When I was younger, my family enjoyed spending summer nights at the race track. We usually sat near the finish line, cheering on our favorite car and hoping to see a few spinouts as well. The local racetrack would also hold special events throughout the year. They would race old school buses or sometimes would host monster truck rallies. I remember in 1992, during a monster truck show, a driver lost control of his truck. Unfortunately, it crashed into and landed in the grandstand, injuring many and taking one small boy’s life. The boy’s family would never be the same, nor would the driver. He never intended for that to happen, but it did. The actions of one individual influenced a crowd of people for the rest of their lives.
In Acts 8:1-13, we read the account of three individuals who all had the opportunity to influence a crowd of people. Some of their influences were for the better and some were for the worse. First, we see Saul (eventually to become Paul the apostle) ravaging the church and persecuting the Christians. As a result, the church fled and scattered (Acts 8:4). However, notice what the text says they did while scattering: they “went about preaching the word.” They didn’t give up and say, “Look what the world is coming to,” but rather, “Look who came into the world!” Saul’s influence, actually, initiated the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8, that the gospel message would spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth.
Secondly, we notice the influence of the one known as Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-11). We are told Simon astonished the people of Samaria, from smallest to greatest with his magic. His influence was so captivating, that they referred to him as the “Great Power of God.” But as he observed the real power being displayed by Philip the evangelist, he believed the good news, was baptized, and continued on with Philip, being constantly amazed (Acts 8:12-13). It was obvious to Simon that what he was doing previously was nothing more than empty deceit. This is exactly why Christians must “examine the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). Many false prophets have gone out into the world with the intention of drawing them away with their false words (2 Pet. 2:2-3; 1 Jn. 4:1). The only defense to their false teaching is Scripture.
Finally, we notice the influence of Philip (Acts 8:5-8, 12-13). As Philip proclaimed Christ to the Samaritans and verified those words by performing miracles and healings, the people believed and were baptized. Notice what proclaiming Christ consisted of: the kingdom of God, the name of Jesus Christ, and baptism (Acts 8:12). Those who heard the message of the gospel responded by being baptized (immersed into water for the forgiveness of their sins) similar to those on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38) and the Ethiopian Eunuch (8:38). Simon’s influence and powerful preaching resulted in many being saved and added to the church (Acts 2:47).
Crowds can be intimidating. But they can also be influenced. It only takes one individual to change the lives of a vast number of people. The question is how will we respond? When times are tough, will we continue to share the gospel? Will we let men influence our spiritual decisions? Will we teach the whole truth about salvation or just what everyone wants to hear? Will you follow Christ or the influence?