Summary: There appears to be the themes of persecution in verses 1-3 and evangelism in verses 4-8. But I want to suggest that this entire passage is primarily all about evangelism!
WHY ARE WE HERE? pt 1
Two elderly couples were enjoying conversation when one of the men asked the other, ‘Fred, how was the memory clinic you went to last month?’
‘Outstanding, they taught us all the latest psychological techniques: visualisation, association, etc. it was terrific’, replied Fred.
‘Sounds unreal, and what was the name of the clinic?’
Fred went blank. He thought and thought but couldn’t remember. Then a smile broke across his face, he’d put into practice some of the techniques he’d learned, ‘What do you call that flower with a long stem and thorns?’
‘You mean a rose?’
‘Yes that’s it!, a rose’.
He turned to His wife and said, ‘Rose, what was the name of that memory clinic?’
I’ve entitled this mornings message, ‘Why Are We Here?’ We’re going to be focussing on one of the primary reasons the church exists. A reason that I’m sure most of us are familiar with – but perhaps like Fred, have trouble remembering!
John please come forward and read to us Acts 8:1-8
(READ ACTS 8:1-8)
There are two main themes contained in that passage – what are they?
Yes, there appears to be the themes of persecution in verses 1-3 and evangelism in verses 4-8. But I want to suggest that this entire passage is primarily all about evangelism! Its all about the importance of sharing Christ.
Before moving on, I want to make sure that we all understand the meaning of three words – ‘Church’, ‘Persecution’ and ‘Evangelism’.
Could someone please tell us what the church is?
Could someone please tell us what persecution means?
Could someone please explain what evangelism is?
I want to put forward that this passage presents EVANGELISM as a major priority of the church. To this end lets turn our attention to verses 1-3 and consider -
1. The Great Persecution That Broke Out
(READ ACTS 8:1-3)
There are two people named in those verses – who are they?
Yes, Stephen and Saul.
Two men worlds apart. One man willing to die for his convictions – the other willing to kill for his convictions. One man dedicated to Jesus Christ – the other dedicated to the status quo. One man passionate to further Jesus’ Kingdom – the other passionate to stamp it out. One man longing to be faithful to his Master’s command to bring people to Himself – the other longing to prevent people coming to Jesus. One man committed to the health of the church – the other committed to its destruction.
Saul was obsessed with destroying the church, ‘On that day a great persecution broke out …, and … Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.’
On what day did this great persecution break out? The day Stephen was stoned! Have a look at Acts 11:19 if you are in any doubt – ‘Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen …’ So it was very much to do with Stephen.
Let’s turn back the hands of time for a moment and look at Acts 6:9b-10, ‘These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.’ You know when people don’t win the argument they can become pretty nasty – so in this case they dug up false witnesses and falsely charged Stephen. In reply to these charges, Stephen preaches the Word of God to them. And the Spirit of Truth and Wisdom convicted them! They could not bear what was being said so they executed the messenger.
Evangelism! Presenting Jesus Christ, began this great persecution of the church.
Notice we are told, ‘… persecution broke out …’ It was there wanting to break free & Stephen was the catalyst for it. God was going to use it as an evangelistic tool.
I would like to read to you a devotion from ‘Our Daily Bread’:
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, has a guard 24 hours a day. Every hour on the hour, 365 days a year, a new soldier reports for duty. When the new guard arrives, he receives his orders from the one who is leaving. The words are always the same: ‘ORDERS REMAIN UNCHANGED’.
The same could be said of the orders that Jesus gave to His disciples.
Just before He ascended to heaven, He told His followers, ‘You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). He also said, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ (Mt 28:19).