A Church on a Mission: A Desert Full of Life

by | Jan 22, 2023 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor David Ball

Scripture: Acts 8:26-40

We all face times or seasons of our lives that seem and feel completely desolate.  In these times all hope can feel lost and that we are all alone without purpose and meaning in life.  Our reading today is a gospel message of hope and life, that the God of the universe entered into our desolation and has given us a hope and a future no matter what life might throw at us. 

Transcript

Father we thank you for these ancient words thank you for the hope of the Gospel that you have given to us you come now by the power of your holy spirit will you open our hearts and Minds that we may receive your message for us today in Jesus we pray this in your mighty name amen you may be seated thank you so when I call this out just a few minutes ago that wasn’t you that was for me as well because yes I stayed up and uh and watched the the game as well what a what an amazing game that was um but uh so if I start to lose my voice you’ll you’ll understand why this morning uh while I wasn’t able to to scream out loud in the house because everyone else had gone to sleep I was screaming in here um uh and I didn’t have a heart attack so I guess I’m okay for a while um you know this morning in Acts chapter 8 we find ourselves in a in a major transition in the early church Chuck preached the last two sermons in our acts series on uh the last part of Acts six and then Acts chapter seven all about Stephen uh one of those seven deacons who had been chosen uh by the apostles to oversee the distribution of food to the widows and to those who were in need in the church and the Jews as we learned over the past few weeks had accused Stephen of rejecting the law of God or at least not taking it seriously enough uh belittling the importance of the worship of the temple and not valuing religious Traditions their religious Traditions enough and Stephen then uh in Acts 7 preached a beautiful and convicting sermon proclaiming the truth of the of the gospel and the supremacy of Christ and ultimately Stephen was stoned to death for what they considered his blasphemy uh but then we got the amazing and the joyful vision of Jesus standing at the right side of God for Stephen assuring him that he was indeed in control of all things and that this was far from the end in fact it was just the beginning Jesus was about to take this this heartbreaking and this tragedy and do something so radical that would change the world forever

and the transition from acts 7 to Acts chapter 8 is all about this this major movement of God that was born out of the devastation that happened to Peter I mean to uh to happen to Stephen I don’t know about you but I have this tendency uh to get comfortable uh and set in my ways uh any of you get comfortable with how what you’re doing and how you’re doing it uh you know it’s like Christmas you know I know that after Christmas and New Year I need to get in better shape I need to start paying closer attention to my health but uh even though I know that I should uh it doesn’t necessarily motivate me to do it uh you know can any of you relate to that uh usually it usually it takes some kind of event right to kind of Jar you or to at least for me to jar me out of my comfortable and happy existence so that I will uh uh really take action and make some changes in my life you know maybe it’s uh stepping on the scale and being a bit horrified uh maybe it’s just feeling tired or sluggish and this you hit that moment where you’re like you know I’m tired of feeling that way or maybe it’s a visit to the doctor right and getting the uh the blood work back and realizing that uh oh uh something’s got to be done those events are are all while they’re all unwanted unwanted they have this ability to kind of shake us up and in the shaking us up they they motivate us to make changes and get on with the stuff that we know that we should be doing out of the comfort of what we know and like into the hard and difficult process of change that really needs to happen in our lives in a sense that’s exactly what happened in Acts chapter 8. God’s people had gotten comfortable they were experienced success from through the day of Pentecost and the preaching and the temple the church is growing and at a crazy rate uh the numbers of those who are being saved was increasing daily yes they had experienced some pushback from the Jewish authorities uh the Sanhedrin at the temple but God had delivered them God had spared their lives through that there was comfort in their surroundings there in Jerusalem Jerusalem they were they were ministering on their own home field that’s what was happening they had the home field advantage kind of like the Jags last night uh and and it matters they knew Jerusalem they knew it well uh they knew the religious system they were talking and preaching to their own people uh who looked like them who talked like them who who thought like them they understood them it was comfortable and they were having success there wasn’t any reason to to change anything there was no reason to step out of that comfort zone they they had a good thing going on never mind what Jesus had told them way back in Acts chapter 1. when we began this series you read it before his Ascension Jesus said to them you will be my Witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth things were good in Jerusalem though they were comfortable they were experiencing success there was no reason to step out of that comfort and risk their lives and all that they knew all that they were familiar with just because Jesus had told them that they were supposed to do it that was until now until now the stoning of Stephen changed everything Jesus used this tragic this heartbreaking event to push his followers out of their comfort zone out of the the confines of their successful and their familiar lives and their in ministries and that’s what we learn about in Acts chapter 8 today but before we get too far into that in verse 1 we’re told this and Saul approved of Stephen’s execution in Acts 7 we were introduced to Saul uh Chuck at least uh talked about that for just a moment how the witnesses of Stephen stoning had laid down their garments at the feet of the young man named Saul we were told and now Luke tells us about Saul again that he approved of Stephen’s execution Saul’s approval meant that he was in Hardy agreement with what was going on meaning he believed that Stephen’s execution was good and that it was right it was justified it was the righteous thing to do before God and in accordance and loyalty to the law of Moses and to the prophets this is what had to be done you know we don’t have time to go into more detail about that now but keep it in your minds because it’s incredibly important as we continue to move forward in the book of Acts uh and the the rest of Acts and the rally the rest of the New Testament what happens there and what we’re told about Saul uh it impacts it all but for day for today let’s move on into verse one this is where we’re told and there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria except the apostles so that same day that same day that Stephen was killed that same day that he that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God persecution broke out against the church in Mass the crowd of Jews weren’t just satisfied with Stephen’s death a fervor of violence against all the followers of Christ in Jerusalem it broke out just how great was the the persecution well we don’t know exactly but I think we get some some real indicators here of how great it was uh we do know that it was it was so great that it caused all of the Disciples of Jesus not just some or a good number it caused all except the twelve uh to flee from Jerusalem and into the regions of Judea and Samaria now keep in mind if we track the the number of followers of Jesus at this point the number of disciples we are around 8 000 people all scattering out of Jerusalem on the same day for some perspective uh you know the average population at that time of of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus was about 25 000 people can you imagine a fourth of the population of Jerusalem all fleeing out of the city at one time this means that this wasn’t just some evacuation uh this wasn’t something that happened in secret uh this was something that was very public that was very obvious to all who were there in Jerusalem uh you know this is a little bit speculation but I think it’s reasonable therefore to believe that they were told the disciples were probably told to leave or to face death or punishment of some kind uh because Saul was that day we are told in verse 3 ravaging the church and entering house after house he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison now Saul in all of his Zeal and his righteousness probably created if you think about it he probably created a real problem for the Jewish authorities and for the Romans as well by the way uh as much as he also uh came up with the solution right he came up with a solution to the sanhedrin’s issue and problem with these troublemakers uh how are you going to imprison 8 000 people they certainly didn’t have the system or the infrastructure to be able to to house that kind of a prison population so casting him out of the city would have really been the only option making them leave and the Jews of Jerusalem were content to see them go and you know that the Jewish authorities were thrilled to see them uh make their leave and their troubles go away and they probably thought in the process good riddance finally we can get back to normal and this will be the end of this virus that’s entered into our church but I think we all know that’s not the way it happened not by a long shot Jesus stand was standing for Steve and he was assuring him that he was in control and that his death would not be the end that it would be just the beginning God’s people Jesus’s disciples had gotten comfortable in their success but Jesus’s plan was for them to be his witness in Jerusalem but not just Jerusalem and the region of Samaria and Judea into the very ends of the Earth and they needed to get jolted out of their comfort zone and the death of Stephen was not the death blow to Christianity that Saul and the Jewish religious leaders hoped that it would be it was the beginning it was the beginning of the transformation of the world see Stephen’s death had caused persecution and that cause that persecution it caused all but the apostles to be scattered and as verse 4 tells us this dispersion or this scattering of all the Disciples of over 8 000 disciples into the regions of Judea and Samaria it caused the gospel to be preached everywhere they went

death led to persecution persecution led to scattering and the scattering led to an increased and fruitful Ministry for the gospel you know Tim Keller and his commentary on this road uh those who wanted to Stamp Out the church only served to spread it tremendously

I think if we think about this a little bit the most dangerous impediment to the spread of the Gospel is maybe not what we think I think we tend to think that the the mo the the most dangerous impediment to the spread of the Gospel is the opposition that we Face from the rest of the world but the greatest impediment that we face to the spread of the Gospel is the comfort and the success of Jesus disciples a lot of times criticism of the church uh not reaching the laws is placed on I think the pastors and the leaders of the church and that criticism is often Justified there’s far too often uh I think pastors and ministers or probably get way too consumed with the organization and running it well and all the things that needed to be happen and become completely blind and forget the real Gospel Mission of reaching the lost but notice how it was not the apostles who went out into the world proclaiming the gospel they stayed behind in Jerusalem it was the disciples it was all those lay people who had received the gospel who did the gospel proclamation in the world the apostles had their job they stayed behind they had their job and were told earlier their job was praying proclaiming and leading the church but the real evangelism that happened it happened by Regular People

people who’d been transformed men and women who had been trained so transformed by the power of the Gospel that they shared the hope that they had found in Jesus with all those that they encountered as they were scattered and there’s good reason that for that you know before I was ordained uh as a pastor as a priest in the Anglican Church uh my Evangelistic efforts were far more fruitful I had so many meaningful and impactful conversations and relationships with people where I could really talk about Jesus and and we could hear it and there was an honest Exchange but once I got ordained things began to change and it didn’t take very long for me to notice uh I’ve kept trying to have meaningful conversations with folks that I meet uh conversations with folks about Jesus uh but once they find out that I’m a pastor

they shut down and far more often almost all the time that they shut me out they don’t think that I can relate to them anymore there’s a disconnect they feel or maybe it’s because they’ve had just too many bad associations with abusive or greedy pastors or self-righteous Pastors in their past I don’t know but hear what we see in Acts is that it was it was regular unseminary educated lay people who had been transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ who spread the good news to the Roman world people who shared with lost people the way that Jesus had transformed their lives by his grace and they did this to the such an extent by the way that in 300 years enough people had been reached in the in the Roman Empire that the Roman Emperor himself became a follower of Christ and the whole empire was transformed you know it’s the multiplication principle that Jesus began Jesus called the twelve he led them he taught them he loved them and the twelve then began their Ministry and they reached over 8 000 and then the 8 000 got scattered by persecution and they began to reach tens and hundreds of thousands it’s the clergy’s call to preach the word and to lead the faithful and prayer and to equip the Saints and to support the Disciples of Christ to share the gospel in their lives with their friends and their families and all those that they encounter for those who are grieving over the state of our culture this is how real transformation happens this is the way that our culture will be won for Christ it’ll be done the same way that Jesus did it the same way the early church did it but it will not happen simply by complaining or bemoaning the state of our culture in the world it will only happen when the body of Believers Catch Fire of transformed Hearts from Jesus and begin sharing their own stories of transformation and hope with others Breaking Free of the comfort of our own successful lives but let me be clear about this yelling truth that people isn’t going to transform the world or any individual lives social media I think has proved that to be true uh very rarely uh almost never has anyone ever convinced of the error of their opinions or their beliefs by argument and debate and yelling at them the only way it happens and when when is when people have come to know that they are sinners and they’ve been saved by grace the free gift of God through his son Jesus Christ when they begin humbly and graciously sharing that same message with those around them not only sharing the message of the Gospel with words but accompanying those words with Deeds acts of service of loving kindness and generosity and I promise you this isn’t just my idea this is what we see happening in verses four through eight but before I think we can even look at these verses uh we have to understand the incredibly deep conflict that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans the Jews hated the Samaritans it went all the way back to the monarchy in Israel Civil War that had broken out after Solomon’s Reign and then it got worse as Assyria conquered the northern region of Israel and exiled the majority of those Jews they exiled them and the Assyrians then sent their own Gentiles into the region to try to populate it and those that they sent to try to populate it they intermarried with those Jews who were left

and this was an Abomination to the Jews who were in Jerusalem in Judea it was an Abomination Samaritans were considered therefore Mongols half-breeds unpure and to make matters even worse the Samaritans rejected Jerusalem as the temple as the intended place of worship by Moses shoot we just read about Stephen Stephen was stoned for that the Samaritans believed that mount gerizim in their region was a place that Moses had really intended for worship not Jerusalem the Samaritans believed that they were the true followers of Moses they rejected the writings of the prophets and they saw Moses as the only one true Prophet they were Always In conflict with the Jews going all the way back to even in Ezra and Nehemiah the Samaritans were actively working against the Jews who were trying to rebuild the Temple to the Jews the Samaritans were everything that was wrong with their country and with their area and with their uh with their pure religion they distorted and they mocked the truth of God the Jews hated the Samaritans more than they even hated the the Greeks and the Romans or any other pagans and that’s why it’s so shocking that Philip one of the seven deacons who had been selected along with Stephen uh when when he fled Jerusalem because of this persecution that he went to Samaria he went to Samaria and there he proclaimed with him the Gospel of Jesus Christ that was the last place that you would expect him to go Judea yes at least Judea was filled with with faithful and true and pure Jews they were his people but no Philip went to the Samaritans those people who were destroying their country those people who destroyed it distorted the truth of God when the people there heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Philip and they also saw the Deeds of healing that Philip did the casting out of evil spirits and the healing of those who were told who were paralyzed and lame the Samaritans were told were filled with joy which just means that they received the word they received the Gospel of Jesus their hearts were transformed the message of Jesus accompanied by the healing of the Gospel that transformed the people of Samaria Prince you know we we may or may not experience the healing work of the Gospel in the same way that Philip did God does that kind of work for his glory when he sees fit but we all can be a people to bring heal at the healing power of the Gospel into people’s lives by the way we care for the sick and those who are suffering having compassion on those who are alone or weak when that kind of compassion accompanies the message of the Gospel that we share it’s the most powerful force for transformation in the world especially when it’s with people that we vehemently disagree with about truth and politics and religion

but I want to close with this why would Philip have gone to the most hated group of people that he knew

why would he have cared enough for these half-breeds and Heretics to share with them the gospel and then have such compassion on them to bring the healing of the Gospel to them they were everything that was wrong with the world after all

I believe it was for the same reason why Paul who when he was stoned and lystra dragged out of the city left for dead when he came to he went right back in there to proclaim the gospel to them it’s the same thing that caused Army Corporal Jacob De Chaser to go to Japan as a missionary even though he had been a prisoner of war tortured abused during World War II see Philip went to them because the Gospel of Jesus Christ had so transformed his life and the way that he thought about the world that he no longer saw them as enemies and the scourge of humanity but rather he saw them as people who were lost he saw them as people who were in desperate need of the Gospel just as much as he was see because of the Gospel Philip no longer felt superior to the Samaritans or to anyone he no longer wanted them to see them destroyed so that Israel could be great again because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ Philip had come to understand four things about people number one everyone is hopeless apart from the gospel number two everyone is lost and evil apart from the gospel number three there therefore no one is any more lost or evil than anyone else and finally number four anyone can be saved and changed and incorporated into the family of God Phillips understanding the world was transformed because he was abundantly aware of his own Brokenness he knew that he was completely and totally lost without Jesus

Prince the gospel is deeply convicting in this way deeply convicting at least it is for me you know I get frustrated with people I get offended by the blasphemy that I see and the culture and the things I hear people say that I know are wrong and it makes me angry inside and it’s everything the the in me that just wants to write them off and just wants to label them is they’re the problem with this world they’re the problem

it won’t let me do that the gospel won’t let us do that as Jesus told us in Luke 5 The Gospel reading we heard just a moment ago I have come not to call the righteous but to call Sinners to repentance which means that the problem of the world it isn’t just those other people the problem of the world is me the problem in the world is us the only answer for you and for me and for everyone is the gracious love of God and his son Jesus Christ that God so loved the world that he came into this world to save us

May the Holy Spirit so convict our hearts and light a fire for the gospel that we too like Philip will reach those

who we see as enemies

let us pray

Heavenly Father

forgive us

forgive us for not seeing the world the way that you see it

forgive us for thinking that other people are the problem and that we aren’t

forgive us for our own self-righteous Pride

Jesus you didn’t come to save The Righteous you came to save sinners

to bring us to repentance

Holy Spirit Will you so move and break our hearts that we would see our own sin

that we would see our own failures now we failed to love you and to love our neighbor

we fall short of your glory will you help us to see it so that we can know the fullness of the power of the Gospel the hope that we have not in what we have done but then what you have done for us and the way that you love us and that you’ve called us to yourself by grace and not by works to break our hearts that our hearts should be broken for the world that we would not stand in judgment but would seek

with compassion and kindness the salvation of those who are so desperately lost around us and Jesus we pray this in your mighty name amen

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