A Priceless Gift

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  January 9, 2022

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Acts 8:14 – 24
Our New Testament lesson for the morning comes from the Book of Acts which was written by the same author who wrote the Gospel of Luke.  In fact, scholars will often refer to the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts as two halves of the same whole… calling them collectively Luke-Acts.  Just to give some additional background, both books, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, were addressed to the same person, someone who Luke referred to as “most excellent Theophilus.”
That term “most excellent” may have been an indication that Theophilus was an official of some sort or it could have simply been a term of endearment.  Whatever the case may be, the name Theophilus itself is translated as “lover of God” or “friend of God.”  And what a great way to be remembered, not as an official with a fancy title, but as a lover of God, a friend of God.  I don’t know about you, but that is exactly how I want to be remembered.
Now let’s take a closer look at our text.  It is there that we find two of Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John, going to Samaria… where they had been sent on assignment after the disciples heard that the people of Samaria had accepted the word of God. 
You may recall that the Samaritans were a group of people who had historically been shunned by the Jews… but we should not forget the story of the Good Samaritan who was the only one to come to the rescue of a man who had been beaten and left for dead (Luke 10:25 – 37). 
We should also keep in mind the story of the woman at the well, who Jesus met when He made a deliberate trip through, rather than around, Samaria (see John 4).  And much to the chagrin of His disciples, Jesus had a personal encounter with the woman who went on to tell others about meeting the Messiah and they became believers.
However, if we were to take a look back in Luke’s Gospel (9:51 – 55), we would find the story of the disciple, John, asking Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to burn up a Samaritan village because the people there had not welcomed them. 
Suffice it to say, the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was tenuous at best.  And yet, here in our text, we find John and Peter coming to pray with them, and even asking for them to receive the Holy Spirit… which was actually an acknowledgement that in spite of what they may have once believed, the Holy Spirit really is able to work through ALL believers… both Jews and Gentiles alike.
Now at this point, the Samaritans had been baptized in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John took things a step further and laid hands on them so that they received A PRICELESS GIFT, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now, according to the Scriptures, all of this was witnessed by someone who had been known as Simon the Sorcerer.  And if we were to back up to the beginning of the chapter, we would read about all the “magical acts” that Simon had performed and how he had reveled in the attention he received.  He had attracted quite a group of followers who were amazed by his magic… but when Simon’s followers heard Phillip preach the good news about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, they believed and were baptized.
Interestingly enough, if we look at the verse right before our text for the morning we read, “Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Phillip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”
But when Simon saw what happened when Peter and John laid hands on the Samaritan believers, it seems he was tempted to return to his former lifestyle… trying to buy the disciples PRICELESS GIFT of the laying on of hands… presumably so he could add it into his “magic act.” 
However, the disciples would have nothing to do with that and they rebuked Simon.  They told him to repent of his wickedness and pray that the Lord might forgive him.  And to his credit, Simon did realize his grave error and he asked the disciples to pray for him.  
It’s not so surprising that Simon may have thought he could buy such a precious gift. especially when you consider that we live in a society where it seems that everything has a price… But the PRICELESS GIFT that Simon thought he could buy is one that does not come with a price tag that can be measured in dollars and cents. 
Now let’s be clear, while there is a cost for salvation and the forgiveness of sin and the power of God that Simon witnessed when the disciples laid hands on the Samaritans… the good news for them as well as for us is that Jesus paid it all.
Because the reality is that if we had to pay the price for our sins… let’s just say it would be really, really steep.  All we have to do is take a look at Romans 6:23 where we read, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The wages of sin is death… YIKES!  But… the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord… talk about A PRICELESS GIFT!
Paul said it like this in his letter to the Ephesians (2:8), “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The fact of the matter is that we cannot buy nor can we earn salvation… but it is ours for the taking if we will just ask Jesus to come into our heart. 
It reminds me of a story I came across the other day:

During the Spanish-American War, Clara Barton was overseeing the work of the Red Cross in Cuba. One day Colonel Theodore Roosevelt came to her, and wanted to buy food for his sick and wounded Rough Riders. But she refused to sell him any. Roosevelt was perplexed. His men needed the help and he was prepared to pay out of his own funds. When he asked someone why he could not buy the supplies, he was told, "Colonel, just ask for it!" A smile broke over Roosevelt's face. Now he understood--the provisions were not for sale. All he had to do was simply ask and they would be given freely.  
(Our Daily Bread, October 11, 1992. Source: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/salvation.htm)
Apparently, Theodore Roosevelt thought like Simon the Sorcerer… that everything comes with a price.  But isn’t it good to know that there are some things that God just wants to give to us?  All we have to do is be willing to ask.
Now as a child, I was always taught that it was impolite to ask for a gift but in Matthew 7:7 we read, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  And over in John 14 (13-14), we read, "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.   You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
Now we do have to be careful that we don’t mistakenly read those words and think that Jesus is simply some sort of supernatural ATM.  Whatever we ask of the Lord has to line up with His will. 
But how do we know what the Lord’s will is?  We simply need to go to His Word.
Back in Psalm 37 (4) we read, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” 
We delight ourselves in the Lord when we spend time reading, studying and meditating on the Word of God.  That is how we are able to do what it says in Psalm 119 (11), “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” 
We learn Scripture so we can know what God desires for us to do and not to do so that we do not sin against Him.  And that ought to be our ultimate goal, to not sin against God… to not do what is contrary to His will.
It is in James 4 (2b – 3) that we find these words of caution, “You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Wanting anything that is outside of the will of God simply because it is pleasurable and makes us feel good is the epitome of asking with a wrong motive.
And that takes us back to Simon the Sorcerer… he initially asked to buy the ability to lay hands on people...  but he was asking with wrong motives… trying to spend money for his own pleasure… to gain more of the power and prestige that he got from doing his magic act. 
Had Simon asked with a pure motive… with a desire to lead others to salvation… I believe he would have been given that PRICELESS GIFT without question, because it would have been in line with God’s will.
Simply put, God’s will is for us to have eternal life. 
As Jesus said in John 6 (38 – 40):
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
God gave His only Son and said that all we have to do is believe and we will receive… just like the Samaritans in our text. 
When God saved Noah and his family from the flood that destroyed the earth, that was A PRICELESS GIFT.
When God provided a ram in the bush for Abraham to sacrifice in place of his beloved son, Isaac, that was A PRICELESS GIFT.
When God spared Rahab and her family from Joshua and his army when they fought the battle of Jericho, that was A PRICELESS GIFT.
When God rescued Daniel from the mouths of ravenous lions and kept his friends safe from the flames in the fiery furnace, that was A PRICELESS GIFT.
And when Jesus gave His life in exchange for all of ours on that cross at Calvary… I am sure we can all agree that was the ultimate PRICELESS GIFT.