If there were no consequences, who needs the good news?
It would all be good news. But these things, they remain, whether a person receives them or not, and it is up to the believer to try to live a life in such a way that we do not damage our opportunities to share Christ. Because who wants to hear from a Christian if that Christian has a reputation of being a liar, or mean-spirited, or petty, or a host of other vices that we are all susceptible to. This is Cross-Reference Radio with our pastor and teacher Rick Gaston. Rick is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Mechanicsville. Pastor Rick is currently teaching through the Book of Acts.
Please stay with us after today's message to hear more information about Cross-Reference Radio, specifically how you can get a free copy of this teaching. But for now, let's join Pastor Rick in the Book of Acts chapter 8, as he begins his message, Persecuted to Preach. We're in the Book of Acts chapter 8. The title of this message is Persecuted to Preach. Although, as I was thinking about this sitting in the back, I thought of an alternate title, Loyalty Still, because loyalty counts only under pressure.
Who needs it when everything's going right? It's when you're challenged, and these Christians are challenged. They are persecuted, and yet they're going to remain loyal to the Lord, so much so they're going to invite others to come and join the persecution.
They're going to go and spread the gospel. Verses 1 through 8. Now Saul was consenting to his death at the time a great persecution arose against the church, which was at Jerusalem. They were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore, those who were scattered went everywhere, preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes, with one accord, heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits crying with a loud voice came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.
There was great joy in that city. Just the beginning of an exciting chapter. Satan found in this Pharisee Saul, who would later become the great apostle Paul, one of the great champions of the Bible. And Saul, he was the son of a Pharisee. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews.
He was, it was in his blood. But it was the blood of the lamb that will prevail in his life. Satan found in this Saul what he hoped he could use to destroy Christianity while it was still in the cradle, those early years. And so there is this preaching of Stephen. They kill Stephen for telling them the truth about themselves and his exaltation of Christ, backed up by scripture, their scripture. And Satan launches this massive counter-attack because like Mordecai, Stephen stood up in the face of those things that needed to be defied. Mordecai, when he stood up against Haman, who was this man that wanted to wipe out the Jewish people, wipe them off the face of the earth, God used Mordecai to provoke this to come to a head, to get it out in the open and deal with it.
And that's what happened. And Stephen is being used by God to do the same thing. I think Mordecai is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible.
I think many of us are not mindful of how great a man he was. And when he stood up against evil, there was this massive counter-attack against he and the people of God, which they had to fight to prevail. In this 8th chapter, we'll read here of Saul's persecuting the church. Philip proclaims Christ in Samaria. The Christians join in.
Simon, the magician, becomes a believer in the next section, hopefully next week. And then there's this Ethiopian eunuch that gets saved, and it is just an exciting chapter of evangelism. Look now at verse 1 again. 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. Well, when it says, now Saul was consenting to his death, we have to go back and look at chapter 7 and verse 60 to keep it in context. And there we read about Stephen. He knelt down, cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not charge them with this sin. And when he said this, he fell asleep. Now Saul was consenting to his death.
That fell asleep, of course, the euphemism for he dying. And so when he cast his vote against Stephen, he sided against Jesus Christ. And it was personal. He was personally against Jesus Christ. Before I became a believer, I was personally against Jesus Christ. Not everyone is like that who has not come to the Lord. Some just are not mindful, that mindful, but there are many out there that it is personal.
That's the work of Satan. Truth is cold when you don't like it. And Saul, he heard that sermon of Stephen and the truth was cold to him.
And he turned hot with rage and anger. The very first words that this Saul will hear from the mouth of Jesus Christ is, why are you persecuting me? See, it was personal. Christ took it as personal. And even the person who doesn't articulate their rejection of Christ that way, still it's personal.
There's no way of getting around it. Acts chapter 9 verse 4, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? This is after Christ has been crucified, risen, and ascended to heaven.
You touch one of his people, you're touching him directly. That's how God takes it. That ends any debate or confusion about what persecution is about. Maybe some of you persecuted Christians before you became believers. God will soon use every bit of this man, Saul, against sin to exalt Christ.
It's incredible. He works slowly and mysteriously, but he works. And we can't lose sight of that. Psalm 76 verse 10, surely the wrath of man shall praise you. Yeah, because God is in control. He is sovereign. Don't let that disturb you when he doesn't swoop down and take your problems away.
He's still sovereign. He's still loving every bit of it. Just stay to the end. His reward is with him. Stay excited about heaven, you older Christians especially. Stay excited about heaven. Don't let discouragement and disappointment and pain cake up on you to the point where you can't see the reward that awaits you. Christ is going to be excited to see you. He shall see the labor of his soul and be satisfied.
How hard is it to be satisfied and remain that way? And they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Hell has no fury that God cannot use. Hell can get as mad as it, it can get as mad as hell.
God still use it. That's why Paul said, we know all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purposes. Saul did not yet love God, was not yet called, but God knew where this was going. God knew that in this man there would be a portal for the Holy Spirit to enter into his heart and dwell there.
Indirectly at this time, Saul is spreading Christianity before he becomes a Christian because of his actions as a prosecutor. And he's going to ramp it up next chapter. Still, still wreaking havoc or if you prefer the alternate pronunciation, still wrecking havoc. He's still at it. He's still burning because that truth was cold to him, but it was truth nonetheless. Satan did not see any of this coming. He was really planning to wipe out the church. Paul will admit to that.
We'll come to that in a little bit. Except the apostles. Well, the apostles were not persecuted at this point, though all of them would suffer for Christ, likely because of Gamaliel's words to the Pharisees especially, but to the Sanhedrin overall, because Gamaliel was a Pharisee. In chapter 5, just to review it, when they were looking to persecute the apostles, Peter and John, the leadership, Gamaliel says, Now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or work is of men, it will come to nothing. But if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest you even be found to fight against God. Well, they did, I think they kept that in mind and left the apostles alone, fearing fighting God, respecting the words of Gamaliel. But Gamaliel didn't say not mess with the sheep, we can bother them and that's what they're doing. Now some of the other Christians will remain in Jerusalem too.
We'll review this as we move on. Verse 2, And devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him. I believe these were dedicated non-Christian Jews, dedicated to Yahweh and Judaism as they understood.
They respected, even loved Stephen, that kind of a personality. It speaks very highly of him as we considered his appointment to one of the servants in the church, a man full of grace and truth, full of the Spirit. Well, even those who had not yet come to Christ admired this man. The Christians, certainly they would have agonized over the death of this man who sealed his loyalty to Christ with his blood. He'll not be the last, but he is the first in the church to suffer persecution after Pentecost.
Of course, Christ always is first amongst all, firstfruits. They recognized that Stephen died without dishonoring Yahweh while telling the truth about his ancestors and those who murdered him. And it turned out to be true. Acts 7, verse 52, Stephen said, Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they have killed those who foretold the coming of the just one of whom you have now become betrayers and murderers. And so they killed Stephen too.
They added to the list. And they never thanked him for pointing it out. They proved his point with his blood and made great lamentation over him. Again, non-Christians who may not have really understood that at the moment, Stephen was in paradise. He was in heaven. Psalm 116, verse 15, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Well, that's true. I think largely it's true because of those left behind that have to grieve through it all. It means something to God. Of course, the church grieved for the loss of their son and his gallant death.
They were busy, very busy. The soul of Stephen, his spirit, instantly went to Christ. Look at verse 55 of chapter 7.
But he being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This just shoots down the silly notions of soul sleep. Christ was not welcoming Stephen into heaven just to put him to bed.
Okay, now that you're here, you're going to have to sleep for a while. It's a kooky doctrine from a kooky people. So if you hear or get wind of it, just reject it. The scripture refutes it. Philippians chapter 1, verse 23, Paul speaking about, you know, I'd like to leave this life and just go to be with Christ, but I got work here to do. And so he writes, for I am hard pressed, and remember, he's writing from jail for Christ, for I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
They take Stephen's body to the grave. That's what it tells us here in verse 2. Second Corinthians 5, 8, we are confident, yes, well pleased, rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Jesus said, my people don't die. They come to me. And Paul is saying, yeah, the body, you know, I don't care where you bury me.
You do anything with that. I'm done with that tent. I'm with Christ. Jesus said to him, and surely I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise. And so when the Christian dies, heaven, just like that, that transition is instant.
And we believe that by faith, and that faith is built on logic, and reason, and the Spirit of God. So the Spirit and the soul of the believer go to be with Christ at the time of death. The dead are not in an unconscious state. They are aware of what's going on. They are entirely aware. They may leave this world in an unconscious state, but the minute they enter eternity, they are aware of what's going on. They feel it. The soul of an unbeliever does not go to Christ. They, too, are not in an unconscious state.
They are aware of their doom. And death is for real. And that's why we preach the gospel. And if it were not for real, who needs the gospel? If there were no consequences, who needs the good news?
It would all be good news. But these things, they remain, whether a person receives them or not. And it is up to the believer to try to live a life in such a way that we do not damage our opportunities to share Christ. Because who wants to hear from a Christian if that Christian has a reputation of being a liar, or mean-spirited, or petty, or a host of other vices that we are all susceptible to. In verse 3, as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Now Luke is writing about 25, 30 years after the events that we're reading took place, with the benefit of knowing Saul's destiny. So as he writes, he knows Saul might be in the room with him by the time he's writing. Because we know Luke would have spent time with Saul, would go away, would come back, would go away, would get that into the book of Acts with the pronouns changed from they went to, we went to. And we know that he's probably out researching his writings.
In his Gospel of Luke, he tells us that he did extensive research to bring the gospel story to his readers. And so this is significant when you consider that Paul was a Cilician, would have been put, from Cilicia, would have put him with the freed men in that synagogue, hearing Stephen dismantle their religious errors. Then he was at the stoning of Stephen, holding the clothing. He wreaks havoc on the church. When we get to chapter 9, he is still breathing threats of violence against the church.
He's still at it. He's gone mad with this hatred for Christianity. And so he makes havoc of the church because Stephen, again, took apart, leg by leg, Paul's religious arrogance.
And he did it with truth, and he did it with their scripture. Acts chapter 9, verse 13. This is when God sends Ananias to Paul, and he didn't want to go. He says, man, it's bad news. God says to Ananias, I want you to go to Saul. He's on the street called straight. And Ananias was, the street might be straight, but he's not straight. And so he protests to God and answered, Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.
Well, he's talking about the things we're reading about. What a real moment. Here's Ananias doing, who knows what he is doing. He's probably out in the backyard juggling.
That's what we all do when we're out in the backyard. And then, yeah, I know you get that picture of him, right. And then God says, I want you to go and anoint Saul. And he's in dialogue with God. I can see him telling the story to Luke, to telling it to other Christians.
The Lord, I knew it was the Lord. I didn't want to go, so I told him. And the Lord said, nonetheless, go.
And he went. Clear as a bell, Christianity is different from Judaism and irreconcilable. We've moved on.
We've stayed back. Christianity phased Judaism out because the messianic prophecies concerning the Messiah, a great portion of them have been fulfilled, which develops the faith. We retain the moral law. We retain the revelations about God's person. When Abraham says to God, shall not the God of the universe do right, we keep that.
That's true. That's New Testament theology do. God always does right. But we leave behind the husk, the ritual.
The fruit has come out the husk and we put the husk away and we move forward in the strength of the fruit of God's work. God's witness, Stephen, Stephen was God's witness. Saul witnessed that stoning of this Stephen and it haunted him.
It shows up with this rage. Saul is being poked. His conscience is being poked and poked and poked and he is provoked in this. And that's why Jesus will ask him the question, isn't it hard to kick against the goads?
The goads are those things that poke the animal into place. And he's like, entering every house and dragging off men and women committing to prison. This is what the Christians were fleeing. This is what Saul was doing as the chief prosecutor and this is why they were fleeing Jerusalem and going to Judea and Samaria, all the way up to Antioch, just spread all over the place. Paul later admits that he was an anti-Christ.
Some of you can admit that too. You were once against Christ. Galatians chapter one, for you have heard of my former conduct. Yeah, because it was big news in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. Yes, Satan thought he could pull this off because remember, Satan is insane.
You don't reason with him what his works, but so far. He still thinks he can harm God. He tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 and Philippians 3 that he persecuted the church.
He admits it right out. In Acts 22, he says he imprisoned them unto death. Stephen would have been part of those unto the death. In Acts 22, he also tells us that he beat the saints or had them beaten. In Acts 26, he says he compelled them to blaspheme to renounce Christ, to say Jesus is not the Messiah. In Galatians 3, as we just read, he said he persecuted them beyond measure to destroy them and then to Timothy, he writes that he was an ignorant blasphemer. That's a brief overview of the damage he was inflicting in a short period of time.
And God let it run. Anyone who claims that they have committed too much sin to be forgiven should stop such gibberish about God before the throne of God. If men like Moses and David and Saul of Tarsus can be forgiven, then anybody can be forgiven. And it is a cop-out to say, well, I've done so much work.
No, you're just trying to weasel out of something that you know is made available to you. It is a sin to disagree that Christ forgives sins. It is a sin to say no, he does not do it. Romans chapter 7, Paul also writes about himself, his ongoing self. He says, oh wretched man that I am.
Well, John Newton, that's where he would pick up amazing grace. It saved a wretch like me. It's biblical. The world doesn't like this because they're insecure about their sin.
We are too, but in a different way. Oh wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death, I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. That's who delivers from sin. Then he writes in the very next verse, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit. And we see that acted out in the life of Saul. Here he is persecuting the church. He gets saved.
There is now therefore no condemnation on him. A wretch can be saved. Heaven will be filled with one-time wretches who are wretches no more or who are wretched no more. Truly the wretched of the earth are sinners, but God makes a way of escape. Verse 4, therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
You would think that they would be irritated by that. Where's God? I gave my life to Christ and now this is what I get. I'm not preaching this. I'm not going to invite others to suffer with me.
Maybe, maybe God has let you down in your eyes and you're a little angry with him or a lot of angry with him and you're sort of like I'm not serving. I'm not doing this. I'm not reading. I'm not. And you're just sort of you know flying as low as you can beneath the radar of service hoping to get away with it. You're hurting yourself.
You're cutting off your nose to spite your face as the saying goes. This word here for preaching in verse 4 is where we get our English word evangelism. So he's telling the good news. Now Gamaliel had predicted, he said these Christians are going to go the way, if it's not God, they're going to go the way of all these other upstarts. You know, the upstarts died and then the followers were dispersed.
Well, their leader was crucified and risen again. They're persecuted. They are dispersed. They are scattered but they're still serving. The church is scattered but instead of dying out, it will flourish.
Persecution has a way of filtering out those who are not true believers but make believers or those who just give in to the persecution and not to Christ. You've been listening to Cross Reference Radio, the daily radio ministry of Pastor Rick Gaston of Calvary Chapel in Mechanicsville, Virginia. As we mentioned at the beginning of today's broadcast, today's teaching is available free of charge at our website. Simply visit crossreferenceradio.com. That's crossreferenceradio.com. We'd also like to encourage you to subscribe to the Cross Reference Radio podcast. Subscribing ensures that you stay current with all the latest teachings from Pastor Rick. You can subscribe at crossreferenceradio.com or simply search for Cross Reference Radio in your favorite podcast app. Tune in next time as Pastor Rick continues teaching through the book of Acts right here on Cross Reference Radio.
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