Act 8: 1-8Written by kathleen on Apr 12, 2015 in - No Comments
Acts 8: 1-8
Four Encouraging Facts About Our God, Mission, and persecution
1. God uses persecution to serve the church and it’s mission
In other words, the persecution not only sent the church to Judea and Samaria and beyond and to the Gentiles
2. Stephen Is Honored, Not Blamed
The second encouraging thing to see in this text is that Stephen is honored and not blamed. The persecution in Jerusalem started because of Stephen. That’s clear here in chapter 8; and it’s clear in Acts 11:19 when the issue is brought up again “the persecution that arose over Stephen.”
3. Adversaries Can Become Advocates
The third encouraging thing to see is that sometimes our worst enemies can become our best friends. Verse 3: “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” This Saul is the one who would be dramatically converted and become the best friend and advocate Christianity ever had.
4. The Word of God Is Good News and Brings Joy
Finally, the fourth encouraging thing in this text is that even though the Word of God brought persecution and exile, it is still good news and brings joy.
The paragraph that begins with verse 4 ends with verse 8 says that the scattered, persecuted Christians preached the Word wherever they went. They announced the very Word that brought persecution as good news!
Chapter 7 ends with the death of Stephen who declared that the Lord was not interested in religion, but in relationship. And chapter 8 now picks up the story.
1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
This Saul, of course, would later be known as the apostle Paul. The word “consenting” actually means “voting,” implying that Saul was a voting member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court.
Consenting probably isn’t strong enough. The idea behind the word consenting is “to approve, to be pleased with or enjoyed” Saul’s “supervision” of the execution of Stephen was just one example of this persecution as he began to take pleasure in attacking Christians.
Stephen’s death is only the beginning. The floodgates of persecution have now been opened against the Christians. As soon as they had put him to death, this group took on a “mob mentality” and went after the blood of others; and being in great numbers, and filled with rage, went after the members of the church wherever they could find them and killed them; to some accounts more than two thousand persons suffered at this time:
Was Paul actually a thrower of stones? I don’t think so; We read in Acts 7:58 that the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
This young up and coming guy in the religious world would vote for Stephen’s death, but he was above bloodying his own hands to bring it about.
And yet something happens later in the Book of Acts, we’ll see Paul use his own hands to drag men and women out of their homes in order to imprison and persecute them.
This would haunt him all of his life; It’s likely whenever he walked through the streets of Jerusalem and saw a wife sitting without her husband, or a man without his wife he would be reminded of the results of his radical persecution; so much so that he would write about it to Timothy, calling himself a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an injurious person. Then by the time of his letter to the church in Roman Paul wrote that wherever he went he raised money for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
As a result of all this persecution the church in Jerusalem was scattered throughout the regions forcing the church to do what it had been reluctant to do – get the gospel out to the surrounding regions. These people could be called “accidental missionaries” because they talked about Jesus wherever they went
In Acts 1:8 Jesus clearly told His followers to look beyond Jerusalem and bring the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and the whole world. But to this point, Jesus’ followers hadn’t done this.
The truth is we all have a tendency to camp out where it’s comfortable. So did the early church. Because Jerusalem was the center of spiritual activity, for six years, no one wanted to leave. It took persecution to get the believers moving, to scatter them to Judaea and Samaria. It was the persecution in Acts 8:1 that moved the church to obey the command of Acts 1:8.
Was this persecution the will of God? God can and will use pressing circumstances to guide us into His will!
When everything is going well we may never consider going a certain direction; then a crisis happens and opens our eyes to other areas. Sometimes we have to be shaken out of our comfort zone before we do what God wants us to!
The church people fled except the apostles, who stayed at Jerusalem to take care of the church; mostly to encourage the members of it to suffer cheerfully for the sake of Christ and his Gospel
Stephen’s death might seem sort of meaningless at first glance. His young ministry was cut short. His ministry also seemed to end in failure – no one was immediately saved, and all that came forth was more persecution against the church. But as always the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.
2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
Possibly these devout men were Jews who were horrified at what had been done to Stephen and may suggest their repentance towards God as well as their sorrow over Stephen. OR These men were possibly members of the Christian church; who had courage enough even with this persecution to show a respect and put it into a coffin, or a tomb. (The mourning of that culture was part of their religious process that some used to show their spirituality)
3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
In Acts 7:58 the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul as he voted for Stephen’s death, but he was above bloodying his own hands.
And yet something happens for later we’ll see Paul use his own hands to drag men and women out of their homes in order to imprison and persecute them.
The word combination Made havoc interprets a word. Paul viciously attacked Christians, in a violent manner, including women and children without any regard to age or sex:
The word “havoc” comes from a root word that could refer to an army destroying a city or the results of wounding a wild boar.
When a boar is wounded, he goes on a rampage and loses all sense of sanity—which is exactly what happened to Paul. This refined, cultured, religious scholar who sat at the feet of Gamaliel—this top student whose command of the Greek language was greater than any other writer—lost all sense of sanity.
At first he merely consented to the death of Stephen. But then, like a shark that smells blood, he began going from house to house, hauling out and imprisoning believers, committing them to their deaths. This would haunt him all of his days; so much so that he would write about it to Timothy, calling himself a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an injurious person. For such reasons, he considered himself the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle – 1Co 15:9
No doubt, whenever he walked through the streets of Jerusalem and saw a wife sitting without her husband, or a man without his wife—he would be reminded of the results of his radical and relentless persecution.
This should be a word of warning to us personally. We can think we’re doing the Lord a big favor by coming down on people, beating up on people, or pointing our finger at people or finding fault with preachers all in the name of “purifying the church” or “taking a stand for righteousness.” It may come back to bite us!
What a shock it must have been for Paul on the road to Damascus when he finally realized that all of the time he thought he was doing God a favor, he was actually persecuting His Son Jesus.
4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
Most people don’t come to Jesus through a professional preacher or an evangelist; they come to Jesus through people just like you. We can be just like these early Christians! We can share the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives. And the love god has for us!
After the Jews had rejected the gospel again, we now see God extending the offer of salvation in Jesus out to other peoples, beginning with the Samaritans.
5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.
They were preaching Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, and that he was the Son of God, and the alone Savior of men; who by his obedience, sufferings, and death, had brought righteousness, secured peace and pardon, and obtained eternal redemption for his people; and was risen again, and ascended into heaven, and was set down at the right hand of God, where he ever lived to make intercession, and would come again a second time to judge both quick and dead.
Philip was another one of those deacons we read about in Acts 6. Like Stephen, he is a reminder that if we are faithful in the little things, God will open up more and more for us to be involved with.
Second Kings 17 gives the account of the Assyrian invasion of Israel in 721 B.C., Six hundred years before this, when the ten northern tribes were carried into captivity as the Assyrians conquered this area of northern Israel and they deported all the wealthy and middle-class Jews from the area.
Then they moved in a pagan population and intermarried with the lowest classes of remaining Jews in northern Israel, and from these people came a half-breed race was produced known as the Samaritans.
The Jews in the south looked down on the Samaritans, (hated them) calling them half-breeds and dogs, who corrupted the worship of the true God; therefore went out of their way to avoid any contact with them. That is why it would have been shocking to hear Jesus say, (John 4:4) “I must go through Samaria”. Seven years after Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at the well, I wonder if she was there, hearing Philip preach.
6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
So here’s Philip, again not an apostle, but yet faithful where God has placed him and now God is using him in a very powerful way. God, through him is working miracles. And the people are being attracted and drawn because of the miracles.
He tells us what was happening in verse 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.
Notice the order of what brought about the miracles God performed; The people were gathered together; the word of God was spoken and received by faith; then God moved among the people bringing healing.
We usually think of miracles in terms of sight, but miracles can be heard as well—through a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, a word of prophecy, and the teaching of the Word; all which bring miraculous changes in the lives of people!
There are those who read the Gospels and the Book of Acts and say, “It’s interesting that Jesus cast out demons and that the early church was involved in deliverance ministry. But we’re beyond that today.”
Are we really? Or have we allowed psychology to influence the word of God and to simply shift the attention away from demonic activity with terms like “psychosis” and “syndrome,” “dysfunction” and “disorder”?
8 And there was great joy in that city.
The joy was both on a spiritual account through the preaching of Christ and his Gospel to the people; and on a temporal account; for the good of their bodies, or their friends being delivered and healed of their diseases.
The word “gospel” means “good news.” Wherever the gospel is preached and received, great joy replaces sorrow, pain, guilt and any spiritual heaviness that was previously controlling the hearts of any one struggling.
So I urge you this morning to put your faith in Jesus Christ. Because when you do then all these reasons for encouragement become very personally true for you and not just generally true.
- God makes persecution serve the unstoppable mission of the church—your mission, your ministry.
- If your faithfulness brings trouble to you or the church (like Stephen’s did), you will be honored and not blamed—at least by the godly.
- Your worst critics can become your best friends by the power of God’s grace.
- And the very Word—the gospel—that brings persecution sometimes, brings joy always and forever.