Persecution: The fuel that furthers the Gospel

philip-eunuchWe are in Acts 8 as we continue to walk through the New Testament this year in our Connect Groups at Southern Calvert Baptist Church. To get us caught up in what we have learned, we need to take a look at the commands given to the disciples by Jesus before He ascended into heaven.

  • you will receive power
  • the power will be the Holy Spirit
  • the Holy Spirit will allow you to be a witness for Christ to all
  • you are to live a life of missions, seeking to make disciples of all nations and ethnic groups
  • evangelize and equip/train those who believe
  • teach/preach/proclaim/share the Word of God with all who will listen
  • you are to make disciples starting in Jerusalem and moving out to the ends of the earth

In Acts 8, about 8 years have passed since the coming of the Holy Spirit and the official forming of the Church on the earth. The disciples have done well with proclaiming Christ and making disciples in all of Jerusalem. In Acts 4, not long after the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were already being accused of filling up all of Jerusalem with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The church had grown immensely. The leadership was super busy teaching the Word of God to the believers and nonbelievers. The new believers were supposed to take this message outside the walls of Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. They are not doing it. God is about to shake the foundations of the church in order to disperse the believers so that they can carry out Acts 1:8 as God intended.

I. Persecution: Allowed by God and used by God for good

So, as I mentioned earlier, the church hunkered down in Jerusalem. It was doing a great job training people to share their faith and make more disciples. They got bogged down and forgot the rest of Acts 1:8. God steps in to make sure that His Word is carried out just like He promised it would.

1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.

3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

Saul witnessed the death of Stephen. This motivated him to begin persecuting Christians in a very violent manner. This event began a “great” persecution of the Christians. In other words, it was open season on Christians in Jerusalem. This is very bad for the believers but, God turns the evil around and uses it for good. Saul was not only attacking Christians as they met publicly for study, prayer, and fellowship, he was also discovering where they lived and attacking them there. It could be that the believers were holding “church” in their homes. Either way, Saul was making a name for himself by persecuting Christians because he wanted to end this teaching that had transformed many in Jerusalem. Saul assumed that persecuting the believers would stop the spreading of the Gospel. As an illustration, in his own mind, he felt that persecution was like the chemicals that we use today to retard a fire. He had no idea what God was about to do with this persecution and the message of the Gospel.

4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

The believers were forced to flee Jerusalem because of the heavy persecution but, God used the persecution to bring Acts 1:8 into full fruition. As the believers fled, they began preaching the message of the Gospel every where that they went. What Saul view as a chemical retard to fire of the Gospel was actually fuel that ignited a revival all throughout Israel instead of just being limited to Jerusalem. The Gospel spreads to Judea and Samaria and God is laying the groundwork for the Gospel to spread to the ends of the earth.

5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.

Philip is a character who pops up here and he is going to be used by God to spread the message of the Gospel to the African continent, specifically to the region of Ethiopia.

II. Persecution subsides in Jerusalem

The believers did a great job sharing the message of the Gospel and making disciples as they were going on their way. Their lives were missional. They had answered God’s holy calling and oriented their daily lives around living out that holy calling.

25 So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

The disciples preached everywhere they went. It seems that the persecution in Jerusalem had subsided, or at least slowed in intensity. The believers were on their way back to Jerusalem to share with the mother church all that God had done through them. While they were on their way back, they continued to visit villages along the way and proclaim the message of the Gospel. Philip is so busy because he is an evangelist. He is surrounded by people who need to hear the message of the Gospel. In the midst of this, God calls Philip to leave all these people and go to a strange place.

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road. )

God calls Philip to go to a desert road, a place were he was least likely to meet another person. I could almost see myself in this situation saying, “Lord, I’m here where all the people are and I have so much ministry to do, why would I go there? Please, send someone else to do that, I’m too busy with ministry”. How many ministers would answer the same way? I think many would answer that way today. How would you answer? Let’s see how Philip responds:

27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship,

28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.

29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”

Philip obeys God and ends up meeting a man who can carry the Gospel to the people of the ends of the earth, the Ethiopians. Philip’s obedience is an example for all of us to follow. When the Holy Spirit leads us to go somewhere or share with a specific person, we need to obey immediately. If we do not obey immediately, we will begin to rationalize and end up trying to justify our disobedience.

III. Persecution allowed the Ethiopian to meet Philip

The Ethiopian was a powerful man. He was a faithful man. He was a trustworthy man. This man was trusted by the queen to be the treasurer. He was also a man who was seeking to know God. The Ethiopian had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to try and find God there. He did not connect with God while in Jerusalem. He acquired a Scroll from the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah and he is on his way back home. While traveling, he has stopped to read from the Scroll. He stopped on this desert highway and was reading in peace.

30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless ¬†someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Because of the great persecution, Philip has been outside of Jerusalem, proclaiming the Gospel to anyone who would listen. In Jerusalem, the Ethiopian and Philip probably would never have crossed paths. But because Philip is going about preaching the Gospel, he is in a great place to cross paths with this Ethiopian man. The Ethiopian was reading Isaiah the prophet but, he did not understand what he was reading and he needed someone to help him. He was willing to receive help in understanding the Scriptures. What about you my dear friend, do you read the Scriptures and not understand things sometimes? Are you willing to allow someone to help you understand the Scriptures, or, in your pride, do you not want to let others know that there are things about God and the Bible that you do not understand? Philip answered the invitation for help with the needed help. Watch what Philip does.

34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?”

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

The Isaiah passage quoted in the text is about Jesus Christ. Notice how Philip takes the text that the Ethiopian reads and explains Jesus from that text. Philip was very familiar with the Word of God, the full counsel of the Bible. Some people take a Scripture and then make some weird connection to Jesus and then go about explaining who Jesus is. That is not what Philip did. He preached Christ from the Biblical text. What subjects did they cover while Philip shared with the Ethiopian? I know at least one subject because the Ethiopian tells us about it as they travel in the chariot.

36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?”

37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”]

38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.

If you guessed baptism, you are correct. I have often wondered how the subject of baptism was covered in Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah does not write about baptism directly. He does write about John the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord. John baptized Jesus and this may have been the connecting point. Anyway, the subject of baptism was covered and the Ethiopian understood it. He wanted to know what he needed to do in order to be baptized. Philip’s answer was, “believe that Jesus Christ is God”. Trust that God has made a way for salvation (rescue) by dying for us. This is what the phrase “Jesus Christ is God” literally means. Jesus means “God saves/rescues”. Christ means “Messiah” or “anointed/Promised One” who will crush sin’s power while dying to do so. The Ethiopian believed this and as a result, he was baptized. He carried the message of the Gospel back to Ethiopia and we begin to see the fulfillment of Acts 1:8 because the believers are testifying about Christ to the ends of the earth.

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.

Philip goes on his way, continuing to proclaim the message of the Gospel to all who will listen.

As you can see, persecution is initially bad for the individuals but, it is fuel to the fire of the Gospel. It turns out to be good for individuals as well because more and more people get a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel. How do you view persecution, from your own personal perspective or, from the perspective of the Gospel? Are you preaching the Gospel everywhere that you go? Are you able to preach Christ logically from any text in the Bible the way that Philip did? If not, then you, just like I, need to dedicate a lot of time to studying the Scriptures so that we can do this. May the Lord help us be a witness for Him everywhere that we go!

2 comments on “Persecution: The fuel that furthers the Gospel

  1. Pingback: The Gospel spreads to the Gentiles | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Paul’s Missionary Journey | Erik and Elena Brewer's Weblog

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