Persecuted but not Defeated

Persecuted but not Defeated

Persecuted but not Defeated

William Stout / General

Acting out Acts

 

 

Acts 8:1–4 NKJV

1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

 

  • Saul, the young man at whose feet they laid their coats while stoning Stephen
  • Saul was consenting to Stephen’s death
  • A “great persecution” arose against the church
  • It became very unpopular to be a Christian in those days
  • very much like it is today in many parts of the world.
  • This persecution was so intense that most of the Christians in Jerusalem were driven from their homes, from their businesses, from their families, from everything they had and everyone they knew…
  • they were “scattered” throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, being no longer able to live in Jerusalem.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people

  • I think that one of the things that cause many new Christians to become discouraged with their faith, is that they feel like they were deceived when bad things happen
  • It is true that there is no more wonderful experience that being born again. The bible says that no eye has seen and no ear has heard the glory that is prepared for us. But He has revealed it by His Spirit.
  • Just this taste, this small revelation by Spirit of the unspeakable joy to come, is more wonderful, and more sure than anything this World has to offer. It is a sure foundation
  • Yet we can focus so much on describing the benefits of Christianity that we make it sound like a life of carefree ease where bad things don’t happen anymore. Where there is prosperity and peace and joy, and life forevermore, and that’s it.
  • While all of that is true and more, the bible says that in the world we will suffer persecution.
  • There will come a day when Jesus returns and brings about this universal peace and joy.
  • But in the meantime, although we live in victory through His Spirit, and have eternal life, we are still in a fallen world, and sometimes bad things happen, even when we didn’t do anything wrong,
  • We need to be prepared for that also, lest we grow weary and faint in our minds.
  • Here we see that even though Stephen was “full of faith and power”, “they stoned him while he was calling upon God”
  • Stephen died calling upon God, but he didn’t die in vain.
  • In fact, they said his face was like an angel, and he said he could see Jesus.

All these things work out for Good

  • Stephen didn’t lose anything. He was by no means defeated. Like Jesus, he died in Victory.
  • As we will see, because of his faith, his death did not stop his witness, or power.
  • Like Abel, his life still speaks, and continued to speak then

 

Hebrews 11:4 NKJV

4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

  • Stephen simply stepped into glory. He remains alive and well today, in that place with Jesus, where there really is peace without evil.
  • All of the things that happened to Stephen were allowed for the glory of God.
  • If we can just take the focus of our thoughts and plans off of ourselves long enough, you would be amazed what God can do through you!
  • We like to preach about the kind of faith that always prospers us, and always delivers us from harm, but Hebrews talks about an even greater faith:
  • I know, I like the the benefits of comfort and prosperity also.
  • I certainly don’t want to be imprisoned, stoned, beaten or killed.
  • But are we wiling to suffer at all for Jesus? To sacrifice anything?
  • Hebrews 11 describing examples of faith says this:

 

 

Hebrews 11:33–38 NKJV

33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

35 Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.

36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.

37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—

38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

 

  • I not suggesting anyone go to North Korea or South Sudan and be martyred.
  • But what are you willing to suffer for Jesus? Has you faith cost you anything at all?
  • So many Christians today have no concept of “sacrifice”.
  • for many, their giving is more like tipping, if they give at all.
  • And anything that they do or give, is only what is left over
  • We give God the time that is “left over” after we satisfy all of our need (and most of our wants)
  • We give God the money that is left over (if any), after we have paid for all of our needs
  • Which usually include a good many things we don’t need, and even shouldn’t have.
  • The idea of giving to the point of sacrifice, or suffering, whether it is time, money, persecution, popularity, or anything else, is foreign to a very good many people who call themselves Christians.
  • Again, I’m not asking anyone to sacrifice anything today: But would you? Are you willing?
  • Would you leave your home for Jesus? Would you give up your job? Your possessions? Your friends? Your life?

All these things were for the furtherance of the gospel

  • Stephen and the other Christians who suffered under this persecution were greatly used of God to spread the Word beyond Jerusalem
  • The devil’s plan greatly backfired.
  • If we can keep our eye on Jesus, everything in our life can work the same way – for the glory of God

Philippians 1:12 NKJV

12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,

  • The things the devil throws at us to hurt us, to trie to turn us from Jesus, will actually turn out to bring more people to Jesus!

 

Acts 8:3 NKJV

3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

  • This is were we first get introduced to this character – Saul
  • We want to pay special attention here because we will be hearing a lot more about him as we go through this series
  • Who is this “Saul” character who was there when Stephen was stoned?
  • The Bible says that he was a “young man” here. He was probably in his early thirties, just beginning his rise to prominence.
  • He was a devout Jew. A Pharisee who had been taught under Gamaliel (Remember him from earlier)
  • Apparently Gamaliel was a respected leader and teacher.
  • This Saul was very well educated, and had tremendous zeal for his Jewish traditions.
  • Because of this zeal, he saw Christianity as a threat, as an offence, as something to be stopped at any cost.
  • He also was a man of means, apparently he was born a Roman citizen, which gave him considerable status above most Jews in Jerusalem.
  • Although he was a young man, he apparently grew quickly to a position of prominence and power (above many his equals – Gal. 1.14)
  • While he was there holding the coats when they were stoning Stephen, he grew to become one of the most famous and most powerful persecutors of the faith.
  • So that the bible says here that he “made havoc oft he Church”, and “breathed out slaughter” against it.
  • He went into people’s home dragging out both men and women
  • leading them in chains to prison, to be beaten and stoned, many were killed.
  • Some were even forced to deny Jesus.
  • This Saul of Tarsus will become one of the most influential men the world has seen.
  • We will see much more of him in the later chapters of the book

 

Acts 8:4 NKJV

4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

  • Here is a beautiful thing about Christianity –
  • You don’t go to church, you are the church
  • By driving these people out of Jerusalem, they didn’t stop the church, they just caused it to spread
  • I’m sure that some people might have looked on them as broken losers who left their city defeated…
  • But many more, seeing that favor of God on them, saw victorious Christian believers, whose faith could not be shaken
  • Who, though they were driven from homes and possessions, possessed something hat couldn’t be driven from them
  • When they saw the love of God, the power of God, the faith of God, the hope of God the expectation of God, all working in these believers, they couldn’t help being drawn to them
  • The same God that healed crippled people in Jersualem through Peter would heal Crippled people in Lystra through Paula and Barnabas.
  • Christians began to be known then world over – by faith.
  • Not because of their conformity to the world – but because of their contrast to it.
  • We need to stop trying to win people to Jesus by assimilating the world, and rather be assimilated by Christ so that the world can be reconciled to Him through us.
  • Too many Christians and Churches are trying to reach the world by imitating it.
  • The Bible says that we should not do this:

 

Romans 12:1–2 NKJV

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

  • As we enter this Christmas season, lets be thankful, and intentional
  • Thankful that even though we face some resistance to our faith, our persecutions is not driving us from our homes, and our families, and our jobs and livelihood
  • Thankful that God has sustained us through His grace
  • Thankful for our salvation and eternal life
  • Intentional to express this thanks to Jesus in a visible way
  • Intentional to pray for opportunities to win others to Christ
  • Intentional to share our faith and reason of celebrating Christmas.
  • Intentional in acknowledging that God is Good, and His ways are Higher than our ways.
  • It is good to be a Christian.

 

 

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