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Persecution Scatters the Gospel Message

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We live in a country were we don't really think of Persecution. We have a constitution that was founded on the basis of men who fled countries so that they could be able to worship God freely. So in a sense America was founded out of a persecution against the way Christians worshiped. Because of this reason when our founding father drew up the Constitution of the United States and the wrote the Bill of Rights we have the first amendment which is there to protect the church from government interference and protect any persons right to speak or say what they want. Because of this right the church in America has been free to minister and to worship in any way they please. There has been some positive to this but there has been a lot of negative to this as well. The fact that the people in America have a right to a lawful assembly and express their feelings and beliefs has actually bread some crazy factions. I would even say it has weakened true faith and blurred the lines on what the gospel really is. America has gone without having very sever persecution, and as it is going now there is some persecution entering this country. It is coming on slowly, so slow in fact that many people are missing it. There are many educational institutions that don't allow Bibles or public prayers that are directed to Jesus Christ. There are many court houses that want anything that has to do with the ten commandments removed from the property, which mind you is the basis for all of our laws in this country. The most recent issues are gay and lesbian and transgender rights. Christian companies are forced to bake a cake for them if they don't want to and if they don't want to they are sued and they have to close down their business. This is a form of persecution and it is more devastating to the church. The thing about persecution as devastating as it can be is there is a positive side to it as well. I know what can be positive about persecution? Mike your crazy there is nothing positive about persecution. Yeah I may be crazy but not on this subject. We are going to take a look at how there is positive outcomes to persecution, and we are going to see it in our passage today. We will learn this morning that Merciless Persecution Drives a Gracious Gospel.

Four Positive Outcomes to Persecution

We will see this in Acts 8:1-8;
Acts 8:1–8 NASB95
1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. 4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. 6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was much rejoicing in that city.
We are pick up right at the end of the events of Acts 7, Stephen after giving a powerful defence of the gospel which is rooted in Israel's history. The Lord Jesus revealed to Stephen an incredible scene, the scene of God's presence in heaven with Jesus standing at His right hand side. Jesus standing in judgment over Stephen's accusers and Jesus being the Judge who took on Stephen's sentence of death. This drove the religious leaders and the Israelite to brutally murder Stephen we pick up were this murder leaves off in verse 1 of chapter 8. 1 "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death."

Persecution scatters the church

Luke has introduced Saul to his readers in verse 58 of chapter 7, as the one who stood and watched with approval at the stoning of Stephen. Those who stoned him were laying they robes at Saul's feet. This quick passing mention of Saul is now built on. Verse 1 Luke tells us, "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem." Saul takes up the cause of the religious leaders of his day and he seems to be the one who drove the persecution and the pursuit of the church. This is only speculation but with such animosity against the church it seems as though Saul was the ring leader of the entire event involving Stephen, his trial, and his death. Saul may not have picked up a stone to kill Stephen but that doesn't excuse him from his responsibility in the entire event. There is a lot of zeal or deep passion in Saul it almost seems as though he is trying to prove something. The religious leaders of the day had found no cause to put anyone to death until Stephen of course, but by the way Luke puts it, it really seems it wasn't the religious leaders who lead the charge but Saul himself. The martyrdom of Stephen frightened the Church and the Church ran from Jerusalem. They had felt safe there and they didn't see any reason to go and spread the gospel. Sometimes it takes a push to get things going in the right direction. God provided the push because the people were scattered. Except for the apostles. This goes to say that not every single believer left Jerusalem and it doesn't seem as though there was much they could do against the apostles. The apostles had proven themselves to be very formidable against the religious leaders. In the same way Jerusalem became the hub for Judaism it became the hub for Christianity as well. It is interesting how Jesus as He walked the earth and as Luke put it turned His face to Jerusalem like flint, His drive was to go to Jerusalem. Now on the flip side, the church is going out from Jerusalem. It is the epicenter and will continue to be the epicenter for Christianity.
Here is what happened in God's providence, in His preordained power He spread the church out. Jesus had told His apostles in Acts 1:8,
Acts 1:8 NASB95
8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Jerusalem was filled with the gospel now it need to move out to Judea and Samaria and the outer reaches of the world. God used this event with Stephen to propel the church forward. I like to think of this as a 12 gauge shout gun with a shotgun shell. When you shoot the gun there are multiple pellets that fire from the gun that spread as it moves toward the target. Well here we have a shotgun with Stephen as the trigger, Paul is the hammer, and the church is the shot that scatters through out Judea and Samaria. The persecution scattered the church and as here we will also find that the persecution also exposes the faithful.

Persecution Exposes the Faithful

Verse 2 reads, "Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him." The church was very hurt by Stephen's death but at the same time driven by His death as well. He was a pillar within the church, especially with the Grecian Jews. They mourned the loss of a leader, teacher and mouthpiece for the gospel. His death even then didn't go unnoticed and his character had a powerful influence on the emotions of the people. On Saul it was a negative emotion. He was bitter and angry at what Stephen had taught and said. On those who knew him and ministered with him it brought about sorrow and tears. There is an obvious contrast here as to how Stephen was treated by those who didn't believe and wanted this to stop and how those who did believe who were faithful wanted to continue. The faithful took has body and they buried him. See when persecution arises it brings out those who are true and faithful to the cause of Christ. The faithful will not care about how people treat them and the faithful will hurt when other believers lose their lives for the cause of Christ.
If we look at verse 2 we find that these men who bury Stephen are devout. Luke when he uses this word is always in reference to Jewish people who follow very closely what the law teaches they are people who fear God more then people. The text doesn't tell us exactly who these people are but we do find that they didn't see Stephen in the same way as those who saw fit to have him stoned. In fact they were more then likely appalled at what just took place because the religious leaders took part in this murder and as we saw last week this event was illegal. This is what persecution does it exposes those who are faithful. These are people who at the least are sympathetic to the cause of Christ but the open hypocrisy and poor treatment of the Christ followers turns softens hearts for truth.
Saul on the other hand who was zealous and thought himself to be faithful was blinded by power and prestige. So he seized the opportunity to take this time of mourning as a means of ravaging the church. As he does so we find that Persecution Strengthens the Faith

Persecution Strengthen the Faith

Verse 3, "But Paul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."
They way this reads it makes it seem as that while the church was mourning the lose of a fallen brother Saul seized the day. He ravaged the church. Saul's pursuit was very intense and it has the idea of one outcome, destruction of the church as a whole even if it means taking it our piece by piece. Luke is very descriptive here of the means of destruction, he would go from house after house and he would drag of the men and women and put them in prison. There is no explanation as to what the charges were against the church. There is also no explanation as to why the apostles didn't receive this kind of treatment. What is evident here is that Saul would be going after them as they were conducting church services. Going from house to house gives this idea. The idea of dragging gives the impression this was against their will. These people were more then likely not as spiritually mature as the apostles or Stephen and it seems as though they were putting up a fight. Gives the idea of "oh you of little faith."
These people did nothing wrong all they did was believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is what they were being arrested over. Notice they were being arrested in their homes. All they were doing was worshipping God and they were arrested for it. There are always two ways you can go. If your faith is real you go to jail, if your faith is falls you renounce you Jesus.
During the reformation there was a great persecution against the reformers, Martin Luther, William Tyndale. Some of them lost their lives in horrific ways some of them threatened severely but were not killed. All of them were asked to renounce what they taught, Salvation be Faith alone, in Christ Alone by Grace alone. They refused to recant in fact Luther said this,
“As long as my conscience is captive to the words of God, I neither can nor will recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.”
1 Peter 3:13–17 NASB95
13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

Persecution Motivates Freedom

Those who didn't stay in Jerusalem moved on and as they did they didn't go quietly into that good night. Now they went about preaching the word. They didn't let Saul destroy their faith and destroy what God had started. They also knew it would do no good to just sit there and wait in house and get arrested for no reason. They had nothing to hold them on. So they scattered and as they did they told people about Jesus, and what the religious leaders had done to Him and why. They were spreading the gospel just as Jesus said they would.
John 8:31–38 NASB95
31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”
Now the focused shifts once more. It is no loner about Saul but about Philip. As the apostles stayed in Jerusalem and continued to develop order within the church in Jerusalem others went out to evangelize and the prominent evangelist in this chapter is Philip. He goes out to the Samaritans. The Samaritans are a half breed of Jews and Gentiles and they are looked down upon by the Jews. They also believe that the place of worship is in Samaria and they don't see Jerusalem as the hub of religious worship. This is the area where Philip goes proclaiming Christ.
Grace motivates freedom.
Galatians 5:1 NASB95
1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
As Philip was going about proclaiming Jesus Christ the crowds would give attention to what Philip had to say because what he had to say was powerful. Just like the apostles and Stephen, Philip was also authenticating the gospel message with signs. The demon possessed were being set free and the sick were being healed. These signs are affirming what God is doing and the Samarians are receiving salvation, deliverance from sin.
I am not sure if Philip is a Samaritan or not, if he is Grecian I doubt he is Samaritan but the message he is proclaiming is not falling on deaf ears. The people are receiving it and receiving it with joy. Just because they were Samaritans didn't mean they didn't believe in a Messiah, they did. So when the message came to their ears authenticated by the signs, they could contain their joy in the fact that God was at work in their people.
John 15:18–27 NASB95
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 “He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25 “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ 26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
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