Posted by: reformbama | October 24, 2010

“How to Handle Persecution”

I have always been surprised at Christians that are surprised when we are persecuted or surprised at how bad the world is. Pick up your bible and give it a read and you will find out that many things should not surprise you. Even though this has no relevance to this post, I am also surprised at how little knowledge of our enemy,satan, that Christians have, many out there give him way too much credit.



The Persecuted Church Reaches Out

by
John MacArthur
Introduction

Acts chapter 8 begins a transition in the book of Acts. It records the second area of the church’s missionary outreach, when the gospel message was brought from Jerusalem to the outlying areas of Judea and Samaria. The catalyst for that transition was the death of Stephen.

A. The Curiosity that Surrounds Stephen’s Martyrdom

1. THE QUESTION ASKED

A missionary to Egypt told an American audience about a fellow missionary who had attempted to rescue an Arab Moslem boy drowning in the ocean. The missionary dashed into the surf to save the boy. Somehow, the little boy survived and the missionary drowned. After the missionary finished speaking, a member of the audience went up to him and said, “Isn’t it pointless for a well-trained, strategic missionary to give his life for an Arab Moslem boy?”

We could ask the same question about Stephen. He had many capabilities. He was dynamic, Spirit filled, and handled the Old Testament well. Why did he have to have such a brief ministry? Why did he have to get killed when he had so much potential? His speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 got a negative response, which resulted in his death. That event triggered the persecution of all Christians. Stephen’s testimony angered a Jewish man named Saul, who killed Christians and tried to extinguish the church. From a cursory view, it seems that the circumstances surrounding Stephen’s death led to a widespread persecution that fractured the fragile fellowship of Christians in Jerusalem. However, the Holy Spirit works in ways that we don’t always understand.

2. THE QUESTION ANSWERED

The Holy Spirit is in the business of taking disasters and turning them into miracles. He takes tragedies and turns them into victories. Whenever Peter and John got into a seemingly hopeless situation, it was really a great opportunity to preach the gospel. The Holy Spirit always made their negative circumstances positive. Every time Christians were persecuted, God allowed the gospel to reach to people in areas that otherwise would not have been reached. The persecutors were trying to stamp out the church like you would stamp out a fire. But when you try to stamp out a fire, embers scatter and start new fires elsewhere. That’s exactly what happened with the church. Many Jewish leaders in Jerusalem tried to get rid of the church there, but instead, the church spread to the world. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. Don’t ever avoid persecution, because the Holy Spirit uses it to accomplish His work.

B. The Catalyst that Spread the Savior’s Message

1. WHAT THE PERSECUTION DID TO THE CHURCH

a. The People Scattered

The first great missionary movement of the church began with persecution. The church was based in Jerusalem, and persecution spread it to Judea and Samaria. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Apologeticus, 50, 13). Stephen’s death was a catalyst for the spread of the gospel message. In fact, persecution was so much a part of preaching about Christ that the Greek word for witness was martur, from which we get the English word martyr. It was natural for a believer who confronted the world to get a negative reaction, but that was impetus for new opportunities to preach. Stephen’s martyrdom sent believers into Samaria, Judea, Antioch, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and finally Europe.

b. The Pattern Specified

When the church first began, its fellowship was primarily made up of Jews. In Acts 6, we see the first indication that the gospel message was spreading. Stephen was working with not just the Jews from Jerusalem, but with the Hellenistic Jews as well. They were foreign Jews who lived in the Greek-speaking world. We can tell that from the Greek names of the men who were selected to serve the church (Ac. 6:5). Thus we know that Greek-speaking Jews were coming to Christ. That was the first gentle extension of the church. Then in Acts 8, the church moved out to Judea and Samaria, and finally, the Gentile world. That fulfilled the pattern of the expansion of the church, which Jesus had specified in Acts 1:8: “But ye shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. “ That is the outline of the book of Acts: The church begins in Jerusalem, then it spreads to Judea and Samaria, and then it spreads to the rest of the world. In the passages that we study for this lesson, we will see the church moving out from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria.

The Samaritans, in God’s mind, formed a perfect bridge to the Gentile world because they were part Jewish and part Gentile. The gospel message wasn’t given to the Gentiles right away; a more gradual transition occurred by giving it to the Samaritans first. Then at the end of Acts 8, when the evangelist Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch, the gospel is introduced to the world.

2. WHAT THE PERSECUTION DID TO JERUSALEM

Because persecution helped to spread the gospel around the world, it was a good thing. But it also had a drawback: Since the Jewish religious leaders were persecuting Christians, God began to close the door on Jerusalem. From that time on, Jerusalem took a back seat to all the activity going on in the early church. That serves as an example to us that opportunity ignored is opportunity lost. Many Jews ignored the gospel message; therefore, they were lost in their darkness. Jesus said in John 4:22 that “salvation is of the Jews. “ The Apostle Paul said, “. . . I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). God extended the gospel message to Israel first. But the Jewish people rejected the truth. Stephen gave a final testimony to the religious leaders of Jerusalem, and they killed him. So, God shut the door on Jerusalem. The religious leaders in Jerusalem reacted antagonistically to the initial claim they had on the gospel. Therefore, the church began to move out from Jerusalem. That is exciting for those of us who are Gentiles, but it was a sad occasion for Israel.

As we study the church’s move outward from Jerusalem in Acts 8, I want to discuss three things: The Persecution, The Preaching, and The Product. The persecution of the church led to the preaching of the gospel message, which led to the product. The first point I want us to look at is . . .

I. THE PERSECUTION (vv. 1-3)

Up to Acts 8, the persecution of the church had been sporadic. Peter and John had been put into jail more than once. But the persecution reached its culmination when Stephen was killed. That initiated a more widespread persecution of Christians. The central figure involved in that persecution was a man named Saul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5). He was probably named after King Saul of the Old Testament.

Let’s look now at verse 1:

A. Saul’s Debut (vv. 1-2)

1. THE POSTSCRIPT ABOUT STEPHEN’S DEATH (v. 1a)

“And Saul was consenting unto his [Stephen’s] death. . . . “

a. The Consent

The beginning of Acts 8:1 is really a postscript to Acts 7. Stephen was stoned, and Saul gave his approval. Acts 7:58 tells us that those who stoned Stephen “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. “ Saul was from Cilicia (Ac. 22:3), so it is very likely that he had argued with Stephen in the Hellenistic Jewish synagogue at Cilicia (Ac. 6:9).

Saul was a brilliant man. He was a Pharisee, and zealous for Judaism. He was very committed to whatever he did. He was zealous in killing Christians. When he became converted, his commitment became a great asset–he redirected all the zeal he had into the right channels.

It’s very likely that Saul had a part in the killing of Stephen. He had probably been involved in a conflict against Stephen for a while. Little did Saul know that one day he would endure much more persecution for Christ than Stephen ever did. Stephen had the wonderful blessing of dying immediately. Paul had to endure intense persecution again and again before he finally had his head cut off. In Acts 9, God told Ananias, “. . . I will show him [Paul] how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (v. 16).

b. The Comparison

When you study the life of Paul, it is interesting to notice how many parallels there were between his life and Stephen’s. Both Stephen and Paul had their testimonies rejected, were disputed against in synagogues, and accused of blasphemy. Stephen was accused of speaking against Moses, the law, and the Temple (Ac. 6:11, 13). Paul was accused of speaking against one or more of those things at least four times (Ac. 21:28; 24:6; 25:8; 28:17). Stephen was dragged out of Jerusalem (Ac. 7:58), and Paul was dragged out of Lystra (Ac. 14:19). Both of them were brought before the Sanhedrin and stoned. They were both martyrs for Christ. Paul suffered for the cause of Christ just as Stephen did. But Paul didn’t view his suffering as punishment– persecution was glory for him.

c. The Contempt

1) For Stephen

The Greek word for “death” in verse 1 is a very strong word. It was used often in medical terminology in old Greek writings, and it referred to destruction. Stephen didn’t just die; he was destroyed. The word used for “death” denotes that Stephen died a horrible death. The Jewish religious leaders who stoned Stephen were frenzied and bloodthirsty. They were like piranhas–the shedding of Stephen’s blood led them to want to tear the church apart.

2) For the Church

Saul was one of the men involved in leading the persecution against the church in Jerusalem. The Lord’s words in John 15:18-19 were becoming fulfilled: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. . . . because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. “ The Lord also told His disciples, “They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (Jn. 16:2). Saul was probably the leader of this widespread persecution against the church.

2. THE PURSUIT AFTER STEPHEN’S DEATH (v. 1b)

“. . . 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 Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. “

We don’t have any specific details about what Saul did when he persecuted Christians. But whatever he did, it resulted in Christians being driven out of Jerusalem into the outlying areas. The most dominant group of Christians that were driven out of the city may have been Hellenistic Jews, since they were associated with Stephen’s ministry. Most of the Christians who remained in Jerusalem were Jews from Jerusalem. Many of them stayed; perhaps some of them couldn’t flee.

The Apostles stayed in Jerusalem. They were faithful watchmen who remained at their posts. They knew that there were believers in Jerusalem who needed to be nurtured. Although the Jewish religious leaders had rejected Christ, there were still other people in Jerusalem to be reached for Christ. Evidence for that is indicated in verse 2:

3. THE PROTEST OVER STEPHEN’S DEATH (v. 2)

“And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. “

The Spirit included that statement in Acts 8 to show us why the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem. There were still devout men there. I don’t think the phrase “devout men” refers to Christians. If that were the case, the term believers or brothers would have been used. The phrase “devout men” refers to pious Jews. In other words, there were some Jews in Jerusalem who were not yet Christians who believed that the murder of Stephen was wrong. That is good to know. There was still some fertile soil for the gospel in Jerusalem.

According to Jewish law, criminals had to have an appropriate burial. Dead bodies were not supposed to be left unburied. However, the law also said that people were forbidden to weep over a criminal’s death. The devout men not only buried Stephen–they wept over him. By doing that, they were publicly protesting Stephen’s murder. It was because of men like them that the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem. James later became the head of the church in Jerusalem, and there was still a lot of church activity going in the city. For example, Acts 15 tells us about the meeting of the great Jerusalem Council. But many of the Jewish Christians fled from Jerusalem.

B. Saul’s Deed (v. 3)

“As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house and, haling men and women, committed them to prison. “

1. THE EFFORT OF THE PERSECUTION

Saul was really something. He entered into every house on a street, and sent to prison any Christians that he found. He was the prime leader in chasing the church out of Jerusalem. Once Christians were dispossessed of their homes, many of them probably fled out of town. The Jewish religious leaders gave Saul the authority to do what he did. In Acts 26:9-11, Paul said, “. . . [I did] many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, 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. And I punished them often in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme [i. e. , renounce their faith]; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities. “ Saul was very zealous. He chased Christians everywhere.

2. THE ERROR OF THE PERSECUTION

a. Saul’s Perspective

Saul thought he that what he was doing was right; he didn’t see himself as a horrible criminal. In Galatians 1:13-14, he said, “For ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it; and profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. “ In other words, he was saying, “I thought I was pleasing God. I was very zealous for Judaism; yet I was wrong. ”

Some people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe in something. ” That is wrong! Paul believed in Judaism and was zealous for it, but he was wrong. Some people say, “If a man is religious, leave him alone. ” But if a person’s religion tells him to go around killing people, there is something wrong with it. You can’t say that everyone is entitled to his own religion and that all religions are true. That’s not true. There is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6). Paul was zealous, but that didn’t make him right.

b. Saul’s Penitence

Acts 8:3 says that Saul “made havoc” of the church. That means he exercised brutal and sadistic cruelty. That phrase is used in Greek literature to speak of a wild boar ravaging a vineyard or an animal savagely tearing a body apart. In effect, verse 3 says, “As for Saul, he tore the church apart . . . . ”

After Paul became a Christian, he very much regretted the harm that he had done to Christians. All of us have sins in our lives or have said mean things to hurt others that we can’t forget. Can you imagine having to live with the knowledge that you slaughtered hundreds of Christians? Paul was bothered by what he had done. In Acts 22:3-4, he said, “I am verily a man who is a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. “ That must have been a hard burden for Paul to carry in his heart. In Acts 22:19-20, he said, “Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those that believed on Thee; and when the blood of Thy martyr, Stephen, was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. “ It was hard for Paul to remember the days when he raged against the church like a wild beast.

3. THE EXTENT OF THE PERSECUTION

Luke mentions in Acts 8:3 that Saul had put both “men and

women” into prisons. Saul made no exception for women. He entered into every house, and imprisoned all the Christians he found. Hebrews 10:32 speaks of the “great fight of afflictions” that Christians endured. It’s possible that some of the people who experienced the persecution at Jerusalem were later in the congregation that the book of Hebrews was written to.

Acts 8:3 implies that Christians were deprived of all of their possessions. Notice the word “haling. “ It could be translated by the English word hauling. It means “dragging. ” That term is used in John 21:8 in the context of dragging a net full of fish from the ocean onto a shore. Paul dragged Christians out of their homes and threw them into jail.

II. THE PREACHING (vv. 4-7)

A. Expanded

Acts 8:4 says, “Therefore, they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. “ I love the way verse 4 starts with the word “therefore. “ That indicates that the persecuted Christians continued to preach despite the harm that was being done to them. They were being torn apart and thrown into prisons; nevertheless, they went everywhere and preached the Word. The early Christians didn’t stop preaching when they were persecuted. They preached wherever they were. The word “therefore” doesn’t imply that the early Christians started preaching when they were persecuted; it indicates that they were already preaching, and that they continued preaching even when they were thrown out of Jerusalem.

Preaching the gospel was very much a part of every Christian’s life. When the early Christians were persecuted, they didn’t hide in caves, make fires to keep warm, and pray to God for protection. They kept preaching wherever they went. The Jewish religious leaders tried to stamp out the fire, but all they did was scatter the embers and start new fires.

God’s Word “went everywhere”–the gospel message was spread into other districts. The first missionary effort of the church began in Acts 8:4. I can picture God looking down from heaven and seeing people surging from Jerusalem to preach the gospel elsewhere. That must have been a fantastic sight. All of the fleeing Christians preached the Word. Persecution is what helps get Christians out of their boxes and into the world. Therefore, we should pray for persecution!

B. Expected

1. THE MANDATE TO EVANGELIZE

Some time ago, I was talking with a student who was working on a campus for a Christian organization. He said to me, “I think I know why it’s so difficult for me to work in this ministry. ” I said, “Why?” He replied, “I don’t have the gift of evangelism. ” I told him that evangelism is not a gift; it’s a command. Jesus said in Mark 16:15, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. “ He told the Apostles, “. . . ye shall be witnesses unto Me . . . “ (Ac. 1:8).

We are all commanded to evangelize. There is no such thing as being spiritually gifted to evangelize. Satan tried to wipe out all the Christians in Jerusalem. He got Saul to scatter them everywhere. But Satan played right into God’s plans–God wanted Christians to preach in Judea and Samaria (Ac. 1:8). Satan tried his best to keep the gospel message from spreading, but God was able to use Satan’s persecution to spread the gospel. We are all to evangelize. No Christian can say, “That’s not my job. ”

2. THE MEANING OF EVANGELIZE

The word evangelize (Gk. euangelizo) simply means “to preach the gospel. ” It may have originally come from a word that means “soap sellers. ” When soap was first invented, a salesman needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of his product. He would find a dirty, disheveled man in the middle of a crowd on a street, and wash him off so that people would see how effective the soap was. When Christians began to preach about how Christ can clean a person internally, they became known as spiritual soap sellers. Christians are to be busy confronting the world and claiming that Christ can cleanse men’s hearts.

So, persecution tends to promote the very thing that it intends to destroy. It is also good for Christians because it gives them zeal for new opportunities to share the gospel. Persecution gets rid of the dross in our lives. We are all to evangelize. Evangelism is not a gift given only to a few people. Everyone should have the desire to evangelize. You should be talking about Christ so much that no matter where you go, you are evangelizing.

C. Exemplified

1. THE PERSON

In order for us to understand how the early Christians preached, the Holy Spirit selects one person to serve as our example: Philip. In the midst of all the preaching going on everywhere around Jerusalem, we are going to focus on Philip and see what he did. Philip was one of seven men who were chosen to care for the business of the church at Jerusalem (Ac. 6:5). He was a wonderful, spirit-filled man. Philip was a prophet, and Acts 21:8 says that he was an evangelist. His four daughters were prophetesses (Ac. 21:9).

2. THE POSITION

In Ephesians 4:11, we see a list of the different categories of gifted men that God gave to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching pastors. By the end of the early church age, the apostles and prophets faded away, and were replaced by evangelists and teaching pastors. Ephesians 2:20 says that the apostles and prophets were part of the foundation of the church, and that they were followed by evangelists and teaching pastors. Evangelizing and pastoring are the two key ministries in the church. Evangelists reach out, win people to Christ, and establish churches. Teaching pastors stay with a church and instruct the people in its fellowship. When the transition was made from apostles and prophets to evangelists and teaching pastors, there was an overlap where all four categories of men existed. Philip ministered during that overlap time; he was both an evangelist and a prophet. He’s the last of the prophets, and the first of the evangelists.

3. THE PLACE

In Acts 8:5, we read, “. . . Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. “ On a map, Samaria is north of Jerusalem. Some people get confused when they read that “Philip went down to the city of Samaria. “ The reason the verse says that is because Jerusalem is on a high plateau. If a person left Jerusalem to go to Samaria, Jericho, or any other place, he would go downward from that plateau. Philip went down that plateau, and went north to Samaria.

Samaria was a geographical location. It was also the name of a city: The ancient capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was Samaria. It is exciting to know that Philip went there, because the Jews weren’t supposed to have anything to do with the Samaritans. In John 4:9, when Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman at a well, the woman said, “How is it that Thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me, who am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. “ Nevertheless, Philip went to Samaria.

The Formula for Receiving Greater Responsibilities from God

Philip was a strategic instrument for God–he was the first man to take the gospel to the Samaritans. That reminds us of the principle that he who is faithful over little will be made lord over much (Mt. 25:21; cf. Lk. 16:10). Philip had been elected to handle the business of the church because God knew that he was faithful (Ac. 6:5). Now, God took him to Samaria, giving him even more responsibility. Sometimes a person will tell me, “I am thinking about going into the ministry. ” I usually say, “Those who are faithful in what God has already given them will be lifted up to places of major responsibility. ” If you are a faithful deacon, God might make you an evangelist. If you are faithful in teaching a Sunday School class, God may lift you up to be an elder or a Bible teacher. When you are faithful to minister your gift, God will place greater responsibilities in your care. He doesn’t give great responsibilities to those who haven’t proven themselves faithful.

Philip had a humble beginning. As he proved himself faithful, God gave him more responsibilities. Whatever God has given for you to do, prove yourself faithful in that matter. It won’t do you any good to be thinking about becoming a missionary or a pastor until you prove yourself faithful in what God has already given you. The head of Wycliffe Bible Translators once told me, “We have found that if a person is not an effective evangelist here at home, he will never become an effective evangelist on the mission field. ” I said to him, “I agree. The geographical location of a person’s feet has nothing to do with what is in a person’s heart. ” Some people think that if they go out on the mission field, they will automatically become aggressive evangelists. That doesn’t happen unless you are an aggressive evangelist in your hometown. You have to prove yourself first.

4. THE PEOPLE

It wasn’t easy for Philip to go to Samaria, because the Samaritans were hated by the Jews. Shortly after Solomon died, Israel split into two separate kingdoms. Jeroboam became king of the Northern Kingdom, which was made up of ten of Israel’s twelve tribes; Rehoboam became king of the Southern Kingdom, which was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In the eighth century before Christ’s birth, the Northern Kingdom was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Some Jews were left; most of them were taken away. The Assyrians then had foreigners occupy the Northern Kingdom’s territory. The Jewish remnant that was not committed to Judaism intermarried with those foreigners. That brought about the Samaritan race.

About five centuries before Christ’s birth, the Southern Kingdom was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. After seventy years, King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the Israelites taken captive by the Babylonians could return to their land (Ezr. 1:1-4). Ezra and Nehemiah led the Israelites back to their land to rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. The Samaritans to the north offered to help rebuild Jerusalem, but they were contemptuously rejected (Ezr. 4:1-3). The Jews who had returned from Babylon didn’t want to have anything to do with the Samaritans because they had desecrated their Judaism by intermarrying with Gentiles. That began the hatred between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. We see that hatred in the book of Acts, and it even continues on through today.

From a human perspective, Philip was courageous to reach out to the Samaritans. However, what he did was not really hard because he was energized by the Holy Spirit and he was obedient to God.

5. THE PRESENTATION

Acts 8:5 says that Philip “preached. “ The Greek word used there is kerusso, which means “to proclaim. ” Acts 8:5 doesn’t use the Greek word euangelizo for “preached. “ There is a difference between an individual presenting the gospel and someone who is a preacher or a public herald. Philip was a public preacher, and he “preached Christ unto them [the Samaritans].

a. The Content of the Message

1) The Receptivity of the Samaritans

The name “Christ” in Acts 8:5 is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for Messiah. Philip presented the Messiah to the Samaritans. Even though the Samaritans were Jews who had intermarried with Gentiles, they still retained certain aspects of their Judaism. They anticipated the coming Messiah. In John 4:20, a Samaritan woman told Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. “ The Samaritans still worshiped God. Jesus said to the woman, “. . . believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. . . . But the hour cometh . . . when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth . . . . God is a Spirit . . . “ (vv. 21, 23-24). After the Samaritan woman heard Jesus say that, she said to some other people, “. . . Is not this the Christ?” (v. 29). That indicates to us that the Samaritans were also waiting for the Messiah.

Philip went to Samaria to present the simple message about Christ, the Messiah. The Samaritans were ready to hear Philip’s message, because they had the background information necessary for understanding what he was talking about.

2) The Requirement for the Gentiles

Most Gentiles today would not understand you if you told them, “Christ is the Messiah. ” You would need to explain many other things first before they could understand the significance of that statement. But because Jewish people are generally knowledgeable about the Old Testament, you can usually present Christ to them without a great deal of explanation. Many of them anticipate the Messiah. Some people are more prepared than others to receive Christ without much explanation. Sometimes that includes Gentiles.

I had an unusual experience once when I led a man to Christ on an airplane. We were sitting next to each other, and he simply asked me, “Do you know how a man can receive Christ?” I thought to myself, “It is unusual for a person to be ready to receive Christ without having to explain many other things to him first. ” Sometimes the Holy Spirit prepares people to want to receive Christ. You don’t have to give a thorough explanation of the gospel message to them. The Samaritans were that way. They needed to be told that the Messiah had come, and they needed to know how to be saved. But when you present Christ to the Gentile world, usually you need to explain who God is, what sin is, what God’s plan for the ages is, where man stands in relation to God, and other basic facts.

b. The Converts of the Message

The response to Philip’s preaching was immediate: “. . . the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did” (Ac. 8:6). Isn’t that fantastic? A multitude of the Samaritans were spiritually awakened. Some miracles took place along with Philip’s preaching, which confirmed that Philip’s message was from God.

c. The Confirmation of the Message

Acts 8:7 says, “For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them; and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. “

1) The Healing of the Possessed

I want to discuss the first part of verse 7, which says that “unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them . . . . “ The Bible frequently talks about people who are possessed with unclean spirits and demons. The term “demon possession” is not a biblical term, but demoniacs are mentioned in the Bible. The Greek word daimonizomanoi, which means “demonized,” was used to refer to them.

a) The Power of Demons Described

People can still be inhabited by demons today. We tend to think of demon-possessed people as being the patients of voodoo practitioners in other lands. But there are demon-possessed people in our own society, too. We think of demoniacs as people who roll around on the ground with foam coming out of their mouths. But Satan is not stupid. He adapts his demonic activity to the culture around a person. We have suave, well-dressed, articulate, educated demoniacs in our society. Some of them propagate their ideas in institutions of higher learning: They maintain enough of an apparent equilibrium to be listened to and admired by unwitting people. Sometimes demons will cause a person to do crazy things, but demonic activity is very subtle in our society. You are more likely to see demon possession overtly manifest in places like Africa, South America, or the Caribbean, where people are more used to seeing that kind of thing. The condition of a demon-possessed person will vary, sometimes depending on his culture.

A demon-possessed person is someone under the control of one or more demons. They can take control of a person any time they want. They will make him do or say what they want him to. The primary characteristic that identifies a demoniac is that there is another personality inside him. The demons inside of a person will speak in different voices and different languages. They can make a person do a variety of things. They often have supernatural knowledge. I’m not trying to be judgmental when I say this, but Jeane Dixon gives evidence of being demonized. She knows things that are only known to the spiritual world.

b) The Power over Demons Discussed

It is interesting that Philip had the power to cast out demons. We don’t have that power today. Jesus had the power to cast demons out with a word (Mt. 8:16). The Apostles and others to whom Christ gave the gift of miracles could do that, but today we can only pray for the healing of the sick and demon possessed (Js. 5:14-15). We can’t say to a demon-possessed person, “In the name of Christ, I command all the demons in you to get out!” Many people get frustrated because they try to cast out demons, but find out that they can’t. I can’t cast out demons. The gift of miracles is not present in the church today. That’s why we have to pray for sick or demon-possessed people. The gift of healing belonged to the early church.

How can a demoniac be helped?

To illustrate the fact that we can’t cast out demons ourselves, let me share with you about an experience I had some time ago. After a service, I went into one of the rooms of the church, and encountered a demon-possessed woman. There were several other church leaders in the room already. The woman had six different demons in her. They all had different voices and names, and we talked to all of them. The woman even mistook some of those demons for the Holy Spirit. The demons controlled her, and she had the desire to kill people. She couldn’t figure out why. What was interesting is that one of the demons was named “Murder. ” Another demon was named “Deceito”–he spoke in a strange, ethereal voice. He caused the woman to be deceitful all the time. That demon may have tried to deceive us by speaking in different voices. We all realized that we needed to pray for the woman, and that those demons would not leave unless she confessed her sin. None of us could get rid of the demons, especially the one named Deceito. It wasn’t until the woman confessed some very filthy things in her life that she was cleansed.

So, we cannot cast out demons, but we can pray for demon-possessed people. We can also confront demoniacs with their need for confession and cleansing so that there will be no way for demons to occupy them.

2) The Healing of the Palsied and the Lame

The end of verse 7 says that Philip also healed people who had the palsy and those who were lame.

Philip’s preaching and the miracles that accompanied it brought a great response from the people. Let’s take a closer look at that response:

III. THE PRODUCT (vv. 8-9a)

“And there was great joy in that city. But there was a certain man, called Simon . . . “

There are two kinds of responses to preaching: faithful and phony. Some people truly become saved, and others don’t. Simon was one of the phonies. The two reactions to the gospel are represented in The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Mt. 13:24-30) and The Parable of the Sower (a seed sprouts, is choked out, and dies while another seed grows to bear fruit; Mt. 13:5-8). Preaching always brings about both results. We have to live with that. I hope that in your life, preaching has brought about true faith.

Focusing on the Facts

1. What kind of transition takes place in the book of Acts in chapter 8? What was the catalyst for that transition?

2. What does the Holy Spirit do with disasters and tragedies? What happened every time the Christians of the early church were persecuted?

3. To whom did the gospel message spread in the first extension of the church into the world? According to Acts 8, where did the gospel message extend to in the second and third stages of outreach? What did that fulfill (Ac. 1:8)?

4. When the gospel message went into the world, why did the Samaritans form a perfect bridge to the Gentiles?

5. What happened to Jerusalem as a result of the Jewish religious leaders’ persecution of Christians?

6. After Stephen was stoned, who became the central figure involved in persecuting the church?

7. What similarities are there between Stephen and Saul’s lives?

8. How do we know that those who stoned Stephen had great contempt for him?

9. When persecution broke out against Christians in Jerusalem, why did the Apostles stay in the city?

10. How did the people who disagreed with Stephen’s murder protest? (Ac. 8:2)

11. How did Saul carry out his persecution of Christians (Ac. 8:3)? Who gave him the authority to do what he did (Ac. 26:10)?

12. What is wrong with the statement, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe in something”?

13. After Paul became a Christian, how did he feel about what he had done to other Christians prior to his salvation?

14. What does the word “therefore” in Acts 8:4 indicate?

15. Is evangelism a gift? Support your answer with Scripture.

16. Who was Philip? What is unusual about the fact that he was both a prophet and an evangelist?

17. Where did Philip go to preach the gospel? Why was it unusual for him to go there?

18. What must have Philip done so that God would give him the tremendous responsibility of bringing the gospel to the Samaritans? (see pp. 13)

19. Why were the Samaritans hated by the Jewish people? What enabled Philip to reach out to the Samaritans?

20. Why was it easy for Philip to present the Messiah to the Samaritans? Why is it generally difficult to present the Messiah to Gentiles?

21. What kind of response was there to Philip’s preaching? What helped confirm that Philip’s message was from God?

22. Philip cast demons out of people. Can we do that? Explain.

23. What are the two kinds of responses to preaching?

Pondering the Principles

1. Stephen was killed by the Jewish religious leaders because of his strong stand for Christ. Read about Stephen in Acts chapters 6 and 7. In chapter 6, what do verses 5, 8, and 10 say about Stephen? What did Stephen talk to the Sanhedrin about in Acts 7:1-53? How did Stephen conclude his speech (vv. 51-53)? What was the reaction of the Sanhedrin to Stephen’s speech (vv. 54, 57-59)? What did Stephen say in verses 55-56, 60? Based on what you have just read, what qualities did Stephen have that we should all have when we witness for Christ?

2. When the Jewish religious leaders began widespread persecution of Christians after Stephen’s murder, it would have been easy for people to think that the early church would be destroyed. Rather, persecution strengthened the church. The early Christians took advantage of opportunities to preach the gospel in new places. Think of two or three instances when you have been persecuted for sharing the gospel, and ask yourself these questions for each incident: Did you respond the same way that the early Christians responded to their persecution? How did God use that situation for His purposes? If you are not sure, how could God have used that situation? Whenever you are persecuted, remember that God is sovereign (Ps. 115:3; 1 Chr. 29:11), and that nothing happens without His consent. From now on, look closely at the persecution you endure, and think of the ways that God might use it to accomplish His work.

3. Acts 8:4 tells us that the Christians who fled from persecution in Jerusalem continued to preach wherever they went. Persecution didn’t silence them. Read Acts 14:5-7 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2. Did persecution silence Paul? Read Acts 20:22-24. What awaited Paul in Jerusalem? Did that frighten him? Why? Today in America, none of us are very likely to be persecuted in the same way that Paul was. Yet we are quick to shut our mouths when persecution comes our way. Paul had God’s power within him. That’s what enabled him to carry on in the face of persecution. Ephesians 3:20 says that God’s power resides within all Christians. Are you living in harmony with the Holy Spirit? Or, are you bottling up the power within you because there is sin in your life? If you are living in full obedience to God, then you will experience His power in your life.

4. Persecution could not keep Paul from preaching the gospel. Read 2 Corinthians 4:8-18. Meditate on what Paul’s response to persecution was, and why he was willing to endure it. What can you learn from that passage?

 

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