From Persecution To Joy - Acts 8:1-8 NIV
Bible is more than a manual of how to live the best life. It's a roadmap for Christians. Today's topic is persecution: the reality of it, the use of it, the results of it.
#1 - As a Christ-follower I should expect ______________ .
We come to that section of Acts where persecution broke out against all Christ-followers:
“Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem... Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Acts 8:1a,3 NIV
We're much tempted to believe that this was a one-time thing that happened to the first church in Jerusalem. But if you follow Jesus, recall what he told us. Founder of Christianity - a foundational truth...
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first... Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:18,20 NIV
This certainly was the experience of the early Fathers of the Faith, Peter:
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." 1 Peter 4:12 NIV
Paul's warning to his protege. (Same Saul in 8:1.)
"Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 2 Timothy 3:12
Paul takes persecution as a given in the life of a Christ-follower. Notice the "everyone." And note the connection to "live a godly life."
Why start off with this reality of persecution? Because we have bought in to the prosperity gospel in America. We believe in our freedom of religion and for the most part have not been persecuted in our lifetime. We need to know that this is the exception and not the rule. Many Christians around the world in other countries are very much persecuted today. Also one only needs to read the news to see the connection between fighting against terrorism and religious extremists. From religious extremists to committed Christ-follower is a very small step.
Why? What's the use of it?
#2 - God uses our persecution to bring about _________________ .
The God we worship is a good God. And He wants nothing but good for us. Many of us recall our favorite chapter of the Bible, Romans 8, that God makes us all "more than conquerers." And that for all who love God, all things, even persecution, work together for good!
Let's study two connecting verses in Acts - 1:8 and 8:1.
"All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." Acts 8:1b NIV
"You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria..." Acts 1:8 NIV
What was God's good will for the early church? Clearly expressed in 1:8. What happened as a result of the persecution in 8:1? The result of accomplishing God's good will, that the witness spread...
This brings up an important reminder for us in regards to persecution. This is limited to the here and now. Earth is NOT where God's will is done. Where are the persecuted going? Heaven! Where God's will IS done! This is one of the very first promises of Jesus in his first sermon!
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:10 NIV
#3 - The greater the Christian persecution...
▶️ the greater the ______________ of the gospel.
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:4 NIV
Without the persecution the gospel could have remained a small Jewish sect inside a single city, Jerusalem. God's will was for the gospel to reach not just Jerusalem, but Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of Planet Earth. This has been proven over many centuries, that the greater the persecution of Christians, the greater the spread of Christianity!
▶️ the greater the _______________ by those preaching the gospel.
“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.” Acts 8:5 NIV
We recall the famous story of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. And the famous parable of the "Good Samaritan." Why is this important? Because those Hebrews in Jerusalem were greatly prejudiced against the Samaritans. They worshipped wrongly! Philip learned his lesson well from the Master Jesus. There is no discrimination within the church. ALL have sinned. Universal condition. ALL need Jesus. Universal need. Later Paul would write that within the church "there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, free nor slave." Col. 3:11. Why? "Because Christ is all, and is in all." (Universal again!)
▶️ the greater the _________________ to the gospel.
“When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed,
they all paid close attention to what he said.” Acts 8:6 NIV
When Christians are persecuted, it magnifies the attention paid to Christianity. Persecution is like a giant spotlight upon the Christian faith that screams, "Hey everyone, look over here!" Persecution caused Philip to leave Jerusalem, gave him a stronger faith to perform powerful signs, and the result of all that was that those who listened paid close attention. Persecution brings immediacy, priority, and power to the gospel message
▶️ the greater the ________________ from the gospel.
When I say "results" we usually first think of conversions, of people becoming Christians. But that's only part of the results & not always 1st:
“For with shrieks, imputed spirits came out of many, and many
who were paralyzed or lame were healed.” Acts 8:7 NIV
Where the gospel is preached, lives are changed! Our spiritual enemy is weakened. His hold upon mortals is loosened. Healing happens! Physical, relational, physical. Peoples lives - once uncontrolled train wreck, now comes under the power of the Holy Spirit. Real! Visible!
▶️ the greater the _________ over the gospel.
“So there was great joy in that city.” Acts 8:8 NIV
This now brings us to the end of our title - "From Persecution To Joy." How could such a thing be? Whoever could be joyful in persecution? Is this just double talk like George Orwell's 1984? Not at all! Because of the persecution, Christians could see God at work in powerful ways. They could see that the fight was a spiritual one to be won by God and not by us. And yet those who are persecuted and remain faithful are more closely reminded of God's powerful work through them, even in their weakness. And in that, there is joy!
What about you today? Are you feeling persecuted? Could it be that there's more going on behind the scenes than you know about? Can you pray that your persecution could be used for God's glory?