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Fury, Flight and Flame.

26/12/2019

Fury, Flight and Flame

The early Church is Scattered and Carries the Gospel Everywhere!

Text:  Acts 8:1-4

We’re going to look at a second deacon – a man called Philip,   [Acts 6:5] and in following the story of Stephen with more about this second deacon, Luke is demonstrating for us that although these ‘servants’ of the church were appointed for practical ministry, and to free the elders for spiritual leadership, their role did not preclude them from the ministry of preaching, witnessing and apologetics.  

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Fury! Image by  Pintera Studio from Pixabay

 

1 The Fury of Great Persecution.  8:1 

Let’s try to get an insight on the awfulness of the onslaught that the church endured in these first weeks and months…

  • The angry man behind the persecution.  Now Saul was consenting to his death.  The word ‘consented’ here simply means ‘with thought.’ He knew what he was doing.  Paul explains this to us in his epistles.   Galatians 1:13-14 Philippians 3:4-6   There is great hope for us in Saul’s story, for there is no man or woman too bad for God to reach them and save them by his grace.  
  • The immediacy of the persecution. At that time a great persecution arose against the church It began on the very day of Stephen’s persecution. The NKJV says, AT THAT TIME – but the ESV is closer to the Greek, it reads, ‘There arose on that day.’ There is always an urgency about the devil’s work, for he must know that his time is limited, and he wants to prevent God’s work from progressing and to stop souls from being saved.  He will wreck churches, bring Christians into conflict with each other, he will break up relationships, attack marriages, put stumbling blocks and temptation in the way…. 
  • The violence of the persecution.  a great persecution It was a GREAT PERSECUTION.  The Greek text is interesting.  The word used for GREAT is one we will all recognise – μεγας – It was a Mega-persecution.  8:3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.  Saul personally led a door to door search of the city, and both men and women were arrested.  Acts 26:11  
  • The havoc this persecution caused. he made havoc of the church The word ‘havoc’ is ελυμαινετο in Greek.  It literally means to ravage, – to use sadistic brutality.  Many, many Christians died at the hands of Saul and his band of religious thugs, for imprisonment frequently led to death – not just Stephen.  Again, later Paul would confess this…  Acts 22:3-5  

Yet it is surely worth noticing the comparison here between the actions of Saul and the persecutors, and the Christian believers, for in the midst of this awful sadistic ravaging of the church, kindly men came and took the body of Stephen to a place of burial and laid him to rest. 8:2    

 

2 The Flight of God’s People.  8:1b. and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

There’s nothing wrong with getting to place of safety! 

  • Those who fled. Many of the Christians from Jerusalem fled from the city, and they were scattered throughout the area. Cf Genesis 45:1-15.   One of those who left was Philip, the deacon, and he went to witness among the Samaritans.  vAnd he witnessed to an Ethiopian – a far off people who lived away beyond the burning sands of great desert wastes…. An example of missionary endeavour – reaching out to the lowest of men – the Samaritans, in Jewish eyes, bringing the gospel of hope to people whom others have written off, taking the good news to the furthest corners of the world…. 
  • Those who stayed.  The apostles remained in Jerusalem.  except the apostles. There’s no blame attached here, either to those who left or those who remained.  Both groups were necessary elements in the plan of God.  But why DID the apostles choose to remain in Jerusalem at that time of great danger?
    • For Administration.  For now, the main centre of administration of the church was at Jerusalem, as we see in Acts 15, when the church needed to meet to make decisions, it was at Jerusalem.  
    • For Influence.  After all the apostles must have been influential with the people – for when Peter and John had been arrested, the Jews had to let them go for fear of the people.  Acts 4:21    
    • For Courage.  There is no doubt that these first elders were very courageous men.  They had already been arrested and taken a strong stand.  They were not afraid to take their stand, to put heir lives on the line for Christ.  
    • For organisation.  The only ORGANISED church at that time was the church at Jerusalem, and that organised, regulated assembly would be the pattern and basis of stability for the new missionary activities – Paul, in his later missionary journeys would always report to the church at Jerusalem.

So, there were those who stayed and those who fled – and God used both groups to fulfil his plan and purpose.

 

3 The Flames of Gospel Preaching.  8:4-6 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

So now the church is scattered abroad, and the believers begin to exercise their evangelistic zeal outside Jerusalem, for everywhere they went the preached the word of God.  John Stott: ‘The scattering of the Christians was followed by the scattering of the good seed.    There are two aspects of this evangelistic work that we need to note:-

  • It was the work of ordinary believers.  There was only 12 apostles, – if the gospel is to be taken throughout the whole world, every single Christian would need to be involved.  This is what Jesus himself ordered us to do.    Matthew 28:8   And after all, when a person has all his sins forgiven when he doesn’t deserve anything but eternal punishment, been a recipient of God’s mercy, it must be a natural response to tell others!  Acts 4:20  
  • It was in compliance with God’s pattern.  Note that the method of evangelism that they used was PREACHING THE WORD.  That’s how it happens, and no matter what we think, God’s way is always the best way.  1 Corinthians 1:21  The Greek word for PREACHING in Acts 8:4 is ευαγγελιζομενοι τον λογον.  Literally announcing the glad tidings of God’s word.  These early believers were every one of them, evangelists!  And look at the results of their work in v 

So here we have an account of how God uses a terrible situation, how he takes the sinfulness and wickedness of man, and tires it round, to use it to bring about his purposes.  Maybe it’s true, that when the devil is most active, it’s actually because Christ is indeed building his church, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.  

Now, having set the scene for for the rest of the chapter, Luke describes for us two incidents of evangelism, which we shall examine in the next couple of studies.

© BobMcEvoy December 2019

From → Acts, Bible Study

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