“Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.” – Acts 8:9-11
Simon sure did delight. The people thought he was great because of all the feats and tricks he performed. They also thought he was great, though, because he told them he was. In the midst of telling them how awesome he was, I bet he didn’t just use the word “great” a lot; I bet he also used “winning” and “best” a fair bit, too. Put on a flashy enough show, tell the people how fabulous you are often enough, and you can often get them to believe it.
But then the story says somebody else came to town. Phillip showed up and started doing signs and wonders of his own. Only, instead of putting on a flashy show that simply delighted, he did wonders that actually helped people: he exorcised demons and cured the sick. And he too talked about greatness, but not his own; he talked about how great his God was. He didn’t talk about how handily Jesus had won against his enemies; he talked about how in losing to his enemies, he had won against death itself. And by the end, everybody—even the “great” Simon himself—had given their allegiance to Phillip’s God.
Is there someone trying to get you to follow them these days? If there is, here’s one way to decide whether they’re the real deal: do their flashy signs and wonders simply delight and amaze, or do they do something that matters to help somebody? Is the greatness they harp on their own, or someone else’s? Is the enemy they’re trying to defeat just theirs, or is it everyone’s? If it’s the former, you might be on the verge of getting razzle dazzled. But if it’s the latter, you might just be in the presence of a living God.
God, there’s so much good showmanship down here. Lead me not into distraction, but keep me focused on the signs and wonders that really matter. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.