Sunday, April 23, 2017, 8:00 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “He Lifted Our Burdens.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 8:1-13 (NIV).
Saul Approved (v. 1a)
And Saul approved of their killing him.
When Stephen was persecuted, and then killed for his faith in Jesus Christ, Saul (later called Paul) was standing there giving approval to his death. Yet, Saul was a Pharisee, a leader in the temple, and a follower of God, or at least he thought he was following God, and that what he was doing was right. Yet, he was deceived until Jesus opened his blinded eyes and turned him from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that he might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (Act. 26:16-18).
Satan is deceiving many minds of people today, too, and convincing them that evil is good and that good is evil. He is convincing them that Jesus Christ died merely to take away their punishment for sin and to give them the hope of heaven when they die, but that nothing at all is required of them – no death to sin, no repentance, no obedience to Christ and to his Word, and no submission to Christ as Lord (owner-master) of our lives. He is convincing them that once we are saved that God doesn’t even see our present sins anymore, but that all he even sees is Christ’s righteousness. Truly, if we have trusted in Jesus Christ with God-given faith, Christ’s righteousness has been credited to our accounts, but if God no longer sees us sinning, then he is not all seeing and all knowing, and that makes liars out of the NT apostles who repeatedly remind the believers to stop sinning against Jesus and to obey their Lord who saved them from bondage to sin.
Satan is also deceiving many minds of people by convincing them that if anyone is teaching repentance (turning from sin to God), obedience to Christ, death to sin and living to righteousness, as required for our eternal security, then they are liars and deceivers because, according to them, we are teaching works-based salvation. Yet, if this is what we are teaching, then we are teaching what Jesus taught and what his NT apostles taught, so did they teach works-based salvation? No! They didn’t. So, then, neither are we. We are teaching the truth of the gospel, and Satan doesn’t like it, and so he is accusing us in order to discredit us and the full gospel message (the whole counsel of God) so that he may lead people to believe that they can remain in slavery to sin, and still have their hope of heaven. But, that is wrong.
[See: Lu. 9:23-25; Jn. 6:35-66; Ro. 6:1-23; Ro. 8:1-14; 2 Co. 5:15, 21; Eph. 4:17-24; Gal. 2:20; Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 2:24-25; & 1 Jn. 1:5-9.]
Great Persecution (vv. 1b-3)
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
This is happening today, and at the hands of many who call themselves Christians or ministers of the gospel or leaders within the church. Men who are clever enchanters have convinced many of these church leaders that certain individuals with “strong convictions” are to be discarded while they are to encourage the world to participate with them in their gatherings. They have been convinced, of men, that they are to dilute the gospel message of salvation and to ignore the bulk of teaching in the New Testament concerning our eternal life with God and what constitutes the kind of faith which saves us, and to, instead, use only a few select scriptures which say what they want to believe, because they take them out of context.
So, if anyone does teach what Jesus and what his NT apostles taught regarding our salvation, sin, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life, they are being targeted for expulsion, church discipline, rebuke, censure, rejection and persecution in many “Christian” circles, including within many of today’s institutional churches, which are following the gospel according to men. And, in countries outside the USA, many are even being put in prison, tortured or are being put to death for their testimonies for Jesus Christ and for his gospel, and because they stand on the word of truth and do not compromise with the world. And, this is coming to America, too, because God’s word teaches us that this is what we can expect if we are following our Lord.
The Word Preached (vv. 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 signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
Persecution, though, is not to be thought of as a bad thing, for it often produces revival in the church and many people coming to Christ. As well, when people are persecuted for their faith they tend to get more serious about God and about getting the gospel of Jesus Christ out to a world dying in their sins. Pain is a great motivator, in other words. Without divine discipline we may have the tendency to become complacent and lazy about our spiritual walks, or to get distracted by the things of this world so that we don’t follow our Lord in obedience nor take his word seriously and to heart.
Changed Lives (vv. 9-13)
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.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 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. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
Because the church was persecuted, too, the people were scattered, and what that meant was the gospel spread even further, so that more people heard the message of salvation from sin and trusted in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of their lives.
I believe one of the reasons the vast majority of Christians in America are not busy sharing Christ with people is because we have too much comfort here. Many American Christians are far too easily distracted by the offerings of this world, too, and will spend hours upon hours per day entertaining themselves while they spend minimal time in the Word and in prayer, if at all. Too many are worshipers of TV and the internet, too, and allow them to be their gods instead of God. They give much more time and attention to their smart phones and to their electronic devices than they do to hearing God’s voice speaking to their hearts and then obeying what he shows them.
So, some Christian persecution in America would be a good thing, because it would mean that people will have to come out of their comfort zones and they will have to make a choice as to whom they will serve – the flesh and the devil or God and his Spirit. There will be no more room for middle ground or for riding the fence. Either they will have to commit their lives to Jesus Christ and to following him in obedience and in surrender to his will, or they will reject and deny Jesus as their Lord, and thus take the mark of the beast on their lives. But, when this happens, I believe we will see in the world, and in America, Christians being revived, the gospel being preached far and wide, and many people coming to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord (owner-master), and as their Savior.
He Lifted Our Burdens / An Original Work / February 15, 2014
Based off Isaiah 9:2-7
People walk in darkness.
They abide in their sin.
It has power o’er them.
True belief escapes them.
Jesus Christ came to save them.
He gave His life up for them;
Crucified; died for our sin,
So we might be forgiven,
And have life up in heaven.
Many come to know Him.
God’s love now o’erflows them.
They rejoice in vict’ry.
Their sin is but hist’ry.
We were once bound in slav’ry.
Jesus lifted our burdens;
Set us now free from Satan,
So we now walk in freedom.
Sin has no more dominion.
Praise be to our Savior!
He showed us His favor.
He took all our burdens;
Cast them all upon Him.
He is our mediator;
The Light which shines in darkness.
Counselor in our troubles;
He gives peace now in our hearts;
Joy which is everlasting.