.
Our story is a continuation of yesterday’s story of Philip and Simon, the magician of Samaria who believes Philip. By the end, we see the power of the Spirit of God in a whole new light! Peter and John come to back up Philip. Something amazing is happening – the text implies something “magical” – but this is God’s “magic” standing in antithesis to the secular magic of Simon whose profession has the goal of money. New feats of God’s power, much like the amazing new world records we are seeing from our Olympic athletes – what is happening is extraordinary and unseen before.
There is an elevating of the Holy Spirit. First, Peter and John come to this place knowing “that Samaria had accepted the word of God.” In the same vein, they went down to pray for them “that they might receive the Holy Spirit” for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Spirit becomes the key ingredient.
As Peter and John lay hands on him and the others, they receive the Holy Spirit. In what ensues, we learn a good bit about God’s power. What set off this whole chapter of Acts was Simon declaring Philip as “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” Now, through money, he is attempting to gain the same power, asking Peter and John, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter rebukes him, tells him to repent, give away his money, pray, and get his heart in the right place.
Time and time again we see Simon’s conversion incomplete. Accepting God’s word wasn’t enough. Being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus wasn’t enough. Having the Apostles baptize him also in the name of the Holy Spirit seemed to be enough, but then this whole exchange about money and needing to repent. We see God’s power breaking forth in the context of apostolic power, and yet we see this Samaritan Simon struggling for that which is right.
How often do we feel we have the answers, only to realize God has more for us to work out? When in our lives have we been seduced into thinking Jesus would fix it all, and we failed to see God at work all around us? Have you ever dismissed repentance as part of the equation? Where is God’s power at work in your life?
These are deep questions, and ones that seem to bubble to the surface in the book of Acts, for in it we see God at work in different and strange ways, and we are asked to re-evaluate our lives and challenge ourselves to live into God’s excellence all the more.
I see the Holy Spirit alive today in our churches. Sometimes this brings discomfort, because along with the Holy Spirit comes change. This is welcome to some, but others in the Church revolt against any change. God’s “growing edge” for us is never easy. Those who want things to return to the way things were in the 1960s this can seem very threatening. Unpredictablility. Ambiguity about what God wants.
The Church is not going to be like it was. God is doing a new thing. This is what Scripture teaches – that with each new generation God is doing new things, and he simply requires our allegiance. Perhaps there is another Beatitude in here somewhere: Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken. We best be ready for it.