Do you ever wonder if you can trust anything you hear on the news or on any social media? It seems that every day there is some revealing of some news item that lets you see that everything you were told over a lengthy period of time was all made up and there were people manipulating the message all the time. We all seem to get phone calls and email appeals all along from groups of people raising money for some cause or some group that you would want to help. But over and over again, I’ve learned that some group that I sent money too turned out to be a fraud. It’s gotten to the point that anyone who calls asking for money, I question whether or not it is for real. My leaning is now toward not helping anyone that I don’t know in a personal way and can be somewhat certain that what is being claimed is for real.
Surely the amount of pretense has increased as time has gone by. I don’t question that there have always been deceivers and tricksters who took advantage of the naivety of others for their own profit. After all Jacob was a deceiver. He fooled his dad into giving him the blessing that his dad planned to give to his brother. It makes me wonder what it takes to unmask the deceiver and demonstrate what is for real.
There is a story in Acts 8 that I think illustrates some things about this whole point. Philip who had been one of the first deacons in the church in Jerusalem had gone down to Samaria to preach Christ to them after persecution arose in Jerusalem. He preached to the people about Jesus and the kingdom he established. When they heard him and saw the signs that he did they paid close attention and many believed and were baptized into Christ. “For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. 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. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 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. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed” (Acts 8:9-13).
Simon was a deceiver. But, when he was confronted with the real thing in Philip and heard about the real power of God demonstrated through Jesus, he saw the difference himself and willingly turned from his life of deception to the Lord. He became one of Jesus disciples. But it’s difficult to change everything about us even when we see Jesus and turn to him, from our old way of life. When the word reached Jerusalem that the gospel had been powerfully accepted among the Samaritans, they sent Peter and John to visit them and to give them miraculous powers from the Lord. They were laying their hands on people and giving them miraculous abilities and “Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles hands.” His old ways came back to him. He offered Peter and John money to give him the power to lay his hands on people to give them such powers as well. Peter said to him, “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 the bond of iniquity. And Simon answered. Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
It took meeting someone who was the real thing for Simon to see himself correctly. He recognized Philip and his message as very different from what he had said and done and wanted the real thing in his life. But even after turning his life around and through faith committing his life to Christ he stumbled when he saw the power of God given through the Holy Spirit being given to others. He wasn’t just asking Peter and John for the power to do the miraculous himself but for the power God had given them to lay their hands on others and give them the Spirit as well. Old ways come back to inflict their wounds on us over and over again. Simon needed to repent and pray to God to be forgiven of his wrong heart and wrong actions. Thank God we serve loving and grace filled God who is ready and willing to forgive even when we mess up again and again.
Let’s face it we can get so deep into tricking others that we fool ourselves in the process. Even so, God offers us a way back to him if we face our sins and turn from them. Let’s strive to be the ones who are for real so that the tricksters may see the real thing and change even if it takes several times for the change to last.