Summary: For centuries, Christians have been hated and viciously opposed in many nations. But persecution has not destroyed Christianity. Even under the direst circumstances, it has not only survived but thrived and revived the church.
Opening illustration: Did you know that if one of the arms of a starfish is severed, a new one will grow in its place? In fact, if a starfish is cut up, any piece that contains a part of the central disc will develop into a new starfish.
Some oyster fishermen found that out, much to their dismay, when their oyster beds became infested with starfish. The fishermen had cut up the starfish they caught and tossed the pieces back into the water. Rather than destroying them, however, they were actually helping them multiply. The same is true of leeches in tropical and equatorial countries.
For centuries, Christians have been hated and viciously opposed in many nations. But persecution has not destroyed Christianity. Even under the direst circumstances, it has not only survived but thrived. Jesus said of His church that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Let us turn to Acts 8 and see how revival followed persecution in the 1st century church …
Introduction: Most Christians would prefer not to face persecution. Are any of you just dying to be persecuted? Probably not! But the fact is that many Christians in the world are dying in the midst of persecution. First-century believers in Jerusalem were severely persecuted, but it resulted in their being scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. And wherever they went, they preached the Word and many more believed. In Acts 8:4-6, we read that multitudes responded to the preaching of Philip.
At first glance, Stephen’s death may seem pointless. His ministry seems to have ended in failure. Not only was he killed as a heretic, but his death triggered the first full scale persecution of the church. While the persecution seemed to be negative in reality, it was a positive event. The death of Stephen led to the first great missionary outreach of the early church. Stephen’s death sparked a city-wide persecution against the young Christian church, led by Saul (who will become the Apostle Paul in Acts 9). Saul tried to kill the church by killing and imprisoning those belonging to the church. The intense persecution forced the church to scatter (literally, thousands of people) into Judea and Samaria, thus also scattering the gospel. This is significant and marks a decisive turning point in Acts (Acts 1:8). The story then shifts from Stephen to Philip, another one of the seven (Acts 6:5) who takes the gospel to Samaria, likely the capital city, located 35 miles north of Jerusalem. There he proclaims the gospel, heals the sick, and casts out demonic spirits. The city, of course, is radically transformed and we’re told “there was much joy in that city.” (8:8) This is the cost of revival.
Yes, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter how severely persecuted, continues to grow. Even the forces of hell itself cannot overcome it!
How Revival builds up?
1. Dread (scatter) and Lament (vs. 1-2)
The result of this persecution is that the church that was in Jerusalem scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Notice the apostles don't leave Jerusalem yet. They stay in Jerusalem to help the church there and stay strong in the face of persecution. And at this time, they take Stephen and bury him. Up to this point, the church in Jerusalem had kind of just stayed there. They hadn't gone out into other regions to spread the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. And remember, Christ's last words on earth were that they were to take the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).
This persecution comes along and gives them a little bit of incentive to do what Jesus had asked them to do. Some even believe that God sent this persecution so that the church would obey. That’s possible, I suppose, but I tend to think that God was using this opportunity for the good, to encourage the Christians to get going on what they eventually would have done anyway. But God has to prod us sometimes, and use circumstances in our life to encourage us to obey Him. And so He uses this persecution to scatter the Christians, and send them to the regions of Judea and Samaria. And verses 4-8 tell us what they did when there.
Illustration: In 1949 in China when the national Government was defeated by the Communists 637 China Inland Mission missionaries were told to leave the country. It seems from a human point of view a total disaster and a huge defeat for the gospel and the church. But as we look back we now know that it was God's purpose to allow such things to happen and what appeared a disaster has turned out to be a huge blessing. For within four years of leaving China 286 of those missionaries had been redeployed in South East Asia and Japan meaning that more missionaries were employed in those areas and some were having missionaries for the very first time.