SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE
By Dave Van Bebber
Buffalo, Missouri, U.S.A.
November 6, 2016
Sermon text: Acts 8:4-8
Sermon’s specific purpose: To encourage the church to take the Gospel with them no matter wherever they find themselves.
Sermon theme: Responding the persecution does not look the same for everyone.
Sermon classification: Narrative
Sermon structure: Narrative; I have selected a narrative structure. I feel the text works as a story and is in fact a micro-narrative in Acts.
Sources consulted: I have consulted Teaching Acts: Unlocking the book of Acts for the Bible Teacher by David Cook, Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament by Gregory Beale and D. A. Carson, The Message of Acts by John R. W. Stott, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of the Holy Scripture by John B. Polhill, Acts for Everyone part 1 by N. T. Wright, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary of Acts 1-12 by John MacArthur
In 1519, explorer Hernan Cortes from Spain landed his fleet of 11 ships in what is now Veracruz, Mexico. Cortes had been sent to seize the treasure of the Aztecs; it was a feat that had been seen as nearly impossible to accomplish. So with his 500 soldiers and 100 sailors, Cortez unloaded on the beach and proceeded to sink all but one of his ships. Legend says he burned the ships, but that is not a verifiable aspect of the story. But I don’t think it really mattered whether he burned, sunk, or blew up the ships of his 600 soldiers. It didn’t take long for the 600 or so men to realize that they were now returning home in a different way than they arrived. Supposedly, Cortes told his men, “If we are going home, we are going home on their ships.”
I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like some extremely poor planning on the part of Cortes. To be honest, I don’t know if Cortes was crazy or brilliant, but he succeeded. Cortes and his 600 men did something that had not been accomplished in 600 years: they took over Mexico. Did Cortes have some long drawn out plan? No. Cortes had one plan. He was going to succeed.
A few years ago President George W. Bush landed a fighter jet on the Battle Ship USS Abraham Lincoln. The ship flew the banner “Mission Accomplished.” I am sure many of you remember that. If you don’t remember this action, it became a very ironic picture. The US ground forces had pulverized the Iraqi forces in a matter of days. We had about 150,000 troops on the ground, but we had no real plan for how to get them home. Many accused Bush of having no exit strategy.
So there you have it: two cases where “No exit strategy” worked in vastly different ways. In one case it brought about success and in another, failure. But does this plan work in the world of Spiritual Warfare? Let’s go to God’s word and see why people in Acts 8 were “Thanking the Lord”.
4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. 6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the 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.
As a reminder of context, Stephen has just been stoned by a group of high level Jewish leaders. A young man by the name of Saul watched this stoning of Stephen take place all the while he was offering up fist pumps and high-fives to the men who carried out the evil task.
It is a little odd how Luke splits up Acts 8:1-3. Luke seems to break-up the fact that great persecution started against the church that day and that Saul went door to door “ravaging the church” by noting that Stephen was buried by devout men.
We find that the church has been ravaged has scattered and all the while they are burying their dead. It is interesting that the word there that the NASB translates “ravaged” is frequently used in the Septuagint when an animal like a lion or a “wild beast [was] . . . tearing raw flesh.” In other words Saul attacked the church with vigor and tenacity. He really hated this Jesus thing. I love that Luke makes effort to convey the utter depravity and flat out hate Saul had for the church. Paul, as we know Saul would come to be known, owned and repudiated that dreadful past. Paul did not celebrate how bad he had been to act like it was cool. This picture in verse 3 shows the deplorable man Paul was.
It is interesting too that not everyone took to this notion of standing and speaking as Stephen did. What do I mean by that? So Stephen was seized and he proclaimed boldly and that brought about his death. Then there were people who were persecuted and they ran. In military terms, they popped smoke and got out of Dodge.
We find even in the life of Polycarp that he ran from those who were chasing him up until he was about 86 years old. In other words, there is not this stand and preach mentality in everyone. It is more like a run and “go preach” where you land mentality. And praise God for that. In other words, not every Christian responds to persecution in the same way.
Allow me to call your attention back to the overall narrative we see going on here in Acts. In his resources Teaching Acts, David Cook observes, “Luke has been careful to give us a numerical record of the gospel’s growth; three thousand in Acts 2:41, five thousand in 4:4, a rapid increase in numbers in 6:7, [and now] crowds listening to Philip in 8:6. . . . Luke turns the spotlight to just one man." 
In my favorite sitcom The Office, the manager of the fictional paper company is notorious for numerous outlandish lines. My wife always gets on to me for quoting a few of Michel Scott’s notorious one-liners. But in one episode he quips one of my actual life mottos. He says, “Sometimes the smartest people don’t think at all.”
I’m sure many of you right now are thinking, “Dave, that is completely stupid.” But I want you to see something that I see right here in Acts 8. Philip just ran for his life. Why did he run for his life? He ran for his life because he was proclaiming the message of Christ.
Remember that Philip is one of the men who was elected in Acts 6 to be a table server. He outgrew that role. Like Stephen, he couldn’t shut up; he had to emulate the calling of John and Peter in Acts 4:20: “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” And he had to live out the answer to the prayer of the church in Acts 4:29: “Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence.”
Philip didn’t have to think. You see, the smartest Christians don’t have to think at all because when we are lead by the Holy Spirit we should be responding with a Kingdom focus. What do I mean? Philip, just like a lot of other Hellenistic or Greek speaking Jews, left Jerusalem because he submitted to the Kingdom call and he found himself in Samaria. And what do we find that those persecuted, fleeing for their lives, did? We don’t see them planning some big mission movement; we see them going about the Lord’s work just like they have been doing all along. And how did they get there?
If Luke tells us anything about Philip it is that he was not a man with a five year plan. He was a man with an eternity plan. Look at how Luke describes Philip in Acts 8:29. Then look at Acts 8:39-40. I love these two examples. John Stott in his commentary The Message of Acts writes, “Effective evangelism becomes possible only when the church recovers both the biblical gospel and a joyful confidence in its truth, relevance and power.”
You know what I love about the early church? Wherever they found themselves they found their mission field. How do you see your work place? How do you see your neighborhood? I loved Monday night here at FBC Buffalo. 1,400 people heard the gospel. I have been pastor at FBC Buffalo for just over a year and because of people in this church and their willingness to let God lead, we have proclaimed the gospel to over 3,000 folks that are not a part of this church. People like Leota Dull making sure folks at our conference were fed, people like Janice Bramwell jumping into action to feed the football team. People like Victor jumping up help out with the nursing home ministry.
When the church is the church, you don’t have any time to ask questions. You do. I could go on and talk about Angie Rash helping with the football team dinners, or Jessie and Becky jumping in on the children’s ministry. Paula just jumping again and again to serve, Buster putting up signs for the church, the incredible ministry our Trustee’s have done with our facilities the last year, the Long Range Planning Committee. The list goes on.
And what do we see in the early church? We see folks going and serving. We see folks not thinking about how they are responding but submitting to the Lord and going.
In 2005 researcher and author Malcolm Gladwell authored a book titled Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The primary subject of the book is a process called “think-slicing.” It is the ability of a person to make a snap decision with a very limited body of information. This is what is crazy about the research; many times an individual with this limited knowledge can make better decision in this narrow response time.
The book, Blink, offers example after example of intuitive decisions that did not need in-depth analysis because the people making the decisions could rely on past experience. In other words, people in certain situations don’t need to sit out and plan their next move.
That is where Philip and the early persecuted church find themselves. How did they get from a group of 120 who huddled scared in a room to a powerful force? That is what they are. Look at Acts 8:6-7.
How did the church become that? Did the church have an exit strategy? Did the church plot their course? Well, in a way.
Let me offer some take-a-ways and some encouragement.
Between chapter 1 and 8 of Acts there are at least 10 references to the church praying, fellowshipping, and dedicating themselves to the apostles' teachings. This is over a period of 50 days or so.
FBC, I love that we are a praying church. I love that we are a fellowshipping church. I love that we are not afraid to dig deep. I mean what other church around is working through both Systematic Theology and Reformation history? I don’t know a church with the exception of FBC Buffalo.
In Acts, they were raising up leaders. FBC has just hired a Youth Director, we have voted to call three men to be yoke fellows. Acts was a praying church. Friends, if you haven’t been to an FBC Wednesday night prayer meeting you are missing out. I love it the last two weeks we have had: Norma leading a group, Sarah leading a group, Sharon leading a group, Val leading a group, and Marlin leading a group. If you have not made it to a Wednesday night prayer meeting I want to encourage to give it a try.
But there is a key verse here that I don’t want us to miss. Verse 8: “So there was much rejoicing in that city.” One man listening to the Holy Spirit moved by forces beyond his control went to a city where he did not want to be and he proclaimed with hope.
I’m excited about this “Thank you Jesus Campaign” that the Buffalo Ministerial Alliance is putting on. It is great to see all of the signs in the yards all over Buffalo. I have all kinds of things to thank the Lord for. But there is nothing we can be more thankful for than our Salvation.
In the book of Romans, that same guy who stood at the feet of the men who murdered the messenger of the Lord, Stephen, would write, “How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!'” The man who wrote that was named Saul. The Lord changed that man to a Paul. Saul had no exit strategy for his life of sin, but God did.
In one of the initial scenes of the famous film Forrest Gump, Forrest is sitting on a park bench and he turns to the lady next to him and says, “Those must be comfortable shoes, I bet you could walk all day in shoes like those and not feel a thing. . . . My mama always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they going, where they been. . . . I’ve worn lost of shoes.”
“HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!"
Where are your shoes taking you? Where are you headed? Who are you bringing the Good News to?
“There was much rejoicing in that city.”
Some shoes are running shoes, others are walking shoes, some shoes are cement shoes. I’m thanking the Lord because it does not matter if I am burning ships or landing on ships. It does not matter if I've got an exit strategy or not. What matters is if I am listening to the Lord. What matters is that I am taking the gospel with me.
Are you listening? Are you going? I know you are sent.
Cook, David. Teaching Acts: Unlocking the book of Acts for the Bible Teacher, London, England: Proclamation Trust Media, 2007.
Forrest Gump. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Paramount Pictures, 1994. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2006.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
The History Channel. “George W. Bush Declares Mission Accomplished.” History Channel. Online video clip. http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/george-w-bush/videos/george-w-bush-declares-mission-accomplished. [Accessed 6 November 2016].
________, “Hernan Cortes.” History Channel. Online video clip. http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/hernan-cortes/videos/hernan-cortes-fast-facts. [Accessed 6 November 2016].
The Office. Season 6, episode 3, “The Promotion.” Directed by Jennifer Celotta. Aired October 1, 2009, on NBC.
Polhill, John B. The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of the Holy Scripture, v. 26. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1992.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of Acts: The Bible Speaks Today, Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990.
The History Channel, “Hernan Cortes” History Channel. Online video clip, http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/hernan-cortes/videos/hernan-cortes-fast-facts. (accessed 6 November 2016).
The History Channel, “George W. Bush Declares Mission Accomplished” History Channel. Online video clip, http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/george-w-bush/videos/george-w-bush-declares-mission-accomplished. (accessed 6 November 2016).
All Scripture is taken from the New American Standard Bible, (The Lockman Foundation, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995).
John B. Polhill, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of the Holy Scripture, v. 26. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1992), p. 212.
David Cook, Teaching Acts: Unlocking the book of Acts for the Bible Teacher (London, England: Proclamation Trust Media, 2007), p. 145.
The Office, season 6, episode 3, “The Promotion,” directed by Jennifer Celotta, aired October 1, 2009, onNBC, accessed November 6, 2016, http://officequotes.net/no6-03.php.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), p. 144.
Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2005).
Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis (Paramount Pictures, 1994), DVD (Sony Pictures, 2006).