2020 03 22 Sun AM “From Scattered To Gathered” Acts 8:1

                             

Scattered and Gathered1 Acts 8:1

Acts 8:1-8 [8:1] “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Introduction: We are living a strange time today. Our whole world is being impacted by something called the Novel Coronavirus. It is changing the way we live, where we go, and how we work and make a living. Many people are rightfully scared and uncertain. And many people are asking: What does all of this mean? I am in constant conversations with people about God, about the end-times, about how we should be should now be living, and what we should do next. In this message, I want to try to answer some basic questions about how people of faith should respond to this time of crisis and how the church can be God’s voice speaking to our broken and sick world.

I also want you see something in this passage of Scripture: The Bible says that Church was scattered. Do you remember how America reacted on September 11, 2001 when our America was attacked? For about three (3) months, people came home to the church. I was pastoring a small church out in the country, and every Sunday, our church was full. Then everything went back to the way it was. How soon we forget! Many people went back to their old lives and forgot about the church. We are in another crisis now, but this time, God is not sending people into the church; He is sending the church out into the world. I want you to notice what I have to say about this a little later in this message.

A. Please note with me that the church in Jerusalem was experiencing a time of great strength and growth. The had great joy. It was there that they had accepted the Savior. It was there that Holy Spirit fell upon the church. It was there that they had great joy and great fellowship. It was there that the church had great growth.2

1. And then, seemingly, everything changed. The Bible says that Stephen died. He was the first martyr for the church and for Christ

1. His death left a big hole in the church. Herschel Ford put it like this: “When a great tree falls in the forest, the entire forest is shaken. When a good and great man dies, the world feels it.”

2. And then we read next that Saul made havoc of the church (Acts 8:3). That is a tragic thing. We are today experiencing a havoc in the world and it is all coming from something so small that we cannot see it with the unaided eye; yet, it is having awful consequences. So much so…that I am preaching today in a nearly empty church, surrounded by many other empty churches.

1) But, I am thankful for the ability to preach to you today through the miracle of Live Stream. I don’t know how many we are reaching today, but I have an idea that we are reaching more people than we normally would have the opportunity to connect with on any given Sunday. And by the way, may I say…WELCOME!

B. Somebody might say: Stephen’s death was pointless. He didn’t have to die. Why should this tragedy have happened anyway? Here was another promising life cut short. He was a powerful, miraculous preacher, with a deep knowledge of the Old Testament. Such was the godly character of his life that he was one of the seven chosen by the church to oversee its daily affairs. Why was it necessary that one so gifted have such a brief ministry? Further, his ministry seemed to have ended in failure. Not only was he killed as a heretic, but his death also triggered the first persecution against the entire church. That persecution, spearheaded by Saul of Tarsus, scattered the Jerusalem fellowship. Such a skewed view of Stephen’s death, however, betrays a lack of understanding of the way the Holy Spirit works. The persecution, which seemed to be a negative, was in reality a positive factor. It led to the first great missionary outreach by the early church. Satan’s attempt to stamp out the church’s fire merely scattered the embers and started new fires around the world. In the words of the early church Father Tertullian, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.

1. And we might say that what we are experiencing just now is terrible. We’ve worked so hard to get people to come to church, and now we are telling people stay home. It is a hard disappointment to tell people to stay home, even if it is the right thing and wise thing to do until the Coronavirus threat goes away.

2. Yet God is using it for good! May I tell you a story?

3. On Sunday, January 8, 1956, on the shore of a lonely river deep in the Ecuadorian jungle, five missionaries were murdered by Auca Indians. News of the massacre shocked the world. To some, their deaths seemed a senseless tragedy. Many decried the promising missionary lives cut short, the five young wives bereft of their husbands, the children left fatherless. Those with deeper spiritual insight saw things differently. Nate Saint, one of the five martyrs, had written: “As we weigh the future and seek the will of God, does it seem right that we should hazard our lives for just a few savages? As we ask ourselves this question, we realize that it is not the call of the needy thousands, rather it is the simple intimation of the prophetic Word that there shall be some from every tribe in His presence in the last day and in our hearts we feel that it is pleasing to Him that we should interest ourselves in making an opening into the Auca prison for Christ”. (Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor [Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1981], 176)

a) Out of this terrible thing, God brought something good! If you’ve read “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elizabeth Elliot, then maybe you’ve seen the movie “End of the Spear”. It was through the sacrifice of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian that the Huaorani people, known as Aucas, came to know Christ.

b) Can I tell that out of our present crisis in America and around the world, many good things are coming out of it. We are being forced to slow down a bit, to stay home more, to spend more time with our families and those we love. A lot of us are now cooking at home instead of going out to eat. We are sitting around the table and listening to each other again. We are learning to make do with less, and to become innovative and creative with less. I heard someone say that already we getting a bit old-fashioned again. We are leaning over the fence and talking with our neighbors, and waving to them. We are learning some new names…imagine that! We are now getting reacquainted with our neighbors. Think about how many times people are now making themselves available to help with other’s needs and are volunteering to help with the mission and ministry of the church.

C. There are three (3) things you should take home out of this passage of Scripture.

1. First: there was “scattering”.

a. The devil thought he had won! The Bible gives us this picture: There arose on the very day of Stephen’s death, a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. That persecution, set off by the murder of Stephen, was led by a Hellenist Jew named Saul of Tarsus. So thoroughly did Saul agree to what was done with Stephen that he moved to do the same thing with the entire church in Jerusalem. In other words, Saul became the prime mover in this persecution (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (312). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.)

1) Now there is something interesting about the world “scattered”: Luke’s word for their dispersal: “scattered” (diaspeiro) comes from the Greek word for “seed.” They were scattered like one scatters seed. But scattered seeds grow, and the wonderful thing is that the persecution and scattering of the Christians only led to their further increase (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (211). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).

2) Don’t lose the fact here that the Bible says they were “all” scattered. God does not want to leave anybody out; everybody is included in the scattering the gospel. The Lord intends to use us all just now to show the world how much He loves them: “For God so loved the world…” John 3:16. Someone said that if God had not scattered them, the gospel might have remained hidden in Jerusalem and the world would have never heard it. God scattered them out of a comfortable place into an uncomfortable place so that the world outside the church could hear the gospel.

2. Second, there was a “shifting”:

a. Note: Acts 8:1-3 [8:1] And Saul approved of his execution (Stephen). And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

b. Where did they go? They went to “the regions”: The “regions” does not mean that they went only into the country districts and avoided the cities. Persecution forced the believers out of their homes in Jerusalem, and with them went the gospel. The gospel, shows no favoritism. Salvation is intended for all nations. The cross of Christ is long enough to bridge any chasm between people (Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts. The College Press NIV Commentary (Ac 8:8). Joplin, MO: College Press.).

c. Sometimes we have to become uncomfortable before we’ll act. We may not want to experience it, but discomfort may be the best thing for us because God may be working through our discomfort. When you are tempted to complain about uncomfortable or painful circumstances, stop and ask if God might be preparing you for a special task. (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). Acts. Life Application Bible Commentary (134). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.)

d. Is that true of you? Wherever you find yourself—whether scattered by work or family or education or some other means—have you considered yourself planted in that place? Have you put down roots and borne fruit for Jesus Christ? That is what these early Christians did. It is because of this activity that even the (evil) things that had happened to them served to advance the cause of Christ (Boice, J. M. (1997). Acts: An expositional commentary (133). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)

e. Every time there is an attack by Satan, through the evil intent of his agents, God knows that it is that attack that produces the greatest growth; Faith becomes stronger, testimony becomes bolder, and the wonder by the onlookers invites people to come to God and to give glory to God; God becomes grander and more glorious all the time!

f. Sometimes, it seems that Jesus has an unusual way of drawing us out; and making us more useful to Him: Matthew 10:34-39 [34] “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. [36] And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (ESV)

g. Saul literally tore the church apart—The persecution resulted in the scattering and shifting of the church. But God used the wrath of men to promote His gospel purposes. What appears to be a defeat for the cause of the gospel becomes the basis of a huge new evangelistic advance (Milne, B. (2010). The Acts of the Apostles: Witnesses to Him … to the Ends of the Earth. Focus on the Bible Commentary (181–182). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.).

3. Third, there was a “saving”:

a. Acts 8:4-7 [4] Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. [5] Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. [6] And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. [7] For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. (ESV)

b. In spite of the persecution, those believers who were scattered were not cowering somewhere in fear but went about preaching the word. They had been doing so before the outbreak of the persecution, and after being scattered they continued to preach.

1) The Bible says: they “went about” – they were preaching: this world is from dierchomai, a word used frequently in Acts of missionary endeavors. They became evangelists! They carried the gospel! (8:40; 9:32; 13:6; 14:24; 15:3, 41; 16:6; 18:23; 19:1, 21; 20:2). (Utley, R. J. (2003). Vol. Volume 3B: Luke the Historian: The Book of Acts. Study Guide Commentary Series (112). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)

2) It has always been God’s intention for every Christian to be an evangelist. Everywhere we go, everywhere we are scattered: everywhere we are shifted: at work, school, or social situations, every one of us have been put there by God to preach the word.

3) The action here of the evangelists was that of “Preaching” which is from euangelizo, which refers to proclaiming the gospel. All the scattered believers were involved in evangelism. Although some are specially gifted as evangelists (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5), all Christians are called to proclaim Christ. Satan’s persecution promoted the very thing it was designed to destroy. It fired the believers with new zeal to proclaim the gospel in new areas. The Greek literally says, they were “announcing the good news of the word.” These were not ordained ministers, professional evangelists, or specially commissioned missionaries. They were everyday Christians doing what should come naturally to a Christian (Wade, J. W. (1987). Acts: Unlocking the Scriptures for You (pp. 80–81). Cincinnati, OH: Standard.)

4) Remember – if we have lost sight of this clear biblical reality, we may discover to our discomfort, as did the believers in Jerusalem, that God is perfectly prepared to treat our personal schemes, our love of comfort, our self-fulfillment, our financial desires, and our own personal calendars with a big dose of tough love. We are sure to regret it if we stand in the way of realizing of God’s heart-concern, that is, the spread of the gospel through the world (Milne, B. (2010). The Acts of the Apostles: Witnesses to Him … to the Ends of the Earth. Focus on the Bible Commentary (179). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.).

5) The Bible says that Philp preached. The beauty of it was that the Holy Spirit had prepared the hearts of the people to respond to Philip’s message. As a result, his preaching resulted in a wholesale spiritual awakening, as verse six notes that the crowd/multitudes with one accord paid attention to what was said by him. The effectiveness of Philip’s ministry is highlighted here as crowds gathered and saw Philip perform miraculous signs. The signs which Philip did, like the signs seen earlier in Acts, authenticated him as a true messenger of God (cf. Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12–16; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12).

6) Do you remember the parable of the soils? (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20): Jesus says that we are scattering seed wherever we go. There is the (1) soil of the way-side, the (2) soil of the stony ground, the (3) soil of the thorns, and the (4) soil of the good ground. Our work is to scatter the seed. We are a church scattered into the world to tell good news of Jesus Christ. It matters not where we cast the seed just now; but it matters that we cast the seed. The time is short and we must cast the seed.

7) Remember what our Lord taught us: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Conclusion: God knows how to take care of us! He takes bad things, and turns them into good things. What good things is God going to do for you during this time of crisis in America, in your life and in our church?3 Time and eternity will tell, and it will be good. Already, we have a greater reach than ever before into the lives of people right here where we live. We are doing ministry now in ways, that just a few weeks ago, we would never would have considered. Let’s keep going with God; let’s keep serving, and leading and preaching. Let’s keep “scattering” and “shifting” and “saving” till Jesus comes! God is scattering us in order to gather us into the love of Christ and into His church