Thought for the Week 09 - Sunday 17th May 2020 by Rev Peter Baxandall

(09) 17th May Acts 8:1-8 The church moves out

Last week, as you will recall, we thought about Stephen and his role as a ‘helper’ within this rapidly growing early church.

Today with this ‘Thought for the week’ we turn our attention to what happened to the church following the persecution that led to the death of Stephen – and we will focus on Acts 8:1-8 as our basis for this study.

Before we come to the Bible passage we turn to a prayer and then our first song together – ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’ – which is one of those we had in our ‘Mid-week extra’ 

God our redeemer, you have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of yur Son.

We pray today for our ‘Thought for the week’ and ask you to open our eyes to what you want us to learn from this time together.

Thank you that despite the early persecution of your church they were empowered to move out and grow strong in their witness for you.

Just as you were at work in them so by your continual

presence in us raise us to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever, Amen.

And so, we turn to our song, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’

Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul

Worship His holy name

Sing like never before, O my soul

I'll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes

Chorus

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger

Your name is great and Your heart is kind

For all Your goodness, I will keep on singing

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

Chorus

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then for evermore

Chorus (x2)

Now, let’s turn to the passage from Acts 8:1-8 and spend some time looking at what happened at the time of the stoning of Stephen and the persecution the followed.

As the Jewish authorities stoned Stephen to death they laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul, (Acts 7:58) and in Acts 8:1 this same Saul was ‘giving approval to his death’

We are going to hear a great deal more about this ‘Saul of

Tarsus’ – both as the persecutor of the church and also in

another very different and significant way – because he is none other than the one who became known as Paul the Apostle!!

The Book of Acts and the epistles give sufficient data for us to draw a very good picture of Saul’s early life.

He was

  • born in Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 22:3),
  • a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (see 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5),
  • the “son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6),
  • a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25–28).
  • educated in Jerusalem by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)
  • and became a devoted Pharisee (Acts 26:4–5; Phil. 3:5).

Measured by the Law, his life was blameless (Phil. 3:6).

He was one of the most promising young Pharisees in

Jerusalem, well on his way to becoming a great leader for the Jewish faith (Gal. 1:14).

Saul’s zeal for the Law was displayed most vividly in his

persecution of the church (Gal. 1:13–14; Phil. 3:6).

When we read that Saul persecute the church we read that he “made havoc of the church,” and the verb here is the same as that used to describe a wild animal devastating and mangling its prey.

The stoning of Stephen, which Saul approved, shows the lengths to which he would go to achieve his purpose.

He persecuted both men and women “unto the death” (Acts 22:4), entering both individual houses and local synagogues (Acts 22:19).

He had the believers imprisoned and beaten. If they renounced their faith in Jesus Christ they were set free; but if they did not recant, they could be killed.

This was a truly terrifying time for this young church – and we need to grasp the reality of that fact as we then consider what the outcome turned out to be.

For a number of weeks now we have been in ‘lockdown’ for very good reasons and we are beginning to forget what the world looks like beyond our own 4 walls.

In some ways, the early church were facing a difficult time at the beginning of Acts 8 and it would have been easy for them to allow fear to take over and go into a kind of ‘lockdown’ – but not a bit of it.

Here was a church that sought to be God empowered and God driven – and they were ready to go in whatever direction He wanted them to go.

Often, persecution does to the church what wind does to seed: it scatters it, but in doing so it allows it to produces a greater harvest.

The word translated “scattered” means “as to scatter seed.”

The believers in Jerusalem were God’s seed, and as the persecution scattered them, so too was God able to use it to plant them in new soil so they could bear fruit (Matt. 13:37–38).

In Acts 1:8 we read of Jesus saying to his disciples just before His ascension, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’

Jesus had already told them that they would move out from Jerusalem and begin to witness much further afield.

The fact that Saul persecuted believers “even unto strange [foreign] cities” (Acts 26:11) would suggest that their witness was already bearing fruit even beyond Jerusalem.

But, as we see, the result of this persecution of the church caused even more of them to move out in His name.

Some went throughout Judea and Samaria (see Acts 1:8), and others went to more distant fields (Acts 11:19ff).

From Acts 8:1 we discover that when the persecution broke out the church ‘scattered’ – all except the Apostles.

On the one hand, while we should commend them for their courage to stay in Jerusalem, we should also notice from Acts 8:4 it was those who were ‘scattered’ who began to preach the Gospel wherever they went.

As we noted last week, Acts 6:7 is one of several “summaries” found in the book of Acts - statements that let us know that the story has reached an important juncture.

In Acts 6:7, Luke describes the climax of the ministry in Jerusalem, for, as we see, the persecution following Stephen’s death will cause the Gospel to be taken to the Samaritans and then to the Gentiles.

One such church member who was among those who were scattered was Philip – who like Stephen, was chosen as a helper (Acts 6:5) but, he grew in his ministry and became an effective evangelist (see Acts 21:8).

God directed him to evangelize in Samaria, an area that had been prohibited to the Apostles.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus had ministered there (John 3:23; 4:1ff), so Philip entered into their labours (John 4:36–38).

The word for preaching in Acts 8:4 means “to preach the Gospel, to evangelize”; while the word in Acts 8:5 means “to announce as a herald.”

Philip was God’s commissioned herald to deliver His message to the people of Samaria.

If we look on to Acts 8:26-40 we see that Philip was not only ‘scattered’ to the Samaritans – but then God called him to leave that ministry and go out into the desert to meet the Ethiopian who was on his way back home after a trip to Jerusalem.

Philip was to prove to be a very powerful and effective messenger for God.

To reject the messenger would mean to reject the message and rebel against the authority behind the herald, Almighty God.

How people respond to God’s messenger and God’s message is serious business.

Philip not only declared God’s Word, but he also demonstrated God’s power by performing miracles.

Up to now it was the Apostles who had majored on miracles (Acts 2:43; 5:12), yet both Stephen and Philip did signs and wonders by the power of God (Acts 6:8).

However, the emphasis here is on the Word of God: the people gave heed to the Word, and by believing the Word, they were saved.

Great persecution (Acts 8:1) plus the preaching of the Gospel resulted in great joy!

Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and in the Book of Acts, and in both we find that he emphasizes the joy of salvation (Luke 2:10; 15:7, 10; 24:52; Acts 8:8; 13:52; 15:3).

The people of Samaria who heard the Gospel and believed were delivered from their sins. No wonder there was great joy!

The Gospel had now moved from “Jewish territory” into Samaria where the people were part Jew and part Gentile.

God in His grace had built a bridge between two estranged peoples and made the believers one in Christ, and soon He would extend that bridge to the Gentiles and include them as well.

Even today, we need “bridge builders” like Philip, men and women who will carry the Gospel into ‘pioneer territory’ and dare to challenge ancient prejudices.

And, as we consider the state of the world around us - for us those ‘pioneer territories’ might even be within our own Parish!!

“Into all the world … the Gospel to every creature” is still God’s commission to us – and here in our parish there are plenty who know little of nothing about the reality of Christ the Saviour.

As we conclude today, we turn to a time of prayer, and then follow that by turning to the Hymn ‘There is a redeemer’.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, you are our creator and you made us, our world and everything in it and so we pray with one voice, proclaiming your power and presence to all the earth.

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Holy God we pray for your church throughout the world – we pray for the stillness to listen to your voice and to recognise what our personal relationship with you has done for us. We pray for all who strive to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel especially in these difficult times when we cannot meet together in our church buildings.

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Creator God, we pray for our prime minister and our Government, and for all who wield power, that they may be guided by the Spirit of Truth. We pray at this difficult time for wisdom and courage as they continue to look for the right way to ease the ‘lockdown’ and help the nation to move on into a new future

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Father God, we continue to pray for all who grow, harvest and prepare the food we eat and for those who continue to deliver to shops and supermarkets. We give especial thanks for those who continue to risk their lives, in those shops and supermarkets and in delivery and postal service.

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Loving God, we pray for the sick and troubled, for those who are fearful and alone. We pray that all who suffer, may feel the Spirit’s healing presence. We especially ask for healing for those with Corona Virus and for our health service workers who are at the frontline.

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Merciful God, we pray for those who face loss and

bereavement at this time, especially as they are prevented by circumstances from coming together to grieve

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

God of heaven and earth, to you alone we turn our eyes and lift our hearts. Help us to keep your commandments and to love one another as you love us.

Merciful Father: Accept these prayers for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

We continue to pray for our Parish

Dear Father, we pray that you will give our parish a shepherd who will walk in your ways, be a leader with vision and a teacher of Your truth. We acknowledge that we need someone who can, with loving care, help and support all the members of our congregation.

We pray that you have already placed your hand upon the person you have chosen for us and we entrust ourselves to you in Jesus name. Amen.

And so we conclude by singing together this Hymn. ‘There is a redeemer’

There is a redeemer,

Jesus, God’s own Son,

precious Lamb of God, Messiah,

holy One.

 

Thank You, O my Father,

for giving us Your Son,

and leaving Your Spirit

till the work on earth is done.

 

Jesus, my redeemer,

name above all names,

precious Lamb of God, Messiah,

O for sinners slain;

 

Chorus

 

When I stand in glory,

I will see His face,

and there I’ll serve my King forever

in that holy place.

 

Chorus

 


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