Chances are ,most of us will never know what it is to be persecuted. The worst kind of persecution we endure is a little mockery at school, a little sarcasm at the office, or a little trouble in the neighborhood. Yet even those kinds of things can rattle us for days, can’t they? It would be pretty revealing of our true character if the kind of persecution the early Christians endured suddenly came upon us. that’s when we’d move from theory to reality. At that moment our faith would either stand or fall, because persecution always separates the pure from the phony; and the authentic from the artificial. AS we come to chapter 7 we’ve reached a turning point in the book of Acts. back in chapter 1, verse 8 we saw the outline for the book. Do you remember it?
But you shall receive power after you have received the Holy Spirit, and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and in samaria, and to the end of the earth”
We pointed out when we looked at that verse in the beginning that the first 7 chapters deal with the first part of the verse; “you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem.” And the next 5 chapters, chapters 8 through 12, cover the phrase “in all Judea and Samaria .” Then the last 16 chapters cover “the uttermost part of the world,” where the disciples move out into the territory around Jerusalem. And that movement is characterized by a change in atmosphere as well. Because he catalyst for all of that movement is the persecution of that begins in earnest in this chapter. Someone has said that “Acts 1:8 was fulfilled in Acts 8:1 and that is really true.
The chapter falls into two different parts:
In verses 1 through 3 we find the persecution of christians described Then in verses 4 through 40 we find the permeation of Christianity So let’s begin looking at the persecution of Christians that is described in verses 1 through 3 . And the first thing we find is the time of the persecution in verse 1a
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.”
Now at first glance it would seem that the first line of verse 1 would logically go with the last verse of chapter 7 – and there is a sense in which it should. But actually, it fits the context better the way it is. Because the focal point I impriall of the persecution that we are going to see in the next chapters is this man Saul. Getting a little bit out of order in the verses, skip over verses 1b and 2 and look at verse 3 there we have information about the type of the persecution
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Saul was determined to wipe out Christianity. And the context seems to indicate that the death of Stephen was what really got him fired up. Later, after he became “the apostle Paul” Look at chapter this statement from chapter 22:4 persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.
Then down in verse 19 he says . . . in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe in you.
Then over in chapter 26 he says, in verses 9 through 11:
Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth(10) This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them (11) And I punished them often in every synagogue an compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities
So the point is that this was no minor matter. It was real persecution. And we can also get the feel of it in verses 1b and 2. There we have the toll that it took
“. . . . And they were all scattered throughout the regions of Samaria and Judea, except the apostles (2) And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentations over him.
The mention of Stephen’s burial and the mourning that went with it reminds us how personal all this was.
Now we ought to digress a little at this point (although its not really a digression) and remind ourselves how God “worked all things together for good” in this situation.
Because not only did He use this terrible persecution to spread Christians out preaching the gospel, but He demonstrated His power in turning His most fanatical enemy into His greatest evangelist! And in this way He killed two birds with one stone. Only God could do that.
Well, as Paul persecuted the christians in verses 1 through 3 he discovered what we might call “the law of spiritual thermodynamics” – heat under pressure = expansion. Because in the remainder of the chapter, verses 4 through 40 we see the permeation of Christianity.
The catalyst for the permeation is in verse 4:
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word
The suffering that we have been talking about sent many Christians into regions which they would have never thought they would have entered. And one such place was Samaria, where the next events take place. John tells us in chapter 4, verse 9 of his gospel that “the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (because they were half-breeds against whom the Jews discriminated) But God doesn’t discriminate. He is “not willing that any should perish” according to II Peter 3:9 (even though you and I might as soon would.) And so in verses 5 through 8 we see the characteristics of the permeation. then, in the remainder of the chapter (verses 9 through 40 we will see two case studies of the permeation. So let’s look first at the characteristics of the permeation in verses 5 through 8:
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. (6) And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did (7) for unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice came out of many who were paralyzed and lame were healed (8) And there was great joy in that city.
Remember that Philip was one of the seven deacons appointed in chapter 6 along with Stephen. Since then his ministry had extended beyond Jerusalem and he had become an evangelist. (Incidentally, this demonstrates that the “secular” nature of the work of deacons is not incompatible with spiritual gifts which involve “spiritual” ministry – sometimes the office of deacon is good training for the office of elder or pastor . But also, in looking at Philip’s ministry described in these verses we can see three “characteristics” of true evangelism. First, true evangelism emphasizes the centrality of Jesus – “Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them.” Philip didn’t draw attention to himself or to a “movement,” he focused on Christ. Second true evangelism focuses on liberation from sin and a change of life values and goals (as in verse 7) and third, true evangelism is characterized by joy (verse 8) If anyone has a right to be joyful, it is Christians – think of all that we have in Christ and all that awaits us! but too often we get so weighted down with the cares of this life that we forget the basis of our joy. We need to make a practice of focusing on our true status in Christ at regular intervals. Now in verses 9 through 40 Luke presents two “case studies” to demonstrate the nature of the permeation of Christianity through the whole area.
The first case study is that of “the flashy phony” in verses 9 through 24 and, by contrast, verses 9 through 24 we have the case of the sincere seeker
Now this flashy phony is introduced to us by means of his reputation in verses 9 through 11. And the first sure sign of a phony ministry is in verse 9:
But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously had practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great
Philip proclaimed Christ; Simon proclaimed himself. The primary characteristic of a phony faith is that it exalts a person rather than Christ. The second characteristic of Simon’s act was that he was drawing a following based on flashy attractions and impressions. Look at verse 10:
(10) To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “this man is the great power of God”
You can almost hear the sideshow barkers calling “come and see the great power of God”Don’t be fooled just because a ministry talks about “ministry” and service to God – always look where the focus is, not where the talk is. then the third sign of a phony ministry is in verse 11:
And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
Here is something that a lot of sincere, well meaning Christians do not realize: Satan can empower supernatural works in his efforts to foil people’s understanding of the truth! Probably the best example of this is Pharaoh’s “wise men” who duplicated Moses rod turning into a snake in Exodus when Moses first appeared before to demand the release of the Jewish slaves. And don’t be fooled hasn’t changed his tactics! The focus should never be on the seemingly miraculous nature of a ministry, but on whether or not it is consistent with scripture.
So that is Simon’s reputation But in verses 12 and 13 the scene changes. In those verses we see His reform
(12) But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized (13) Then Simon himself was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs that were done.
Philip watched as people heard and responded to Philip’s message And he himself responded to to Philip’s message – at least temporarily. But the next verses are going to show us that this was not genuine belief. And therein we find a fourth characteristic of phony faith: going through religious motions with the wrong motives. The last line of verse 13 indicates that Simon was fascinated with the miracles that Philip was doing. (incidentally, this also demonstrates that God’s miracles are more impressive than Satan’s – Simon had been doing those already but was “amazed” at the response to the miracles Philip was performing. But the next verses are going to show us how it all came apart for him. In verses 14 through 23 we see his revelation. This is not a revelation to Simon, but but a revelation of him to us. The setting for the revelation is in verses 14-17