Transcription: “When I was in college, I was getting my Bible and Theology degree, and training to be in the ministry, when I had a professor give me an assignment… and it was an assignment that God would use to really shape the trajectory and the scope of my ministry moving forward.
The assignment was this… I just want to hear how you would feel about doing this assignment. The assignment was to spend twenty four hours in complete solitude, and complete silence. Twenty four hours, completely cut off from all other people, with no media or anything of any kind.
Now, to some of you that sounds like an absolute haven–that sounds great. But for me, and my personality type, as a college student, that was not an assignment that I was looking forward to.
I had to think, “Where am I going to go to be alone for twenty four hours, first of all?”
But I worked at a church, and I had keys, and I found a room in thewe upstairs of this church, and I spent from four p.m. one afternoon, to four p.m. the next afternoon in this room, and I had no contact with anybody, and no media of any kind, but the professor said we could take a Bible with us.
So we could take a Bible and not only that, but we had one particular passage of Scripture that we were supposed to be focusing on during a twenty four hours. And God used that time and used that passage of Scripture to help me to realize that, up until that point in my relationship with Jesus Christ, I had really become content, I had really settled for something far less than what Christ was offering, and inviting me to experience from Him.
Not only that, but I became convinced and challenged by the reality, that if my ministry was to have any hope for having any fruit that would come out of it, it was going to have to be out of the overflow of my being connected to Jesus Christ.
My prayer this evening as we talk about this passage of Scripture, I’m going to look at at the one that I was invited to look at for those twenty four hours… my prayer is that,
If there’s anyone here this evening who feels like their relationship with Christ is less than what they want it to be, that God will use this passage of Scripture to reveal to you that he is inviting you to something profound and wonderful in a relationship with him, and not to settle or be content for what it is that you might already have.
And also, if you want your life to have any significance and meaning in the eyes of God, that it must come from the overflow of your relationship with Christ and being connected to him.
You know when I was just beginning the ministry, I had some friends who had heard about the fact that I had begun the ministry and become a pastor — some friends from my high school days, who I hadn’t seen for many years, who had heard that I had become a pastor, and quite frankly, many of them were surprised that I had become a pastor. (Laughter).
Apparently they had an idea of what a pastor should be like, and I didn’t quite fit that mold for them when I was in high school.
And truth be told, there was a part of me that took that as a compliment — that I didn’t fit the pastor mold, but I also saw the underlinings of what they were saying… and that is, that often, my behavior in high school was not consistent with someone who claimed to be serious about their relationship with God. And so they were surprised that I had become a pastor.
Let me ask you this morning…
Of all the people that you know in your life, who would you be most surprised to hear that they began to have a serious relationship with God?
Of all the people in your life who would you become the most surprised to hear that they had begun a serious relationship with God. No, mam… you may not point to your husband, back there. OK? (Laughter).
I’m kidding, nobody was pointing… no pointing allowed… pointing is rude (Laughter).
But it may be, your spouse. It could be another immediate family member. It might be an extended relative; or maybe a classmate; or maybe a coworker; or a neighbor.
Maybe even yourself…
Maybe you’re here this morning not because you’re really into it, because you’re here for some other reason… someone’s dragged you, or you’re just trying it out; and quite frankly, if you ever got serious about your relationship with God, it would be a real surprise to you.
This morning, I believe the heart of our passage is to convince us of this — to tell us that
There is no one who is too far from God.
That there is no one who so far from God, that He can’t draw them, or wants to draw them into a relationship with himself.
There’s no one with whom we should be totally surprised, if they were to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
And I want to encourage you by that. I think that should be encouraging news. It should be encouraging to some of us, because some of us feel like we’ve done some really messed up things in our lives — that we feel like maybe we’re the ones who are too far from God.. and there’s no real hope for us yet.
Others of us though we have people in our life who we really love, and care about –people who we have been praying for, and longing for them to have a relationship with Jesus Christ for a long time, with no sign of any hope or optimism. And it can be discouraging and frustrating.
And I want you to be encouraged by the idea that the heart of our passage this morning tells us,
No one is too far from coming into a relationship with God.
But it should also be challenging to us, because quite frankly, some of us, probably all of us if we’re honest, have dismissed_some_person in our life, or some people group in the world as being too far from God.
We say, “There’s no hope for someone like that… there’s no hope for those people who believe that; there’s no hope for people who have done those types of mistakes, to ever really come into a real relationship with God.”
But the heart of our passage is to say, “There is no such thing as that“.
We’re continuing through the book of Acts. I want to invite you; if you’ve got a Bible with you, or you want to turn to one that’s in the pew… to the Book of Acts. It’s the fifth book of the New Testament, to Chapter eleven.
Acts chapter eleven, we will have the Scripture on the screen that we’ll be looking at if you don’t have a Bible with you.
But as we go to Acts, chapter eleven… first I want to acknowledge that Pat, who is a staff member here at Kirkmont, preached in my absence last week, and I gave her a really long chapter to deal with last week. And it was on Daylight Savings, so she had more Scripture to preach on with less sleep.
I thought she did a great job; I listened to the message, and she clearly laid out the heart of Acts, chapter ten.
But, for those of you who weren’t here, or haven’t been with us in our Acts series, let me recap for you.
By the way, I can recap quickly because someone transcribes our sermons, and they informed me that Pat and my last sermons were the exact same length, time wise, but I spoke twice as many words. (LAUGHTER).
So we each preached for thirty two minutes… I’m not going to preach that long this morning by the way… in our last couple sermons, I spoke six thousand words and she spoke three thousand words, so we had a little argument about it… does she talk too slow, or do I talk too fast… so, I think the lot has fallen on me, I talk too fast.
OK, Acts, chapter eleven… before we get to Acts eleven, we’re recapping.
Here we are the Book of Acts, if you don’t know this, it is the history of the early church — it’s the history of the early followers of Jesus Christ. And what we’ve been discovering is, the early church BOOMED… it boomed numerically.
It went from 120 people, to 3000 people, to 5000 people, to countless number of people. It also boomed geographically as well… it started spreading and spreading and spreading. Against all of this opposition it was booming and growing.
But up until this point the majority of the early followers of Jesus Christ, were Jewish people.
And last week, we began to see that something was going to change, it was going to shift. That by the Divine initiative of God, he was going to make something happen.
So last week what happened, is God raised up a man named Peter, who was an early leader in the church. He was a Jewish man… and he encountered, through God’s miraculous intervention, a Gentile— a non Jewish man, who was a God fearing person, but did not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
And he brings the two of them together, so that the non-Jewish world out there would hear about Jesus Christ — in other words, God is saying, “I have had a special relationship with Israel for two thousand years, but now it’s going bigger than that.“
This thing that Christ has come to do on the Cross, it is for the entire world.
OK… and so he initiates Peter to do this, and to share this message, but… as you can imagine, not everybody was extremely excited about what happens.
So here’s what the Scripture tells us in Acts chapter eleven, verse one; it’s really the continuation,
Peter Explains His Actions
Acts 11:1The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.
So the Apostles are the early church leaders — they’re Jewish. And the brothers throughout Judea — that is the majority of the early church… again, mostly a Jewish church at this point in time… they all hear, this is big news. They receive this news, that not just Jewish people are beginning to follow Jesus Christ, but the Gentile people as well, are not only hearing about Jesus Christ, but are receiving it, they’re embracing this message.
So we would expect, what kind of response? … If I got up and reported to you that there was some group of people in this area, that previously hadn’t heard about Jesus Christ, and wasn’t following Christ, and I reported to you that they were now, what should the proper response be?
It would be (‘yea’from a member of the congregation)… “YEA“, that’s right, it would be one of excitement and enthusiasm. We’re glad about that, and excited about it… but… the Scripture tells us this,
2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem (which is the heart of the Early Jewish Church), the circumcised believers (that’s just another way of saying, ‘the Jewish believers… they didn’t celebrate with him, they didn’t thank him for his faithful service to the world in telling people about Jesus Christ, instead, they) criticized himand said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
So what they are getting at here is, that for a faithful Jewish person in the Old Testament, they had some laws about how they would stay pure and clean, and those laws included, the way they ate and what they ate.
And so, what they hear is that Peter, in order to share Jesus Christ with these Gentile people, he had a meal with them, he sat and ate with them, he was their friend; he hung out with them.
But apparently, they were the host of the meal. What was served and how it was served was in a Gentile fashion, not a proper, religious Jewish fashion. And Peter, knowing that what he was doing was far more important than about cleanliness of food, he went ahead and ate with them, and dined with them… and the disciples hear this, some of the early church followers hear this, and they criticize him for having an_unclean_meal.
They’re not able to celebrate the fact that these people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. They’re busy arguing with Peter and criticizing him because he’s done something unholy or impure in their eyes.
Now it kind of reads as if these people might have just been concerned about Peter’s personal holiness. You know, “Peter, we really love you and care about you as a brother in Christ… and we’re just worried, did you really make a wise decision here?” … you know that kind of thing… it sort of reads that way.
But friends, that is not the issue. The issue is that they had received the report that Gentile people were coming into the fold of the church. And they don’t like it. The real issue is the fact that God used Peter to bring these types of people into the church… and they don’t like it.
They’re not really concerned with Peter’s personal holiness. They’re concerned with the idea that their church bubble is about to burst…. that the church and religion and faith as they know it, is about to get completely turned upside down. Because now, these types of people are going to become a part of them as well… and they’re critical of it.
They’re threatened by that… they don’t like that at all. And so they begin to sort of criticize Peter because they don’t want to be associated — they don’t think God’s people should be associated with these types of people.
And let me tell you something… when it comes to the church, whether it’s churches or people in the church, I think there are really two types. I think there’re two types of churches, or two types of people in the church, however you want to look at it:
There are those people who care about those people outside of the church.
And there are those people who criticize those people who care about those people outside of the church.
Peter, through some work of God, becomes one of those people who cares about people outside of the church, and he wants to draw them closer to God. But there are also people in the church who criticize those people who care about people outside of the church.
I mean if you ever want to see this on display go to a small church, that does not care about outsiders, and start inviting people there, and see how well that goes over. Not only will your friends be ignored, but eventually you’ll be judged and shunned because you’re trying to bring these types of people in.
And there’s all kinds of reasons why churches don’t want to have new types of people brought into their fold. All types of reasons why the Jewish people didn’t want these Gentiles brought in. But nonetheless, that is the criticism that Peter’s receiving.
And I’m repeatedly telling you this morning, no one is too far from God to be brought into a relationship with him.
So the Scripture tells us that Peter responds.
Now I commend Peter’s response; because sometimes when you and I receive criticism, we chalk it up as just being not very wise criticism and we dismiss it.
And I think Peter had a case here… he could have just told these people, “Your hearts are in the wrong place… you are so far from the heart of God here…” he could have just totally ignored them and moved on; but instead, the Scripture says,
4-8Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds.Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
So what essentially Peter’s saying is, “I had this dream… and God showed me a bunch of animals. And he said. ‘I know that for two thousand years of your history these animals have been considered unclean, but that’s changing now.. they’re no longer unclean.’”
But God is not concerned with Peter’s diet. He’s teaching him about animals so that he would make the connection with people. “Peter, I know, that for two thousand years I called the Israelites to be separate from the world. But now, that’s changing. I’m calling you to go and to be a part of the world. To be in the world. To minister to the world. To tell them about my Son Jesus Christ. That’s all changing Peter.”
And for Peter this would have been a major shift in his thinking. In fact the Scripture tells us, that God apparently needed to repeatedly tell this to Peter for him to get it. So the Scripture says,
9-10 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
Three times. So it’s like God is saying,
“Peter… there is no such thing as someone who is unclean.”
Peter’s like, “Yeah, yeah… I hear you; but no, seriously, you really want me to eat with those people?
“Peter… there is no such thing as someone who is unclean.”
“Yeah I heard you God… but I mean, those people… really? Come on.”
“Peter, how dare you call someone unclean that was made in my image, by me. There is no such thing as someone who’s unclean.”
You see… there’s no one who’s too far from being in a relationship with God… and this ought to challenge us. As we think about our family members, our relatives, our friends, our classmates, our coworkers…. the annoying people we see on the news.
And we want to write people groups off… we want to write them off, and just say, “They’re unclean; they don’t get it, they’re lost.“
And we want to wash our hands of their blood and say, “Be gone with them… God judge them.” Right?
All of these types of things that come through our minds and here the heart of God is coming through Scripture shouting at us… saying,
“No… I love them. I created them. How dare you call them unclean. I want to have a relationship with them. And further I want to work through people like you to draw them into a relationship with me.”
So then the Scripture says and verse eleven,
11-14 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea (Last week Pat explained Caesarea was a Gentile dominated area… so these are Gentile men… they) stopped at the house where I was staying (this is Peter, a Jewish leader speaking).The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me (so apparently he brought some of his brothers in Christ with these three men), and we entered the_man’s_house.He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will_be_saved.’
Do you see the crossroads that the early Church is at here? And how God is divinely ensuring that the Gentile people of the world would hear about Jesus Christ and be saved.
Do you hear the heart of God as he’s saying, “There is no one who cannot benefit from the message of Jesus Christ, and the Salvation that He offers on the Cross.”
We need to start with this room and just say, “There is no one in this room…” I believe the Scripture is shouting to us,
“There’s no one in this room who cannot benefit from Jesus Christ and the Salvation that is found in Him through His death on the Cross.”
There is no one in your life who cannot benefit from Jesus Christ and the Salvation that is found in Him through His death on the Cross.
And there was no one in this world who cannot benefit from Jesus Christ and the Salvation that is found in his name, through his death_on_the_cross.
And further… the Scripture says that if that happens… if someone begins to trust in Jesus Christ. In verse fifteen he says,
15“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.
Do you believe that there are people in your life who have absolutely nothing to do with God… who seem spiritually to be in complete contrast to him. But by the power of God, they can not only place their faith in Jesus Christ, but receive the Spirit of God and have him come upon them in his full measure.
16-17 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
And our last verse for this morning… ya know, when I read this verse, I had to change directions a little bit, because I was really wanting to criticize the church for even challenging Peter. You know… “Man, these people, there hearts are in the wrong place. and they’re so messed up and…“ I was preparing to say all this type of stuff, and then I read verse eighteen, and was then like, “Oh… OK… alright…”
18 When they heard this (they ran Peter off? … no, the Scripture says), they had no further objections, and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Thanks be to God for this Early Church, and I want him to just invite us to just read this sentence. The Sermon title has an underline in place of the word Gentile… because I think God would rather have us put someone in our life in that spot.
Just imagine whose name God would like to whisper to you this morning…
Who maybe you’ve given up on. You want them to have faith in Jesus Christ but you’ve given up on them… it doesn’t seem possible anymore.
God has granted even that person repentance unto life.
This is the promise and the encouragement from the Word of God.
You know, my wife Amanda and I moved to Ohio about a year ago, as some of you know. But for the first twelve years of our marriage we always lived far from family. We were really never close to relatives, and for the most part, that was OK.
We were able to make friends and get by, but the holidays always kind of seemed to, you know, highlight the fact that we are so far from family.
Whether we were in Boston, or Illinois, or Minnesota… my family’s in Ohio, and we weren’t close to her family that’s now in Louisiana.
But often times, the church that we associated with would be really kind, and someone from the church would reach out to us, and invite us to one of their family gatherings during the holidays. And then we would say, “Yes.”
And we had interesting experiences at some of the people’s family gatherings as you can imagine. And many of the families, thanks be to God, were just so inviting and welcoming us. And people just received us that afternoon or evening like one of the family members.
But there were also times when we had a real hard time breaking into the relational dynamics of the family gathering, and we were having a hard time getting people to talk to us, and kind of sensed even at times where maybe the other family members weren’t that excited that their family members had invited some outsiders into the Thanksgiving meal, or whatever it might have been.
And, you know, when it comes to the church, one of the things is that… that just shouldn’t ever be the case in the church. We celebrate the idea that we’re a family of God. And that we love each other and we’re close, and we get to know each other, but the thing that we’re discovering here, from this chapter, is that God has an incredible heart for those people who aren’t here also.
And so it should never be the case that when someone new comes into our fold, whether by personal invitation, or just walking through the door, that they don’t feel welcomed, and loved, and received.
It should never be the case where our folks are criticizing the Peters’ of our church. For reaching out to people who don’t know Jesus Christ and inviting them to come, just as they are… right?
…to come in, and to experience the love of Jesus Christ.
I want to invite our Praise Team to come forward as they prepare to close our time together this morning. It’s a song, called Just as I am. It’s a song that many people are familiar with, and we want to invite you to stand and to prepare to worship with us.
We get to come just as we are because we are here not to worship ourselves for the quality of life that we lived. But to worship Jesus Christ for dying on the Cross for our mistakes, and for our sins.
Opening Movie Trailer – Saul: The Journey to Damascus
Transcription – Pastor Dan Borgelt:
“If you’re a visiting with us here at Kirkmont, we are going through the fifth book of the New Testament, the book of Acts. The Book of Acts is really the history of the early church, about how they got started, about how they interacted with each other, about how they grew as a church, about the type of opposition that they encountered–all those types of things.
It was written by a man named Luke who really studied and investigated all of this stuff; and he puts it down on paper for us.
And you saw in the video a man named Steven–he was the first person, two weeks ago in Acts, Chapter seven, who was put to death because of his relationship with Jesus Christ.
He was martyred as a result of his relationship with Christ… and that led to a large persecution across the church. There was a man named Saul who was there, he saw the martyrdom happen and he thought, “That’s a good thing I want to see it happen more… I’m intent on putting an end to this church… this whole idea that people are going to follow Jesus Christ and call him the Lord.”
And so the martyrdom started to spread, the persecution spread. The church began to move geographically to get away from the persecution. And now we get to Acts, chapter nine, and what we’re going to be talking about today is,
How does Saul respond to all of this persecution and the church fleeing?
We read last week that even as the church was fleeing into different regions, they were still telling people about Jesus Christ, and spreading the news about him. But Saul is intent on putting an end to it.
Transcriber’s Intro – If you don’t find Pastor Dan Borgelt’s message the most understandable, and enjoyable one you’ve ever heard or read, I’ll give you “double your money back”. As a retired educator and teacher trainer, I’ve never sat under a more eloquent orator. Buckle your Spiritual Seat Belt and get ready to hear Scripture come alive !!!
“Well here at Kirkmont, we’ve been preaching through a particular book in the Bible one week at a time… we’re going through a book of the Bible called Acts. And Acts is the fifth book of the New Testament, and it is written by a man named Luke.
Luke was someone who investigated the life of Jesus and he wrote an entire book about Jesus’ life called the Book of Luke in the Bible, but he also then continued in his investigation and he investigated the early church and the history of the early church; and he wrote about the early church in the book of Acts.
And we’ve been studying that about one chapter at a time. So here we are in Acts chapter eight; we began this series about eight weeks ago and we’ve been studying and seeing all kinds of different things that Luke is trying to highlight for you and I.
But one of the things that Luke really just sort of keeps coming back to, is how this church, how the early church went from just a small group of people, who Jesus hung out with for a few years, to this massive movement numerically.
He talks about the twelve becoming one hundred twenty; the hundred twenty becoming three thousand, three thousand becoming five thousand… you just see this expansion over expansion, time and time again.
And it really kind of begs the question. How did that happen? I mean,
What was the early church doing, that would lead to such incredible numerical growth?
And that’s one of the things we’re going to be looking at together this morning.
Before we study from the passage of Scripture and learn what the early church was doing to that led to numerical growth. I want to first tell you,
What the Early Church was NOT doing, that led to numerical growth.
They were not, the early church did not have a largeAdvertising Budget whereby they were mailing mailers all over the community, and getting on L.E.D. post boards and signage all across the community. Now I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have a budget for advertising as a church, but I’m just saying that’s not how the early church was growing.
The early church did not build the largest, biggest, fanciest building so that everybody in the community would want to go there, and it would be the happening place to be. That’s not how they grew the early church either. Now I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to want to have a nice facility, in fact I’m working with some folks to see if we might be able to update some things around here at Kirkmont, but let’s put all of those efforts in their proper perspective. If that’s what we’re counting on to try to grow a church, then we’ve sort of been misled. That’s not how the early church grew.
So how did the early church become so effective at reaching their community and the world around them?
Well they were committed to the idea of,
Personally sharing their faith in Jesus Christ with other people.
That’s what we’re going to talk about this morning, and it’s an incredibly important topic… because the truth of the matter is when it comes to sharing our faith, for those of you who claim to be followers of Christ as I do,
When it comes to sharing our faith, there is far more fear and intimidation, and guilt and shamewrapped up with that idea, then there is any sense of joy and excitement and celebration, or success.
And so it’s incredibly important for those of us who consider ourselves to be followers of Christ to be talking about it.
But it’s also something that I think if you’re here this morning. And you don’t consider yourself to be a follower of Christ, maybe you’re here, and you’ve just been invited, because someone here invited you to church. It might seem weird… they’re talking about sharing their faith with Jesus Christ and you’re here as a result of someone inviting you.
Let me just tell you that’s not weird at all. That’s really kind of cool. Because the person who invited you didn’t invite you because they’re going to get in with God better that way. They didn’t invite you because we’re going to think they’re better because of it.
They invited you because they have found something in Jesus Christ that is meaningful and significant to them, and they care enough about you to want to share that with you.
And I think that this message will also speak to you about God’s desire to have a relationship with you this morning.
Alright so let’s look at the Book of Acts Chapter eight. Charlie did a great job of sort of pointing us in that direction with the Children’s Church.
Acts, chapter eight… again it’s the fifth book in the New Testament. I’m going to turn there… I love to hear your Bibles opening up and turning there with me as well.
In Acts, Chapter eight we’re going to be looking at three aspects of sharing our faith. Here’s the three points we’re looking at together this morning. First, the idea that
We are called to share our faith:
Despite our TRIALS
Despite the RESPONSE
Despite the PERSON
The early church shared their faith despite their trials; they share their faith despite the response that they received. And they shared their faith despite the person of whom it was… and that’s what we’re going to be looking at together as we go through a broad picture of the whole book, the whole chapter of chapter eight.
All right first point::
1. We share our faith despite OUR TRIALS:
Let’s look at the Scripture here, Chapter eight, verse one, the scripture says.
8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him
Now that wouldn’t make any sense unless you’re here with us last week, or listened to Charlie’s message which is, “a man named Steven, who was an early follower of Christ, we learned last week…. he was the first follower of Christ who was put to death, because of his faith in Jesus Christ, recorded in the Bible.
That happened in Acts Chapter seven, and now Luke tells us that there was a man witnessing that happening, his name was Saul, and he was excited about this. He approved of it. He wanted to have it happen.
In fact, he decided he’s going to piggy-back off the momentum of this, and see just how far this early church can be persecuted.
On that day (that very day), a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem,
This is great not only in the extent of how many people are involved, but great also to the extent of the magnitude in which the persecution existed. This is not a “few”, a small percentage of people in the church who were being “kind-of” mistreated.
This is a large percentage of the Early Church being VERY mistreated.
a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem,
and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
So people flee… they run from this persecution.
2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul (here we are, back to this Saul guy) began to destroy the church.
You see, Saul’s goal is not to just wound the church, he’s not trying to just be a thorn in the flesh of the church, if you will… Saul is trying to put an end to the church.
His hope is that he might continue this momentum of persecution, and this whole idea of people who are out there, who follow this man Jesus, who was born and crucified and died, and supposedly risen from the dead–this whole idea of people following this guy as Lord and Savior–Saul is hoping that he can put that all in the past and put an end to the early church.
And it says he does that by,
going from house to house.
Now if you’re picturing Saul knocking on the door saying, “Hey would you come out and go to jail with us?” — then you’re getting the wrong image. The imagery is a man name Saul who has Religious and Civil authority, who’s coming around, kicking doors open, the Scriptures say,
dragging off both men and women and put them in prison. v3
The verbiage here is powerful–it’s not just merely a group of people being mocked, but beaten and tortured, receiving physical harm, because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
So I think it’s safe to say that the early Church is going through a trial. And our first point is that,“they shared their faith despite their trial.”
Now to see the idea of them sharing their faith, we got to go back to Acts Eight, verse one.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
The persecution broke out in what city? … Jerusalem. The people fled to what areas? … Judea and to Samaria… Acts 8:1
Now let’s pull up on the screen… do we have this verse, Acts Chapter ONE Verse EIGHT Acts 1:8. Let’s just flip flop the two… not 8:1 anymore but now 1:8.
And then we’ll see Jesus telling the disciples… not only commanding them, but prophetically declaring this is going to happen…
“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,” v1b
You see Acts eight one is the fulfillment of Acts one eight–it’s now happening. All that Jesus said was going to happen is starting to happen; and it’s happening because of this persecution… it’s driving the early church into the very regions that Christ commanded them to go–that he predicted that they would go into.
But now maybe you’re thinking a little skeptical, and you’re saying. “Yeah, they went to Judea and to Samaria, but I mean were they really doing anything there?
First, before we get into that, let me illustrate Judea and Samaria for you. In case you’re like me and you’re sort of naturally geographically just sort of… not informed. And so you might be thinking, “I can’t even picture this in my head.”
Well Jerusalem was essentially the capital city of Judea. We’re in Ohio, so let’s say the early church is in Columbus. OK. And the rest of the state of Ohio, is the Judea–it’s the region that Jerusalem is the capital of.
So they were in in Columbus and they spread throughout the state of Ohio.
Now Samaria was a land to the North (pre-LAUGHTER because they knew he was going to refer to Ann Arbor, his hometown; and lived right across the street from the University of Michigan football stadium… archrival of Michigan State)… and it was a group of people (more laughter)… you know where I’m going with this. (LAUGHTER). It was a group of people that the Jewish people didn’t like very much–they were considered a half breeds, somewhere between a Jew and a Gentile, apostate in their way of life.
So let me ask you, “Can you think of a land to the North, that people in Ohio don’t really like?”(LAUGHTER)
You’re way ahead of me… just so far ahead of me. That’s right. So now we’ve got the church going from Columbus, throughout Ohio, into Michigan, encountering people and cultures and ways of life that they hadn’t normally connected with, and you might be saying out there,
“Yeah, they went there but how do we know that they were actually doing what they were supposed to do… how do we know they were really sharing their faith in the midst of this trial?“
I mean… if anyone ever had an excuse to not share their faith, it would have been this group of people at this time. They had just gotten kicked out of their homes and had to leave everything they knew behind… seeing people whom they loved and cared about, dragged off and beaten, and imprisoned.
If there was ever a group of people who said, “You know what we’re going to just keep our lips sealed at this point in time, and not share our faith,” it would have been this group of people.
But the Scripture tells us in verse four,
Philip in Samaria
4-8 Those who had been scattered preached the word_wherever_they_went.Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.For with shrieks, impure spirits (some of you are picturing Ann Arbor right now) came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.So there was great joy in that city.
I was born in Ann Arbor by the way just so you know(affectionate condolence whistle from the congregation).. yeah “Ouch”… but, anyway so, (he stumbles in this thinking) all right so… so I wasn’t planning in saying that with you so I’ve lost my place (LAUGHTER.. ya gotta just love this guy’s open humanness)… OK…
So we are to share our faith, like the early church shared their faith despite their trials.
Let me ask you something… maybe you’re here this morning you cannot relate to persecution… I can’t relate to it either. But you can relate to the idea of experiencing a trial. And I want to ask you this…
What has God allowed you to experience, what pain or suffering, what trial has God allowed you to experience, that he can redeem to make it better and easier for you to share your faith with others?
What pain or trial has God allowed you to experience that he can redeem so that you might better share your faith with others?
Maybe you’re going through it right now… and it won’t be until God redeems you and restores you from that, that you’ll see how you’ll be able to minister to others because of what you’re going through now… maybe what you went through was years ago.
Some of you know my testimony, and the first time that I discovered that God can use our trials, to redeem it for His glory, to help us to share our faith, is the first time that I shared my testimony–my life story of how I became a Christian.
I was in high school. And some of you know that I had some things happen in my household, different types of abuses, that quite frankly, I didn’t tell anybody… not my mother; not my sisters; no friends, no one for years, until the very first time when a youth minister asked me to share my testimony in front of about two hundred kids at my high school. And I decided that was the moment.
I’ve always wanted to share right… I guess, I don’t know. But anyways, I shared my testimony, and a girl who heard what I had to say wrote me a note, and she said, “Thank you for sharing, because I’ve had some of the same things happen to me.”
And that’s the first time I began to realize that God is about the business of allowing his people to experience trials, to redeem them, so that we can better share our faith with people–that we’re real, and honest, that it’s a place at which to connect with people.
What has God allowed you to experience?
Maybe it’s something that you haven’t actually brought into your testimony.
Tomorrow night we meet with some people who going to be joining the church next week. It’s going to be an exciting Sunday. We’ve got some baptisms, and a group of people joining.
And tomorrow night these folks who are joining will be sharing their testimony in front of our elders, as part of the process of becoming a member. And I told them, “Look, you can be as generic as you want,” but I encouraged them to be as detailed as they are willing, because it’s part of being a real church… and allowing what you’ve experienced to be something that God redeems.
Could you imagine if the church would have run off to Judea and Samaria and sealed their lips? That’s a lot like what it is when you and I experience a trial but we refused to really speak about it… to give God the glory for giving us the strength to get through it.
What has God allowed you to go through that he might redeem?
And maybe you’re here this morning, and you’re not a follower of Christ–you make no such claim. I still think there’s a point here for you, and that is, that sometimes God calls us in the midst of our trials into a relationship with him.
How many of us probably could raise our hands and say, “That’s how we came to faith in Christ… things were not going well.”
So if you’re here this morning, and you’re going through a trial, but you don’t claim to be a follower of Christ… I don’t think it’s by mistake. It’s very possible that God is calling you into relationship with himself.
Alright, point number two. The next two points are longer sections of Scripture, but shorter points as far as our talking about. But anyways…
1. We share our faith despite OUR TRIALS
Then Point #2…
2. We share our faith despite THE RESPONSE vv 9-25
in verses nine through twenty five. The Scripture tells us that the early church encountered a very peculiar response in the sharing of their faith. It’s entitled, “Simon the Sorcerer” or “Simon the Magician” depending on your Bible. And here’s what the Scripture says.
Simon the Sorcerer
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great,and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.”
So he’s kind of a scary figure… he’s popular, but he’s popular because of his magic, and he’s sort of been put into the role of God, which is never a good thing.
They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic/sorcery.12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
So you can start to see the tension here. The church is moving into this magician’s area and they begin to kind of threaten his business, if you will, because now he’s not the only one doing some amazing things around these parts.
13 Simon himself believed and was baptized.
If that was the only verse in this section we’d have great reason to rejoice and be glad… it sounds like good news. But,
And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit,because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Now listen, all the stuff about the Holy Spirit, some denominations have built their entire identity around these few verses, and there’s a lot of rabbit trails we could chase here. But that’s not the point of Luke including these verses. He includes them to teach us about this Simon character… because he comes right back in verse eighteen and says,
18 When Simonsaw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money.
So he sees that some folks have got some real power. And now he says look I will pay for that power because I can make some real money if I just had that kind of power…
and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered (Peter doesn’t beat around the bush): “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
24 Then Simon answered,
I don’t know all this answer is genuine or it’s selfish–you can decide…
“Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
We share our faith despite the response.
Man… this had to be such an interesting response for the early church to experience. Here on one hand, all these people around them are having these genuine and real conversions to following Jesus Christ.
And then they come across this man who seems to be like the furthest out person. And at first he receives, he embraces their message; it had to be this great sense of excitement and enthusiasm.
And then only for them to discover that the whole thing was a farce… that he was a phony, that his heart wasn’t really in the right place–that he had done all the right religious things, but his heart wasn’t in the right place. And he was thinking, “How might this whole Christian message benefit me… how might it might it help my business?” … if you will.
And we discover that we ought to be called to share our faith despite the response… that if we’re going to be about the business of sharing our faith with people,
There are going to be times where their response is going to be incredibly encouraging… and cause us to be filled with with joy.
And they’re going to be times where their response is going to be so discouraging… and so frustrating at times… even to the point where we feel embarrassed or mocked by their response.
I remember in my ministry days, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with a lot of young men, and pray with them to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Either from Young Life, or when I was in high school, or from when I was a youth director in college, or all the way to even new member’s classes at churches were a couple would give their life to Christ, and I could pray with them right in the class… it’s such an exciting thing and a joyous thing, to be able to be a part of that in someone’s life.
But, I have to tell you, I’ve had some really discouraging things that have come out of the result of that… so many people who have accepted Christ, and began a relationship with him, who I find out three, four, five years later, down the road, have absolutely nothing to do with God and their life.
I even had a worse scenario than that… I remember when I was in seminary, I had an Evangelism class–a class on evangelism (how to share you faith).
I walked in the very first day of class the professor said, “OK, your assignment is this… by the end of the semester, you need to tell ten people, who you don’t know right now, about Jesus Christ. And then write a report about how it went; and then turn it in.”
So of course you can imagine we were all very intimidated by the assignment.
One day I was on the subway, what do they call it, the L, or the T, or whatever that is in Chicago, outside of Chicago… and I was on the subway with some friends, and the seating arrangement had occurred where I was sort of the oddball, and I had to sort of sit away from my group of friends, over by myself, and I was next to this stranger, this man who was in his mid-forties.
And this assignment came upon me, and I thought to myself, “OK, you know, let’s let’s go ahead and give this a shot Dan… and let’s try to talk to this person about your faith.”
And so I started small, and I said, “Oh, Hi… my name’s Dan.” And then he sort of reciprocated… and I said, “Where are you heading?” … and he told me was on his way home from work, going back up to his house. And I asked him what he did for a living… and he was kind, he was polite.
The conversation was going well; and then he sort of reciprocated… and he asked me where I was going. And I said, “Well I’m heading back up to seminary.”
His disposition sort of started to change. And I could tell that he wasn’t quite sure what I meant by that word, and so I said, “Well, you know, I’m training to become a pastor.” — then his disposition really changed.
And he said, “You mean like a Christian?” I almost said, “No” (LAUGHTER)… no I don’t know you’re talking about.”
By the grace of God I said yes… I said, “Yeah, that’s right, I’m trying to be a pastor in a Christian church.”
And he looked at me and he said, “You know, I had a Christian friend once, and then I found out, the only thing he wanted to do was to convert me.” And then he added, “If I saw him today, I would want to smash him with my car.” (Pastor Dan pounded his fist).
I think the conversation ended right about then (LAUGHTER). I think I wrote on the report, “Stopped conversation… moved seats.” … you know (LAUGHTER).
Here’s the thing. We are not called to be about the business of deciding what the outcome is... God has called us to share our faith. The outcome is really between the person and God.
John chapter six verse forty four tells us this, Jesus is speaking and He says,
John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
No one can come to me unless the Father draws him. The ultimate business of whether the person responds in the affirmative, is between God and them. We are called to love people and to share our faith regardless of their response.
And you know what? …I think the world is sick of a church that loves and befriends them, up and to the point that they don’t accept Christ, and then they walk away and turn their back on them.
We are called to love and to share Christ unconditionally.
We always tell kids in our youth ministry, “Look… we’re going to tell you about Jesus, but we want you to know that if you reject him, we’re going to keep being your friend.”
And that’s what the Scripture calls us to do.
Finally then… we are not only called to,
1. To share our faith despite our TRIALS
2. To share our faith despite the RESPONSEvv 9-25
3. To share our faith despite THE PERSON vv 26-40
In verses twenty six to forty the Scripture says under this title Philip and the Ethiopian.
Philip and the Ethiopian
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip (Philip’s one of the Early Church leaders here), “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
Let’s pause there.
Now I don’t know if it’s quite clear in the NIV because it says. “he happened to meet this person.” It sounds like they met before, and then God calls him to go over to the chariot… but that’s not at all what’s happening.
Many other translations flush it out very clear for us. All the NIV means is, that he happened to meet him, and here is how he met him.
My point is that when God calls Philip to go over to the chariot and talk to this Ethiopian man, he had never met him before–he was a complete stranger.
Now the Bible calls him a eunuch, which means he could be a eunuch in the way that we think of a eunuch today, we won’t go any further with that one… or many times, back then, the word just simply meant, a High Official–someone who is really important.
He’s at least that, because he’s the treasurer of all the money of the Queen of Ethiopia. Ethiopia, it’s reference is really sort of more of a modern day Egypt, if you will.
And so he’s the treasurer of all this money; he’s an important person; he’s gone to Jerusalem to worship, so he’s at least a faithful Converted Jew… if you will.
But Philip doesn’t know that. He’s a complete stranger. He an important high official. And God says to him, “Go and hang out by the chariot”
Now, I don’t know about you, but when God tells me to do those kinds of things, I usually sort of pretend that it was “the other shoulder talking to me”… like,
“No… no… that must have been my other conscience… right? … that could not have been God… He doesn’t really want me to go talk to that person that wouldn’t turn out right. You know. They’re going to think I’m weird.”
But God calls Philip to go over there and talk to him; and guess what Philip discovers–that God is good. And that when God calls us to go and to share our faith with someone, He’s already working ahead of us.
Could you imagine Philip’s delight when he gets there. And all of the sudden he hears this man reading from Isaiah?
I don’t know if Philip was nervous… it says, “He ran…” he must be a man of greater faith than I. But it says ‘he runs over there’… and the man asks him, and it’s natural, and God’s already working in the heart of the person that God told Philip to go minister to.
Do you see how this can drive some of our fear out of the idea of sharing our faith?
Because when God calls us to share our faith with someone, he’s already working in that person’s life. He’s already working, he’s out ahead of us.
You know friends I don’t tend to regret the things that I do, that I shouldn’t do… I’m not saying I have no regrets there… but,
I tend to regret more of the things that I should have done that I didn’t do…
And one of them is really in this area… it’s the number of times that God has called me to go and to speak to someone–to be more bold with my faith than I am. And I have found all the excuses in the world why I shouldn’t.
One that stands out to me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, was when I was in high school. I was working at the fast food restaurant, Subway. And I went out back into the alley with the trash and I was there to throw it away.
And I heard sort of this whimpering over my shoulder. And I looked over and there was a young lady who was sitting on the ground… up against the wall in the alley as well. And she clearly worked at one of the other stores and something had gone wrong in her life or at the store I don’t know. She was out there just crying.
Immediately when I saw her, I felt like God was saying. “Go talk to her… go talk to her.” But I had all these reasons of why I shouldn’t go talk to her… and I wish that this was a success story, but it’s a failure story. It’s a story about how your pastor took the trash, put it in the dumpster, and turned around and walked inside, and ignored the voice of God.
Those are the things that stick with me.
And I’m thankful for stories like Philip and the Ethiopian… where when God says, “Go to the chariot,” he went. And we discover that when God calls us to do those kinds of things, He_is_good.
And so he drives the fear out of us sharing our faith.
If you’re here this morning, and you’re not a follower of Christ, I want you to know that this passage teaches us that we are called to share our faith despite who the person is.
This was someone who was totally different than Philip… different culture, different background… but God’s grace knows no boundaries, does it.
If you’re here this morning, there’s nothing you were born into that disqualifies you from receiving the Grace of God. There’s nothing that you’ve done or haven’t done that disqualifies you from seeing the grace of God. God’s grace knows no boundaries. And we are called to share our faith despite who the person is.
Let’s finish by just reading the end of this Scripture together… no comments really about what the Scripture says… in verse thirty one.
31“How can I,” he said, (how can I understand it)“unless someone explains it to me? ” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
Do you hear church? …that there are people all around our lives today who have real questions about God, and about Jesus Christ. And God is inviting you and I to be a part of their life, as part of the answer.
35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
You know, next week, when our new members join, we’re also going to have a couple people Baptised, and it’s going to be a joyous time–it’s going to be a celebration. I’m looking forward to it.
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
I’m going to invite our Praise Team to come forward as they prepare to lead us in our closing song. Let’s pray as we transition.
Father God we thank you for your Word. And at this time we thank you that it reminds us of the privilege of being able to share our faith, and we thank you for the early church’s example. And we pray that we might be able to live in accordance with their example.
Father there are people in this room right now who have husbands, and wives, sons, and daughters, grandchildren… neighbors, coworkers who they really care about and love… but who they know are not following your Son Jesus Christ.
So I join them now in lifting those people up to you… asking, like this Ethiopian man that you would work in their life, that you would draw them to you, and that you would use those who are already part of the church to really connect the pieces.
Father God, put people on our heart who you would have us minister to. Forgive us for the times which we’ve ignored your promptings. And we ask these things now in Christ’s name. Amen”