Summary: God is at work in critical circumstances and strange encounters.
Title: The Ways God Works
Text: Acts 8:26-40
Thesis: God is at work in critical circumstances and strange encounters.
In 1440 Johann Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press which was capable of cranking out 3,600 pages a day… just 60 years later the printing press had spread throughout western Europe printing upward to 20,000,000 volumes. The printing press is said to be one of the most influential inventions of the second millennium and ushered in the period of modernity.
300 years later, in 1795, German writer Johann George Heinzmann warned people about reading too much. He warned that consuming words leads to “weakening the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, hypochondria and melancholy.” This new-fangled printing press craze was not a good thing.
Back in the Morse Code days, Henry David Thoreau protested the telegraph line that extended from Maine to Texas… wondering what of importance would either Maine or Texas have to communicate.
In 1906, composer John Philip Sousa lamented the invention of the phonograph as causing the deterioration of music in America.
In 1926 the Knights of Columbus warned that the telephone would “break up home life and the old practice of visiting friends.”
About the same time the dean at Princeton observed that cars were a threat to America’s young people. He was worried that general effect of the automobile on young people would be that they would be driving all over the place on Sundays… everywhere but church.
Most recently The Atlantic magazine posed the question: “Is Google making us stupid?” (Homiletics, June 2015, Volume 27, May – June, PP 8-9)
I believe that despite the fears of some the printing press has been a huge change that God has used to communicate the Good News to countless people over the centuries. I believe that the development of transportation and communication has facilitated the reaching of people for Christ in ways that were not possible before.
While the cause of considerable hand-wringing change is beneficial at best and benign at worst… though not always.
Sometimes change is forced upon us and we’ve no choice but to roll-with-the punches.
I. God Works through Extreme Circumstances, Acts 8:1-19
“A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.” Acts 8:1
I am of the opinion that change, however unsettling, is an opportunity for us to do a new thing. In our text today, we see what seems to be a most unfortunate circumstance that was seemingly devastating to the Christian community in Jerusalem.
It began with the martyrdom of Stephen.
A. The martyrdom of Stephen, Acts 7:51-8:2
Jerusalem had become a hotbed of unrest during Passion Week. Christ’s arrest, trial and crucifixion and burial were intended to put a stop to the Jesus movement. But then Jesus came up missing from his tomb and started appearing here and there. Then is followers caught fire and rather than the movement dying away it exploded exponentially. The fledgling church grew and grew and the tensions between the religious leaders and the followers of Jesus heightened to the point of violence when Stephen was stoned to death.
The stoning was not without provocation. Toward the end of his speech he told his audience that they were “stubborn people, heathen at heart and deaf to the truth.” This of course enraged the religious leaders and ultimately he was drug out of the city and stoned to death.
This was a radical change for a movement that fostered loving God, others and living in a Christ-like way.
The stoning of Stephen was the catalyst that set in motion a plan to persecute Christians.
B. The persecution of the church, Acts 8:3
Following the public stoning of Stephen, Saul, who would one day become the Apostle Paul, unleased massive persecution upon the followers of Jesus. The result was what historians call “The Diaspora.”
The (big picture) Diaspora refers to Jews who were living outside of Palestine or Israel having been dispersed or scattered to other Gentile countries. Today the Diaspora refers to the scattering of the Jews throughout Europe who returned to their homeland in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel by a United Nations resolution
However, in the rest of the New Testament, the meaning of the Diaspora seems to evolve somewhat. First it refers more specifically to Jewish Christians who were spread out all over the Roman Empire rather than Jews in general. In Acts 8:1–4 we see the gospel being spread as the persecution of Jewish Christians began in Jerusalem, so the Jewish Christians were “scattered” or dispersed “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” and “those that were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”