The Good News About Jesus (Acts 8:26-40)

When parents name their children, the choice often means something. Perhaps it’s a popular name, a family name, or the name of a treasured friend.

Pip, today we hear the story about your name. You are named Pip after the main character in Great Expectations and we’ll read that together when you’re bigger. It’s a story of unlikely circumstances and surprising twists.

But your real name is Philippa, and you’re also named after Philip the evangelist. And it’s because of this passage, Acts 8:26-40.

It’s also part of a story of unlikely circumstances and surprising twists. It’s the story of the Word of God spreading and God adding to the number of those who believed. That’s despite Jesus’ followers being threatened and arrested (Acts 3 & 4), despite false followers being judged (like Ananias and Sapphira in 5, and Simon the Magician in 8:5-26), and despite Stephen the Deacon being stoned to death (Acts 7) and the persecution which followed driving the believers out of Jerusalem. In all these unlikely circumstances, God is still bringing people in.

In Great Expectations, Pip teaches us that changing where you are doesn’t change who you are. In Acts 8:26-40, Philip teaches us that God’s Word goes out, and God brings people in.

If we learn, like Dicken’s Pip that love and loyalty are more important than anything else, we will do well. But if we learn to be alert to the part God wants us to play in His Word going out and His people being brought in, then we will do the best. We need to ask ourselves three questions:

  1. What Might God Be Organizing on Your Behalf? (v26-29)
  2. Do You Understand What the Scriptures Say About Jesus? (v30-35)
  3. What Prevents You From Receiving the Good News? (v36-38)
  4. Keep Rejoicing and Evangelizing (v39-40)

Sunday 28th October 2018

Review questions:

  • God’s Word goes __________, and ________ brings people in. (2:47; 4:4; 6:7; 8:4).
  • How ‘successful’ was Philip’s ministry in Samaria (v5-6)?
  • Why does God send him to the Gaza road (v28-31)?
  • I could read the Bible with:
  • Ask: ‘What does it say about ___________?’ ‘What does it say about ___________?’ and ‘What about how I should _______ ?’ (v30)
  • The official needs _________________ (v31)
  • What is he reading (v32-33)?
  • Isaiah wrote about ______________________ (v34-35, 1 Peter 3:11 & Romans 5:1-21).
  • What couldn’t stop the eunuch (v36, Isaiah 11:11 & 56:1-8)?
  • Ethiopia was the ___________________ (1:8)
  • Faith is u____________ing & a__________ing with the Gospel, and ________ing in Jesus.

Application questions:

  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live:

What Money Can’t Buy (Acts 8:9-25)

I wonder if you ever think about why people don’t believe in Jesus and what it would take to convince them. Do we need a well-reasoned argument? Do we need an amazing testimony? Do we need good evidence that will convince people to believe?

Sometimes we think, “People would believe if only, we had something. If we had more young families at church. If we had a more attractive building. If we had better advertising. If we had a young minister. Then people would listen.”

Or maybe people would believe if only we did something. “Maybe if we did it the way that we used to, we’d have the same results and church would be bursting at the seams every week.” Or maybe we look at the churches that are bursting at the seams, and we think, “Well, if we did what they’re doing, then people would believe.”

Notice that when we think in these ways, it makes it all about us, and how people would believe if we did something or if we were something, rather than making it about what God does, how God gives faith to people, and how we are called to take part in what He is doing.

There are two warnings in the passage (Acts 8:9-25):

  1. Beware thinking of yourself as somebody (v9-13)
  2. Beware thinking that you can control God (v14-24)

They might not seem like dangers to us, but I hope to convince you of that.

Sunday 21st October 2018

Review Questions

  • Why was Simon called “Great” (v9-11)?
  • Simon’s power _____________ people (v11)
  • Philip’s message ____________ people (v7)
  • Simon’s message was about ________ (v9)
  • What was Philip’s message about (v5, 12)?
  • What was Simon’s ‘faith’ missing?
  • Why didn’t the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit at first (v14-17)?
  • What did Simon want (v18-19)?
  • How might I try to control God?
  • What attitude motivated Simon (v23)?
  • Whose glory do I desire?

Application questions:

  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live:

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:

A Cruel Death & A Heavenly Reception (Acts 7:54-8:1)

What is your approach to living as a Christian in these days, when it is an unpopular thing, an unusual thing for people to say that they belong to the Lord Jesus?

Do you try to fly under the radar? Can you be a Christian and not draw attention to it?

Jesus says that we cannot: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20a).

So, we cannot avoid suffering for Jesus’ sake.

How do you handle it when people make you suffer for Jesus’ sake? Do you put a wall up and cut them off? Can a Christian freeze out their enemies?

Jesus says that we cannot: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:43-44.

We see both of these truths in Acts 7. And for us to be faithful Christians in a hostile world, we need to believe these two truths:

  1. You Will Have Enemies (7:54-59, 8:1)
  2. You Must Love Your Enemies (7:60)

And we must believe both at the same time. This requires the work of the Holy Spirit. We could think we can do one on our own:

You might be naturally prepared to have enemies. You can handle it when people don’t like you, so you’ll suffer for Christ. You’ll put up with having enemies (but you find it hard to love them). But a Christian’s boldness isn’t being a jerk (having all courage and no compassion).

Or, you might believe in love, and desperately want to get along, so you always want to find common ground. But love isn’t unconditional affirmation or refusing to challenge other’s faulty ideas or assumptions. You don’t ever want to upset anyone. That’s compassion without courage.

To be a disciple of Jesus in this fallen, sinful world, requires both courage and compassion. You will have enemies, and you must love your enemies.

Sunday 30th September 2018

Review questions:

  • How angry were Stephen’s enemies (v54)?
  • Why were they angry (v51)?
  • What did Stephen see & what did it mean (v55-56)?
  • The ‘Son of Man’ means (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 26:63-64):
  • What did Stephen pray (v60)?
  • How can we love our enemies (v55)?
  • What can motivate us to pray for our enemies to be forgiven (v60)?
  • I’m praying for:
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • Something to pray about:
  • How I should live:

What is Faith?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith speaks of faith like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But does that mean that faith is blind? Is it being sure about something that we can know nothing about?

Surely not! The chapter ends be reminding us of what is evident throughout the chapter: faith is faith in God’s promises: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40). The “things hoped for” that believers are assured of, and the “things not seen” that believers are convicted of, are the promises God has made. This is not blind faith.

True faith has three parts: knowledge, agreement, and trust (called notitia, assensus, and fiducia by the Latin-lovers in theology).

Knowledge

There is particular knowledge that we must believe to have faith: That Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Resurrected Saviour of sinners. To have faith in Jesus is more than believing that there was a person called Jesus who existed. We have to hear the message of salvation and understand it (John 20:30-31 & Romans 10:9-14). Tedd Tripp writes, “We must know something of the One in whom we are to believe. It is not enough to merely be sincere.” We could be sincerely wrong.

Agreement

So faith must go further; we must agree that the knowledge we received is true.

If you stopped people at random as they walked along Bridge Street and asked them to tell you the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, probably most of them could: A little girl goes for a walk in the forest, finds a house, knocks, and goes in. On the table are three bowls of porridge. The first is too hot; the second is too cold; and the third is just right. She then tries the different chairs in the house, but breaks one; then she falls asleep in the last of the beds she tries. The bears come home and she runs away.

Different people may emphasise different parts of the story, but nearly everyone knows it. And they all know that it isn’t true. That is knowledge without agreement. For faith to be faith, there must be a conviction that the good news we know about Jesus is actually true.

Trust

If we heard someone agreeing that, ‘Yes, Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead to take away sin,’ we might think we’ve discovered someone with true faith. But remember James 2:19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” R.C. Sproul wrote, “Satan knows the truth, but he hates the truth. He is utterly disinclined to worship God because he has no love for God.” Knowing that the truth is true does not save.

There are personal (and often painful) examples for each of us. We think, ‘Why don’t they believe? They knew all the answers in Sunday School,’ or ‘We raised them to know the truth’. The difference is trust.

Trust is when, because the good news about Jesus is true, I depend on Jesus alone to do what He has promised to: to save me. And because there is this personal reliance, there will also be an affection for Jesus. We may know many things about salvation which are true, but unless the Holy Spirit changes the nature of our hearts, no amount of knowledge can save us. It is only when we know that the message of Christianity changes everything for us that we have true faith.

No one will be saved by believing, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, unless we add, “of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). So let us pray and speak so that we, our friends and family, our community and our world will know the truth, believe it is true, and depend on Jesus to save us.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Stephen McDonald

Hope for Rebels (Acts 7:1-53)

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana.

The history of Australia is a story of Christianity in decline. There have been moments of great promise, like the Billy Graham Crusades of 1959, which historian Stuart Piggin says is the closest we’ve come to nationwide revival. Is our story a story of missed opportunities?

What about your own history? There may be moments of great spiritual feeling, but there have also been times of spiritual laziness and even rebellion.

Does it encourage you to find that we are not alone? That even God’s chosen people have been unfaithful rebels time and time again?

Acts 6-7 is the account of the Jewish people are turning against the followers of Jesus. Why?

This is a court drama. The crowds have dragged a powerful advocate of the truth about Jesus, Stephen the Deacon, before the Sanhedrin (6:11-14). They charge him with speaking against the way things are: “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (v13-14). He is accused of threatening to destroy everything that makes it possible to know and please God.

The High Priest asks Stephen, “Are these things so?” (v1). How does he reply?

  1. Remember A History
  2. Accept A Defence
  3. Admit A Prosecution
  4. Embrace A Hope

As we see Christianity decline in respectability and influence, as our place seems under threat, we need to remember what Stephen says: People have always rejected His deliverers, but God is always delivering His people.

Sunday 16th September 2018

Review questions:

  • What were Stephen’s opponents trusting in (6:11-14)?
  • How long was it until Abraham’s family owned Canaan (v7)?
  • Why did God save Israel from Egypt (v17)?
  • Why didn’t the Israelites like Moses (v26-27)?
  • God made Moses ______ & _________ (v35)
  • How long was it between Joshua’s conquest & Solomon’s temple?
  • The Tabernacle is an imitation of something in ______________________ (v44)
  • The real temple is __________ (John 2:19)
  • How did Israel treat God’s servants (v35, 52)?
  • Resisting the Holy Spirit means rejecting God’s _____________________________ (v51)
  • Is the Old Testament relevant to us? Yes/No
  • God makes _______________ & keeps them.
  • A question I have:
  • A truth to share:
  • How I should live:
  • Something to pray about: