The Church Reaching Out!
Acts 8:1-13 (Pastor Heo)
Let me finish last week’s story about Stephen – the meaning of his death. Here are 5 results of the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
#1 Crown for Stephen
Rev 3:22 “Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Only here at the death of Stephen is Jesus said to be “standing” at the right hand of God. He could not remain sitting, so he stood up to receive the first Christian martyr into heaven.
The death of Stephen and Jesus are similar.
- They both finished their earthly lives by praying forgiveness for those who were killing them. “Lord, do not hold these sins against them.” Jesus, looking at Stephen at his moment of death, gave Stephen super grace so that he could pray for forgiveness for those who murdered him.
#2 Judgment for Israel
This was the third murder of the people of Israel.
- John the Baptist = permitted to be murdered (sin against God the Father who sent him)
- Jesus = requested death (sin against God the Son)
- Stephen = stoned him (sinned against God the HS, working through the witnesses including Stephen)
Jesus says, “Sin against the ministry of the HS cannot be forgiven.” So, finally, when Titus and the Roman armies invaded and burned the city and the temple in AD 70? the judgment was realized.
#3 Liberation for the early church
The early church had been witnessing first to Jews ever since Pentecost – but now would be directed to take the gospel to other areas – including Judea and Samaria (chp 8).
Yes, they preached at the risk of their lives, but they never went beyond Jerusalem – but the Great Commission says,
- “You will receive power when the HS comes on you and you will by my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
- Also Matthew: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
- Also Mark: “Preach this message to all nations.”
So, the death of Stephen is the turning point / starting point for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
#4 Salvation for Saul
He was the champion for persecuting the church, but he saw and heard Stephen’s message and prayer and glorious, beautiful death. This death was used by God in preparing his meeting with the Lord later – because God never wastes the blood of his saints.
Some time later, Saul would behold the same glory of God that Stephen saw and see him and hear him speak to him.
#5 Living Sacrifices as Christians
A Christian’s death is not death. If we open our spiritual eyes, we will realize that this is just sleeping. When Christians die, they “fall asleep” from God’s perspective.
The body sleeps and the spirit goes into heaven to be with the Lord. Then, when he returns into this world, he will bring the spirits of those who have died, and their bodies will be raised and glorified and their bodies and spirits will be reunited to be with him in glory forever and ever.
God does not call all of us to be martyrs, but we must know that God does call us to be living sacrifices.
Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you brothers, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.”
In some ways, living for Christ may be more difficult than to die for him. But if we continually live for him, then we will be prepared to die for him if he calls us to.
As children of God, what is really important is not HOW we die, but for what we die; not HOW LONG we live, but for what we live.
Jesus (Rev) says, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
8:1 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. 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 [one of the 7 deacons, not one of the 12 apostles] 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.
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
This chp (chp 8) is a very important chapter in the history of the church. The church began as a Jewish institution, but Philip had a mind beyond national limitations and boundaries. So here we can see the church reaching out.
In the beginning of this chapter, we see a “Great Persecution” but wherever they were scattered, they preached the gospel.
The Samaritans formed a bridge between the Jews and Gentiles because they were half-Jew and half-Gentile by descent.
“8:1 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. 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
The death of Stephen is a signal for the outbreak of Great Persecution that caused all Christians to scatter and seek safety in a remote area of the country. The most dangerous place for Christians was Jerusalem.
Yet, in this most dangerous place, the 12 apostles remained to maintain the local church. But, except these, the rest scattered. Yet, even still, they did not hide in the shadows – but preached the gospel wherever they went.
Also, we can see the zealous Saul, persecutor of the church. He was:
- born in modern day Turkey,
- a Pharisee of the Pharisees,
- a Hebrew of the Hebrews,
- trained by Gamaliel, and
- his life seemed blameless,
- one of the most promising young Pharisees,
- his ambition for the Law was shown most vividly in his persecution of the church.
At that time, he really thought that persecuting the Christians was one way to serve God.
- He spent his time arresting Christians, but was soon to be arrested by Christ.
- He did his best to arrest all Christians up to Damascus, but on the way, he will be arrested by Christ.
“8:5 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.
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”
Remember, in church history, persecution does to the church what the wind does to seeds. Wind scatters seeds and produces a greater harvest. The Word “scatter” means to “scatter seed.” So, persecution is like scattering seeds. God used this to spread them out and plant seeds to bear more fruit.
- Some went to Judea and Samaria,
- others went much farther (the ends of the earth).
Philip at this point, came to Samaria to preach the Word. This was a BIG turning point – a BIG deal – because the Jews, up to now, had no dealings with the Samaritans.
In history, Israel was one country.
It was divided into 2 countries in BC 915 – southern and northern kingdoms – after Solomon.
In the 8th century, Assyria conquered the Northern kingdom (Samaria) and they put their people in that area.
Later in the 7th century, the Southern kingdom was conquered by Babylon and many were carried away – but they stubbornly remained Jewish – refusing to give up their national identity.
In the 5th century BC, those who were left in Palestine and the Northern kingdom, had intermarried with the Assyrians and other Gentiles.
When the Jews returned to the Southern kingdom to rebuild the temple and the city walls, the Northern kingdom offered their help, but were refused because the Southern kingdom thought they were “dirty” and no longer Jews.
Since then, there was bad blood between the two.
But here, Philip taking the gospel to the Samaritans is a BIG step – helping the Christians to realize that the gospel is truly for ALL people.
Simon, the sorcerer, was there, practicing magic. He made money and drew attention to himself by performing magic. The people exclaimed, “This man [Simon] is the divine power known as the Great Power.” And in this situation, Philip preached the gospel to the people and many miracles and signs and wonders were performed by Philip. And the people believed in Jesus as Savior and they were baptized.
- When Philip arrived in this area, the people were amazed by Simon.
- But after the ministry of Philip, that same Simon was amazed by the power of God through Philip.
This is a good reminder that no human power, nor Satanic, demonic, or even angelic power, is any match for the power of the gospel.
So, when we allow the gospel to touch us and change our lives, others around us will be astonished by the transformative effects it has on us.
- v. 1 – starts with Great Persecution
- v. 8 – continues with Great Joy in the city of Samaria
The people in that city were afflicted with demonic presences, and sins, so no wonder there was great joy after seeing these things.
Remember that the Samaritans are half-Jew and half-Gentile, but this experience shows that God built a bridge between the two.
Even today, we need people to carry the gospel to new places and challenge ancient ideas because the message of the gospel is “the power of God to all who believe.” It sets spiritual prisoners free, giving us real and powerful freedom.
Acts is the Book of Mission.
- Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles (The Book of Mission)
- But we can also say that Acts is the Book of Persecution.
Can you enjoy Joy with Persecution? Ask yourself honestly.
Can I experience REAL joy within persecution? Is it possible?
Acts is a book of persecution. Let me briefly explain how full of persecution it is. If we read first to last:
- chp 4: Peter and John imprisoned and threatened for preaching and healing in the name of Christ
- chp 5: apostles in prison and flogged
- chp 7: Stephen is killed (stoned)
- chp 8: Great persecution
- chp 9: Saul is breathing out murderous threats to arrest all Christians up to Damascus
- chp 10: James killed, Peter in prison
- chp 11: Paul stoned, threw his body outside the city thinking he was dead
- chp 16: Paul and Silas in prison, stripped naked, and beaten
- chp 21: Paul arrested in Jerusalem – and continually tried before the Sanhedrin, the governor, the king, and sent to Rome to be tried by Caesar
This is the book of persecution. Yet, amazingly, there is no atmosphere of depression, darkness, shadows, gloominess, disappointment. There is no phenomenon of darkness.
The Book of Persecution is also the Book of Joy. There is no time to show ALL the verses that have the word “joy”, but let me show 5.
- chp 2: The ate together in joy
- chp 5: Left the Sanhedrin rejoicing
- chp 8: Great joy in that city
- chp 13: Joy in the HS
- chp 14: God filled their hearts with joy.
This is the power of real Christians in this world. What is the real meaning of the “gospel” (evangelion) – “Good news of Great Joy for All the People”
This is the message of Christ – regardless of the problems, persecution, etc, around us.
“Be joyful always; pray unceasingly; give thanks in all circumstance, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18