Persecution Leads to Joy (Acts 8:1-8)

Imagine with me for a minute: how does this story finish? (You’ve probably heard it before):

“Muuum! I was playing with that toy and Billy took it!”

Does the story end with: “But I forgave him and it’s all okay”?

What about this story?

“There are more people who ticked “No religion” in the 2016 Census than who identified as Catholic and 49% of Australians have a religion other than “Christian”.

How does that story end?

What about this one? “There arose on that day a great persecution against the church… and they were all scattered…”? (v1)

There are only so many sorts of stories out there. Sure, the details change (that’s why we still buy books, and watch TV). But the basic storyline is always the same:

  • Things look bad, but the hero wins in the end.
  • Or, the bully seems to win, but the little guy finds a way to carry on anyway.

We know how the story goes. Or do we?

Notice the pattern in the story here:

  • In 4:18, when Peter and John were on trial for healing a man, they were threatened not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name.
  • In 5:40, when all the Apostles were arrested because of the High Priest’s jealousy, they were beaten.
  • Then, in 7:60, when Stephen the Deacon declared that Jesus was the Son of Man ruling at the right hand of God, he was stoned to death (the first Christian martyr).
  • Now, in 8:3, Saul is devouring the church, bursting into people’s homes and dragging both men and women off to prison because they trust in Jesus.

It’s a story of persecution, growing opposition to the followers of Jesus.

Sure, there’s a glimmer of hope as some devout Jewish men bury Stephen and weep over him, breaking the custom against mourning a convicted criminal (v2). But is that the most we can hope for, that some people will be sad we’re dead?

So how does this story start with the church being scattered, and end with “great joy” (v8)?

This is today’s main message: God works in great reversals.

  • He made a world which was formless and void, and filled it and organised it so that it was beautiful and productive (Genesis 1-2).
  • He took an old man with no children, and made Abraham the Father of many nations.
  • He took the youngest son of an unknown sheep farmer, and made David the greatest King of Israel.
  • He choose an unimportant, unmarried young woman, and made her the mother of His eternal Son, so that Jesus would grow up in obscurity, leading 12 ordinary men, dying a shameful death, being buried in a borrowed tomb, to show that Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Saviour in any place or time, to whom every knee will bow and tongue confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).

God works in great reversals. That’s how Jesus established the Church, as weak and despised as it is.

We see how God works with His Church in great reversals in three ways here in Acts 8:1-8:

  • First, God’s people keep speaking (v4),
  • Second, God Provides People to Hear (v5-6), and
  • Third, God Gives Signs That are Hard to Ignore (v7-8)

Sunday 7th October 2018

Review questions:

  • Where did Jesus plan for the Church to go (Acts 1:8)?
  • “Christians are like ______________” (Chan)
  • Who spreads the Word (v4)?
  • Where can I take the Word?
  • We need to proclaim ________________ (v5)
  • God gives miraculous ‘signs’ to prove that His ________________ has come (v6-7)
  • What signs does God use today (John 13:35?
  • “Love is willing for the good of ____________ that does not require _______________ or that the person being loved is ______________” (Paul Tripp)
  • How is Christian love shown in a church?
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live:

Published by Stephen McDonald

Christian, preacher, broadcaster

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