- Sermon Notes
Be Effective in Difficult Times
December 4, 2022
We are continuing in Acts where we have seen that seven men were chosen to help with the distribution of food for the widows.
You would think they only needed to be servant-hearted. But these seven were to be men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and filled with wisdom. One of those men was Stephen. Then a certain group of Jews decided to confront Stephen, but they couldn’t cope with his wisdom or the Spirit with which he was speaking. They stirred up a crowd against him who then dragged him before the Sanhedrin.
It is wonderful to realize that God uses everyone in the body, even those who initially thought their only function was to do the practical part of ministry.
Stephen accused them of being stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears; always resisting the Holy Spirit and that they were the betrayers and murderers of the Messiah.
This resulted in him being stoned by the Jewish leaders.
This event touched off a firestorm of persecution against the church. Saul, amongst others, was given authority from the Jewish leaders to go after the church, entering house after house and dragging off men and women to put them in prison.
As a result of this persecution, the church in Jerusalem was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Only the apostles stayed in Jerusalem.
What do we make of all of this? Everything was going so well in the church. They were being well fed from the word of God, they were breaking bread together, enjoying fellowship, they were praying together; everyone kept feeling a sense of awe and many wonders and signs were taking place.
But wait. Were they fulfilling what Jesus wanted them to do? Did God just want the church to be a Jerusalem thing; a large Kibbutz of Christians just hanging out together and enjoying the communal life? No, in Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
This chapter in the book of Acts is about taking the gospel and leading others to Christ. But it’s also about what it means to have authentic faith in responding to the gospel.
In this chapter, we follow the story of Philip, one of the seven men chosen to help in distributing the food. After the persecution, he leaves Jerusalem. With this, God will fulfill His plan through troubled times.
He shares the gospel with two men, one in Samaria and another on the road to Gaza. These two men have very different responses to the gospel, and here we learn about having authentic faith.
I. Be Moved by God
- The church is being turned upside down, their peaceful, worshipful community is being broken apart. But God will use this for His glory.
- But as we have seen, authentic faith trusts God even through trouble. In fact, one of the principles of God’s word is that God often uses trouble to accomplish His purposes in our lives.
- But faith is the key. Many times, when people get into great difficulty, they want to know why these things are happening.
- God does not often give an explanation. But faith trusts God’s heart for you and faith trusts God’s hand to lead you.
A. Know when God is on the move
- When difficulties, persecution, and challenges arise, that’s when you need to watch for what God is doing.
- In fact, it’s times of ease and complacency when the church becomes ineffective.
Illus. – The armed forces keep on training even if it is not wartime to always be ready.
- However, if your faith is shipwrecked and you’re angry with God because you’re going through trouble, then your lack of faith and bitter heart will cause you to miss what God is doing.
- Last week we read about Joseph being betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. Many years later, after God worked through Joseph to become a governor in Egypt and save his entire family from a terrible famine, he said to his brothers…
Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
- Here in the book of Acts, God uses this persecution, this attack against the church to disperse them throughout Judea and Samaria. The gospel will soon begin to spread throughout the cities of the known world.
- Notice in verse 4 that those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. They weren’t discouraged or their faith shipwrecked, they went around telling people great things God had done.
- Philip even went to the Samaritans and shared the gospel. These were people most Jews didn’t like, but he had a heart for nonbelievers. There’s an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
- God is on the move and Philip wants to be moved by God. He has “taken hold of hope.”
Hebrews 6:18-19, “…we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…”
B. Get yourself out of the way
- As Philip is sharing the gospel in Samaria, God was also doing signs through him as unclean spirits were being cast out and the lame were healed.
- But then a man named Simon comes onto the scene. What an interesting story that unfolds next.
- Simon was quite famous in this city. He was astonishing the people with his magic arts. The whole city, from smallest to greatest, was giving attention to him saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.”
- In verse 9 it says that he claimed to be someone great. The problem was that he was a fake. He was most certainly not the Great Power of God.
- God can take someone from any background and transform him and use his life for His glory, but you have to let go of the old things, otherwise, they will still have a grip on you.
2 Corinthians 5:17, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
- Simon made a profession of faith and was even baptized. However, is it possible to believe and yet not be saved?
James 2:19, You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
John 2:23-25, Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men.
- Simon had enough experience in the occult to discern that this was real, but didn’t give his heart over to God, but this is what God is asking for.
Romans 10:10, For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
- The Spirit of God is not manipulated by just saying the right words. The Spirit is not subject to our leading, we are subject to His. We are used of the Spirit based on our relationship with Him and what God knows we can be trusted with.
Deuteronomy 10:12, “What does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
- So here is the problem, when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed to the laying on of hands, he offered them money so he could do the same thing. Today, if someone pays for position or influence, it’s called simony, after this man Simon.
- What’s interesting is that he could have had this for free.
- His heart was that people would praise him and that he could use it to show how great a power he could exert. His heart was not primarily focused on the building up of the people brought by the Spirit.
- He wanted authority over the Spirit, instead of the Spirit using him and having authority over him.
- But Peter said to him, “Your heart is not right before God.” Simon is in the way of God moving in his life. What a great lesson.
- We can be standing in the way of God moving in our lives.
Illus. – There is a principle they teach lifeguards when rescuing drowning people. When people are drowning, they become so anxious, struggle and fight so much, that they can tire the lifeguard trying to save them. So the lifeguard has to wait until they surrender to be saved.
- When we stop kicking against the goads and say, “Your will be done…” God can start to move in His perfect plan.
- Peter told him to repent of this wickedness and pray for forgiveness. But Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves.”
- That’s not going to work either.
II. Let God Move through You
- After these things, they started back to Jerusalem and were preaching the gospel along the way.
- But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
- There were two main roads to Gaza and this was the worst one because it went through the desert.
- Sometimes God can call you to a desert road for a bigger purpose that you cannot see.
- You can either be like Jonah, who resists or like Philip who gladly follows and obeys.
- God is directing his steps and he is just on an adventure, ready to let God move through him.
- I believe that if you are surrendered to God, He will by His Spirit work in you to will and to work according to His will, excited to do what God has called you to do.
- God will not ask you to do anything you don’t want to.
Illus. – When we prayed about it and were convicted by the Holy Spirit to come to America…
- On this road he meets a man from Ethiopia. This man will come to faith, but with a good and honest heart.
- There are no coincidences. God makes divine appointments. You might just ‘happen’ to be at the right place at the right time to speak to the right person about Jesus or impact their life with God’s love. It is the Spirit that makes the appointment, but He chooses to use us to be the Hands and feet of Jesus
Illus. – the other day my wife and I were praying with a couple in church who were going through a rough time with prolonged sickness…
A. Be ready to give an answer
- Philip is being led by the Holy Spirit and comes upon an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. He was in charge of her treasure and had to come to worship.
- The Ethiopian doesn’t know it yet, but he is also being led by the Holy Spirit. He’s sitting in his chariot reading a scroll of Isaiah and just happens to be reading Isaiah 53, probably the most powerful Old Testament chapter that speaks of Jesus Christ.
- The gospel has been taken to the Samaritans and now, through this Ethiopian, the gospel will be taken to Africa and the church will take hold there.
- When the Ethiopian has a question, Philip is ready.
1 Peter 3:15, Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
B. Believe with all your heart
- From verse 35 we get the idea that Philip taught him many things in the Scriptures. No doubt because he himself had been taught well by the disciples in Jerusalem.
- As they were going along the road they came to some water and the eunuch said, “What prevents me from being baptized?”
- Philip answered, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
- This is what God desires, He wants us to believe with all our heart, to love Him, and to trust Him with all our lives. That’s what he also said to the Ethiopian eunuch in Jeremiah 39…
Jeremiah 39:17-18, “I will deliver you on that day,” declares the Lord, “I will certainly rescue you… because you have trusted in Me.”
- After they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God transported Phillip 30 miles away. Can you imagine the scene? This man who was just baptized came up out of the water and immediately the man who baptized him was gone!
- This was a miracle, a confirmation that that which he has just heard proclaimed to him was true. He also had the evidence that he was not daydreaming because he was still wet and standing in the water.
- Many suggest that it was this encounter that resulted in the spreading of the gospel and the birth of the church in Ethiopia. It had great impact on the future.
- Two things were necessary: a man who was obedient, and a heart that was ready to receive.
- God can and wants to move through your life. Are you willing and available to God?
Acts 8:1-40 NASB
1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.
And on that day a great persecution [a]began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about [b]preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming [c]Christ to them. 6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the [d]signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was much rejoicing in that city.
9 Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” 11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.
14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized [e]in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or portion in this [f]matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the [g]bondage of iniquity.” 24 But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
25 So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” ([h]This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his [i]chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this [j]chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
“He was led as a sheep to slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 “In humiliation His judgment was taken away;
Who will [k]relate His [l]generation?
For His life is removed from the earth.”
34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [[m]And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered the [n]chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, [o]but went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip [p]found himself at [q]Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.