Summary: How God used Persecution to bless the church

Acts 8 - 3/19/17

Turn with me this morning to Acts 8.  The book of Acts is the transitional book, leading us from the life and ministry of Jesus and taking us into the church age.  As Jesus ascends back up to heaven, he said to his disciples, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  The book of Acts is the story of how all that took place, with the gospel being preached in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.  In the first few chapters of Acts, we have seen the ministry of the disciples in Jerusalem and the founding of the church there.  Today, we see the gospel going out to the half-breed Jews called Samaritans.

We finished up last week the story of Stephen, stoned by the enraged Sanhedrin, the leaders of the Jews who refused to hear the truth that Stephen preached.  They dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.  And that brings us to chapter 8.  Read 8:1-8  Pray

We see four “firsts” in the book of Acts: four distinct “beginnings” of the gospel coming to various people groups.  In Acts 2 we see the Day of Pentecost, where Peter preaches the gospel to Jews from all nations who have gathered in Jerusalem.  And as a sign of the baptism of the Spirit, we see the people begin” declaring the wonders of God” in all the various languages of the people present.  Today in chapter 8, we see the gospel comes to Samaria, and a second outpouring of the Spirit takes place, and again we see great miraculous signs take place.  In Acts 10, Peter takes the gospel to the gentiles as he goes to the house of Cornelius.  Again we see for the third time an outpouring of the spirit as this new group receives the gospel.  It tells us in Acts 10, While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.   For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  And then a fourth group receives an outpouring of the spirit in Acts 19 - the followers of John the Baptist.  Even though John had been beheaded in the years previous, his disciples continue to gain a following, and here this group believes in Jesus as the true Messiah, and the spirit comes upon them as well.  This is a transitional book.

Today, we are looking at the transition of the gospel coming to Samaria.  The disciples were content to stay in Jerusalem.  Even though Jesus had given the call to GO, the church said NO and they stayed at Samaria.  And so God allows a great persecution to come - 8:1 - and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  The word here “scattered” literally means to “scatter seed” - so just like a farmer goes out to a field and takes his sack of seed and sows it - he literally takes handfuls and throws it across the field and it falls where it may - so also as the disciples flee the persecution, wherever they end up, they share the gospel.  And the gospel witness now is greatly spread.

It is interesting here in this chapter that as God takes the message to the Samaritans, the person he uses.  He doesn’t take Peter or John or one of the key disciples, but God uses Philip, one of the seven deacons we saw back in chapter 6.  Acts is a transitional book is showing us how God transitions from the 12 to many others who pick up the torch to share the gospel.  We see Stephen, now Philip, next Paul.  For the rest of the book, apart from Peter taking the gospel to Cornelius in chapter 10, the ministry taking place is by the next generation of leaders.  

But as is common even in churches today, there is often a “hesitancy” to accept change when it comes.  The older, established leaders of the church seem somewhat reluctant to accept the new things that God is doing in His kingdom.  We see here in verse 14, when there is a great revival in Samaria, the church sends Peter and John to check it out.  Peter in chapter 10 is hesitant to accept the fact that God wants the gospel to go to the Gentiles - three different times God has to give him this vision to prepare his heart.  In chapter 9, when Paul is converted, the church leaders are hesitant to accept him until Barnabas speaks up for him.  And in chapter 11, when God does great things in Antioch among the Gentiles, the church leaders send Barnabas to check it out.

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