The Prevailing Purpose of God
Intro: One might imagine after Stephen was unjustly put to death by the Sanhedrin, that Stephen’s friends were disappointed, discouraged, and depressed as they mourned the loss of their godly friend. Maybe some of them were asking, “God, what are you doing? Why did You let them kill Stephen? He was doing so much good for You. Now what are we going to do?”
-We might find ourselves asking the same kinds of questions at various times in life. What are you doing, Lord? What is Your purpose for the people of this world? What are You trying to accomplish? Well, let me try to give a few thoughts on this in preparation for the rest of today’s message.
-God’s most basic purpose on this earth is to bring people into a loving relationship with Himself. He created mankind for His pleasure, but a loving relationship is not possible between a holy God and unholy people who have been infected by sin. So, God has a plan to take care of the sin problem, make His people holy, and then enjoy close relationship with them. His plan is accessed by connecting with the life and death of Jesus. God was using Stephen to help people connect with Jesus. Stephen was very effective doing that, but God’s purpose is always bigger than just one man. Stephen’s death resulted in a widespread revival that reached far beyond Jerusalem.
-Now, God does not take pleasure out of forcing someone to love Him, so He does give us a free will. He allows us to choose between darkness and light, wrong and right, selfishness and love. When we choose to respond to His love, we get as far away from sin as we can and ask Him to forgive us for all the wrong things we’ve ever said or done. God creates a new spirit within us that is energized by His HS. We are then able to live in right relationship with God, enjoying His love and favor. When we make mistakes and sin, we confess what we’ve done, God cleans us up, and we go on.
-Now, why have I said all this? Today I want to talk about God’s Prevailing Purpose. Since His purpose is to have a loving relationship with every human being, we need to learn more about that process. God wants to use His church (those who are already in right relationship with Him) to carry out His purpose of reaching others. Here is the main thought we will examine:
Prop: God’s purpose will prevail in our lives, if we will continually say, “Yes” to Him.
Interrogative: How can we learn to always say, “Yes” to the Lord?
TS: Let’s look at 4 principles that will give us better perspective on what God is up to. First, it is helpful for us to know this:
I. God’s Purpose Is Always Under Attack (8:1, 3)
1And 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. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
-This must have seemed like a terrible time to the believers in Jerusalem. Imagine what it must have been like. Christians met together frequently in their houses for fellowship, prayer, and to talk about the Lord and His word. Whether Saul and his associates infiltrated these home meetings secretly, or asked the neighbors, we don’t know. Regardless, he found out where followers of Jesus lived and with the authority of the Sanhedrin behind him, he hunted them down and arrested them.
-Up until the time of Stephen’s arrest, it had been mostly the Sadducees who were opposing the followers of Jesus. However, Saul was a Pharisee; so, it appears that even some of the Pharisees began to actively oppose believers in Jesus. Back in Acts 6:7, we read that a large number of priests believed and received Jesus. This may have had an effect on some of the Pharisees (who were usually good guys). They may have come to believe that their way of worship was under attack. They had known nothing else all of their lives, and now many of their own priests were turning to Jesus, whom they believed to have been a false messiah.
-Whatever the reason, the heat was turned up in opposition to the purpose of God. This is really nothing new. God’s purpose has always been and will always be under attack, as long as our enemy, Satan, is around. He has a better sense of God’s purpose and what He is up to than many Christians do. He will do all he can to hinder God’s work and keep people from receiving Jesus and living for Him.
-He has many schemes and devices to oppose God’s purpose. Sometimes he attacks directly, like he did by using Saul to arrest Christians and have them put to death. Christians have suffered persecution & martyrdom ever since that time. Today, millions of Christians are facing hostile persecution all over our world. So, a direct attack is one method the enemy uses. At other times, the devil is more subtle. He knows that if he can stir up strife in the church, then fewer people will be drawn to Jesus. Who wants an angry, spiteful Jesus? That is what people will see when Christians who say they follow Jesus are fighting with one another. Another tactic is to get Christians addicted to comfort. As much as I want our church to be a happy family, we cannot and must not stop at that. We might be a happy family, but if all we are doing is enjoying our own company, then we are missing God’s purpose to reach the world.
-So, let’s not be ignorant of the fact that we are at war! There is always a spiritual battle going on all around us. We have a nasty enemy who does not want anyone to receive Jesus or experience lasting peace. Also, he won’t leave us alone just because we leave him alone. He wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But God is bigger than he is and we will win this battle if we stay alert and keep obeying the Lord. 2nd…
II. God’s Purpose May Be Fulfilled Through Grief and Suffering (8:2, 4-5)
-The Godly or devout men who are mentioned probably included the other 6 deacons, but we cannot be absolutely sure. The word that describes their grief is likely the source of our English word mega. It means great or more than what might be normal. No doubt Stephen’s death hurt them very deeply.
-Accepted Jewish Law did not allow Jews to mourn for criminals who were put to death by stoning. Early Jewish believers typically did keep the Law, even though they did not rely on it for their salvation. However, since Stephen’s trial was illegal and wrong, the believers made no effort to hide the fact that they were mourning the loss of their Godly brother. In fact, this may have accounted for some of the hostility and persecution that broke out against them. By publicly mourning, they were saying that they did not recognize the legality of the Sanhedrin’s kangaroo court session when they dragged Stephen out to stone him. He had not broken the Law, so they mourned deeply for him.
-Someone once wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” This proved to be true for these early Christians. Even though they were being harassed to the point of having to leave their homes, they still preached the good news wherever they went.
Philip went to a city in Samaria and preached Jesus to them. Samaria is significant because of Acts 1:8: “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 ripple effect of the gospel message was beginning to widen. Jesus had made the big splash when He came to live, die and rise again. Now, the ripples of Christ’s work were being felt not only throughout Israel, but in Samaria. We will see the ripples get bigger and wider as we study the book of Acts.
-Why did it take seemingly bad things like Stephen’s death and persecution to accomplish this? In know it sounds harsh, but perhaps the church at Jerusalem had become a little too comfortable. Jesus had told the apostles that they would be His witnesses throughout the earth, but up until now it had all been about Jerusalem. God’s prevailing purpose was that Samaritans and Gentiles would also hear the good news.
-Now, please understand that God does not cause all suffering and grief. Much of the pain in life comes about simply because we live in a fallen world where sickness, death, and sin create problems all around us. This world is sick and needs help! That’s why Jesus came and did what He did on the cross! When grief, suffering, or difficult times come our way, we can count on Jesus to be with us. He won’t always just make it all go away. Sometimes His purpose is best accomplished when He walks with us through these things, rather than making them all go away. His own life is a great example of that. When He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He cried out, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
-See, we want to pray the first part of that prayer, but it is more difficult to pray the last. “Lord, please take this trouble away from me. It hurts and I don’t like it!” Sometimes God does take it away, and we are grateful for that. However, sometimes God may be saying, “I have a higher purpose for you than just making you feel good. I want to do something through your life that will last for eternity.”
-TS: God’s purpose is always under attack, and may require us to endure grief and suffering. Our next point has to do with meeting people’s needs.
III. God’s Purpose Includes Demonstrations of His Power (8:6-7)
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.”
-I believe God wants to increase the miraculous in our lives. However, I am not sure that we will see much of an increase outside of the context of sharing God’s love and the message of forgiveness with those who have not yet received Him. Can God heal any sickness and disease? Absolutely! Does God want to heal those who are already in right relationship with Him? I believe that He does. However, I sense that the primary purpose of miracles is to demonstrate to the lost that God is able to help them- no matter what they face! So if a church is not really reaching out to the lost in their community, then I’m not sure they will see very many miracles. On the other hand, a church may be doing really well at reaching out to the lost, but they may not realize how much God intends miracles to be an essential component of the gospel.
-When we share the love of Jesus with someone, we should be able to say with boldness that Jesus Christ wants to make them whole! What does it mean to be whole? It not only means that your sins are forgiven, but it also means that anything that would hinder you from loving and serving God can be taken care of. Some people in v.7 were delivered from demonic possession. Some who were crippled or paralyzed found that the power of God was able to restore strength and health to their bodies. When Jesus was training His disciples, He did not just tell them to preach. Here is what He told them in Matthew 10:7-8: “As you go, preach this message: ’The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” Miracles are part of the good news!
-Now let me take this a bit further, based on what I’ve heard and seen the Lord do in people’s lives. People have different needs when they receive Jesus. Some need deliverance from addictions, and I’ve known several who received deliverance when they called on the Lord. Alcohol, drugs, sexual addictions, approval addictions – people can find freedom from all of these things when they ask the Lord for His help. It doesn’t always happen immediately, but perhaps it should more often. Some people need emotional healing from an abusive past. I have heard of several who have found help when they turned to the Lord. There really is no limit to what God can heal and restore through His love and His power. Sometimes, the healing process just begins when a person receives Jesus as their leader and forgiver. It may require a lot of prayer and godly counseling to find healing for some of the wounds in our lives. However, Jesus promises to help us and He will never abandon us.
-What would it take for the church of Jesus to truly become contagious? It may begin with one person being healed and forgiven. When others see and hear that God is at work in His church, then just maybe they will be like the Samaritans in v.6 who, when they heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. Sometimes people today never really hear the gospel, because they are so overwhelmed by their problems. What if we prayed for people and they saw some of those life-controlling problems disappear? That would show them that Jesus is exactly who they need in their lives.
-Let’s keep asking God to increase our faith and boldness, and to empower us to work miracles in people’s lives as we tell them about Him!
-TS: Finally, even though God doesn’t promise that all of our problems will just disappear when we trust Him, He does have wonderful things in store for those who do.
IV. God’s Purpose Brings Joy out of Sorrow (8:8)
-Philip knew sorrow from the loss of his good friend, Stephen, and you can be sure he was saddened over the persecution of the church at Jerusalem. He found joy by doing the will of God. His sorrow was turned to joy, but it didn’t stop there. The people in Samaria whom he ministered to were oppressed and tormented by sickness, life’s difficulties, and even by demons. Because Philip was willing to minister out of his grief and suffering, these Samaritans were able to see God turn their sorrow into joy.
-God does not do bad things to us to force us to do His will. He gives us a choice. However, when the sorrows of a fallen world come our way, there is nobody as close to us as Jesus. He is near to those who have a broken heart, and He will turn their sorrow into joy if they will let Him. I am not saying this to short-circuit the necessary grieving process that we need to go through after losing someone we love. It will take time to work through such issues as anger at God, self, and others and to work through seasons of depression. But God will walk through those things with us and He promises to help us. Life is never the same after losing someone we love, but with God’s help, we will cope, and we will again know what joy is.
Conclusion: As we close, we’ve talked about God’s purpose being under attack. This means that we will sometimes find ourselves under fire. In fact, there are times when we will suffer physically, emotionally, mentally, and maybe even spiritually. However, God can use that suffering to minister more effectively to others. He will not put more on us than we with His help can bear. God also wants us to use the power He has given us by His Holy Spirit to work miracles in other people’s lives. If we are willing to say “Yes” to the Lord in these areas, we will know the joy of the Lord in our lives, and we will be able to rejoice with others as their sorrows are turned into joy.
-Maybe today you can identify with what we’ve talked about. Maybe you feel like you’ve been under attack from the enemy and you just need strength and reassurance from the Lord. He will give it to you if you ask Him. Maybe you are experiencing some form of grief or suffering. God is closer to you now than He has ever been. The Bible says that God is near to those with a broken heart. Maybe you are just hurting and you want the Lord to help you. He will help you if you are willing to receive all that He wants to give you. There may be others here who have received good things from the Lord, but you really want to share God’s goodness with others more than you have in the past. You want to ask God to use you in praying for miracles for people around you, so that His purpose will be fulfilled in their lives.
-Wherever you are in your spiritual journey today, let me assure you that God is with you, and He wants to help you grow. His purpose for all of us is that we would come to know Him and make Him known. If I can pray for you and help you get a little closer to the Lord’s plan for your life, please come and see me.
-I’d like to end by playing a song. Just close your eyes and listen to these words about how much God loves you and wants to help you today.