We were introduced to Saul in Acts 7:58 “And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.”
I glossed over his insertion last week, knowing that we would visit Saul this week.
Luke is telling a story that has two parts-
the ministry of Stephen is one half of that picture
The second part is the persecution of the church at Jerusalem
The person that unites these two parts into one whole is Saul
From Acts 7:58 - Acts 8:3 we read Saul’s name three times. In these three verses, we find out quite a bit about Saul.
Acts 7:58 - Young man - in his prime
Acts 8:1 “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
His voice mattered in the death of Stephen
“Consenting” - "to think well together with," to approve along with another or to take pleasure with others, and thus to approve, assent to, consent to, be willing, to agree with, to sympathize with.
When you connect this with Acts 26:10 “Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.” it appears he was part of the Sanhedrin
Saul was the muscle behind the High Priest in persecuting the Christian
He made havoc with the church at Jerusalem - Acts 8:3 “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
He entered into Christian homes dragging adult Christians to prison.
His passion was to persecute the church - Philippians 3:6 “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
He supported many Christians being put to death for their faith - Acts 26:10 “Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.”
The alliance between the Sadducees and Pharisees
High Priest - Sadducee
Saul - Pharisee
hatred of Jesus - The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The face of the persecution against the church at Jerusalem was Saul.
Persecution - Acts 8:1
Persecution - Acts 8:1
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
The effect of Stephen’s ministry was wide-spread persecution.
It was not just the Apostles of church leadership, the lay people experienced persecution.
General thoughts on persecution
Acts 14 Paul and Barnabas was on their first missionary travel. They had preached the Gospel in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. At Lystra, Paul was stoned. The stoners thought he was dead, so they threw him out of the city. However, God miraculously healed him. After the healing Paul, he went to Derbe and on his return home he visited the converts in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, exhorting them - Acts 14:22 “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Towards the end of Paul’s ministry, he was imprisoned a second time, soon to be a martyr, he wrote to Timothy - 2 Timothy 3:12 “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
Much of the persecution that has taken place over the last couple hundred years in the western world has not been governmental control but tribulation and persecution that exist within the Christian
A war rages within a Christian between the old man and the new man - between the flesh and the spirit.
Romans 7:24 “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
However, things are changing
Persecution to date
Peter and John were arrested in Acts 3 for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the Temple grounds - Their verdict was Acts 4:18 “And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.”
The Apostles were arrested in Acts 5 for breaking the previous verdict - The new verdict
If this is of God you cannot over throw it
Beaten and released
Stephen - was arrested for being accused of saying blasphemous statements about Moses, God, the Temple and Moses’ customs. They changed their tactics from the name of Jesus to an attack on the establishment. Yet, the issue was still the name of Jesus!
This transition gave the Sanhedrin everything they needed to cast a bigger net on the church at Jerusalem - Widespread persecution within he church at Jerusalem.
The purpose of the persecution was to squash the movement - The purpose had not changed - Remove Jesus from the equation.
They went into people’s homes, divided families, arrested Christians, imprisoned them, a killed many of them.
Havoc - It is used of a wild boar ravaging a vineyard and of a wild animal savaging a body.
They were scattered abroad - Acts 8:4
They were scattered abroad - Acts 8:4
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
Based upon Acts 8:1 “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.” - They were scattered abroad throughout Judea and Samaria.
The Great Commission - Acts 1:8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Surrounding neighborhood - the hated.
They had saturated Jerusalem with the Gospel - Acts 5:28 “Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Two words in the Greek for scattered
Scatter to the point it does not exist
Scatter as a farmer scatters seeds in a field.
The word in Acts 8:1 and Acts 8:4 is a farmer that scatters seed
Satan wanted the Christian movement to disappear - But God! wanted the seed of the Gospel to expand beyond the borders of Jerusalem.
God uses Satan all the time to fulfill His purpose.
Even though Satan is the prince and the power of the air - there is never a moment when Satan is working outside of the purpose of God.
God used Satan moving the Sanhedrin and people with rage against the church to expand the Gospel to the world.
Persecution was the means by which the church would fulfill the Great Commission.
Arrested was the means Paul got to Rome
In our text - Indeed, our God causes the tragic end to one man's life, to become the seed that fell into the ground and bore "much fruit" (Jn 12:24).
Tertullian speaking of Christian persecution wrote “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is proof that we are innocent...The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”
Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Preaching the word
Preaching the word
Preach the word
Reformation era – preaching as the source and spring of Christian faith
b. Today preaching is marginalized and jettisoned.
c. The current crisis does not come from without but from within (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
The text needs to be seen not as an object to be analyzed, dissected or even mastered so that we can begin to do something with the Bible. Rather, we need to hear it as the urgent, present-tense message of the present-tense God (I Am) through our minds to our hearts to energize our will in faith and obedience.
They were scattered abroad preaching the word of God
Even though they were displaced
Even though they were disconnected from their families
Even though many of their friends had been arrested
Why? - Perspective
Difference between Old Testament and New Testament regarding enemies - C. S. Lewis “The difference is that the Christian pictures the case to be tried as a criminal case with himself in the .dock; the Jew pictures it as a civil case with himself as the plaintiff. The one hopes for acquittal, or rather for pardon; the other hopes for a resounding triumph with heavy damages. Hence he prays ‘judge my quarrel’, or ‘avenge my cause’ (35:23).”
Luke 6:27-36 “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father is merciful.
Romans 12:14 “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”
Luke 23:34 “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
1 Peter 2:21-23 “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”
Romans 10:9-17 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)