Notes from our most recent sermon are posted below each week.
Grows the Church
March 24, 2019
The Gospel: Grows the Church
Acts 8:1-8I. Persecution scatters the seeds of the gospel; 8:1-3.
1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Saul expressed his agreement with Stephen’s death sentence as publicly as possible by guarding the executioners’ clothes. The opposition did not end with Stephen’s death. If anything, his bold witness in both his Sanhedrin testimony and his death only served to fuel the flames. A violent persecution erupted and the Christians, except the apostles, were forced to flee Jerusalem.
The resistance began in the Greek-speaking synagogue. They unleashed their fury on these Greek-speaking Christian radicals in their midst. The apostles and their fellow Aramaic-speaking Christians were likely able to remain in Jerusalem unbothered. Their Greek-speaking brothers/sisters were persecuted and forced to flee the city.
The persecution and scattering of the Christians only led to their further increase. With the dispersal of the Greek-speaking Christians, the fulfillment of the second phase of Jesus’ commission began; the witness to all Judea and Samaria. Stephen was given a proper burial by “godly men”. They were probably some of his fellow Jewish-Christians. It was an act of real courage on their part.
Saul, with the necessary authority from the chief-priestly leaders of the Sanhedrin, agitated the church, arresting its members in their own homes, and sending them off to prison.
This century has seen a lot of persecution and martyrdom of Christians. Associated with the persecution is great effectiveness in the gospel message. Evangelism provokes persecution while persecution energizes evangelism.
If we are obedient to Christ, we will face suffering of some sort. It may be suffering of tiredness or pressure of a concern for people. It may be the hurt that comes from people who disappoint us. It may mean being betrayed by people we trusted. It can take the form of persecution and being labeled intolerant for sharing Christ with non-Christians who do not want to hear the gospel, or for telling Christians things that they do not like to hear.
A biblical understanding of suffering will take the sting out of it. It will help us maintain joy during it and turn the suffering into something constructive for the kingdom of God and the church.
II. Persecution grows the church; 8:4-8.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
The persecution did not hamper those Greek-speaking Christians from sharing the gospel. If anything, it increased it. They communicated the gospel wherever they went. The dispersed believers did the utmost good to the people among whom they went by telling them the good news of the deliverance accomplished by Christ.
Philip, another Greek-speaking Jewish leader who, like Stephen, was one of the seven appointed to manage the daily administration of the communal fund. Driven from Jerusalem, Philip went north to Samaria and shared the gospel there. To the Jews the Samaritans were half-breeds and heretics.
It was thus a bold move on Philip’s part to preach the gospel to the Samaritans. In preaching to them, Philip was taking a major new step in the fulfillment of Christ’s commission. Great numbers believed his message and were filled with rejoicing.
It is in sharing the gospel message that the power of suffering is best illustrated. The North African Christian writer Tertullian, addressing the rulers of the Roman empire, said, “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to the dust. . .. The more you mow us down the more we grow, the seed is the blood of Christians.”
Persecution intensifies the purity of the church and prioritizes the gospel message over every other activity. Nothing can hinder the growth of the church when the gospel is faithfully shared.