The Persecution and Prosperity of the Church
Following the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus Christ, the Spirit-filled church preached the Gospel starting at Jerusalem (Acts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) . As Jesus promised his disciples (now the apostles), the church would spread out from Jerusalem and proceed to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). It was the death of Stephen by stoning that scattered the church from Zion and into the regions surrounding the city (Acts 7–8).
Luke, the writer of Acts and confidant of the Apostle Paul, introduces Saul at the event of Stephen’s preaching to the Sanhedrin. Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul (Acts 9) is a key figure in the persecution of the church at this time (Acts 8:1–3). The ravelment he produced drove the believers in Jesus from the city.
The people of the Way were being accosted in their homes, arrested, and being put in prison. The irony of this persecution by the Jewish authorities (Saul worked as a sort of enforcer for the Sanhedrin) is that every where the converted Jews went, they were preaching the Word (Acts 8:4). Persecution purifies the church of pretend believers. These people do not value Christ in a way that they would suffer for His Name’s sake. They simply fall away from the community of faith.
Luke introduces us to Philip, one of Jesus’ apostles, and his work in the surrounding region. First, we find him in Samaria. This is noteworthy. We remember that Jews and Samaritans have no dealings with one another. The Samaritans were half-breeds. They were the product of the diaspora of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, when the Assyrians conquered them in the late 8th century B.C. After the Jews of the northern tribes had intermarried with the pagan Gentiles, some of them returned to Samaria. For hundreds of years, the Jews and Samaritans were unhappy neighbors with one another.
It was customary for the Jews to avoid travel through Samaria, which made the trek quite arduous. One either descended to the coastal plain (toward Joppa), or he descended to the Jordan Rift Valley (toward Jericho) in order to travel north from Jerusalem into Galilee or the Jezreel Valley. Jesus went through Samaria, on one occasion, recorded in John 4. There, at Sychar, He met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He revealed to her in no uncertain terms that He was indeed, the Messiah (Jn 4:25–26).
Philip, who was from Bethsaida and who went and brought Nathaniel to Jesus, was now evangelizing the Samaritans. He preached Christ to them (Acts 8:5). At this time, the apostles were endued with power and the Holy Spirit to perform miracles, signs and wonders, in the manner that Jesus had performed during His earthly ministry. These sign gifts were purposeful for the season. They validated the preacher to the people of faith, and they also drew the attention of those were suffering in diverse manners. Thus, the people heard and saw the miracles Philip was performing (Acts 8:6).
The supernatural work of God is to be celebrated by Christians. Our God is a wonder-working God. We can read of demon-possessed people being delivered from incessant oppression. Satan is a liar and the father of lies (Jn 8:44). Much of the addictions, today, that we see in people trying to cope with life in this fallen world is the result of demonic influence. It is a world of lies and the ruler of this world, a defeated foe of Jesus Christ, is still working woe, although he is bound. His final day, the day of judgment is coming.
Physical maladies remain a reality for people in the world. We still have the lame, the blind, the sick, and the diseased with us. The charlatans of Christianity love to fleece the people of their money by performing “signs and wonders” that invariably prove false. In their shows, filled with shenanigans, the missing element is the preaching of the Word.
It is the Word of God that delivers people from sin. It is the Word of God, employed as the Sword of the Spirit, that gives life to those dead in trespasses and sins (Jn 6:63; Eph 2:1). The called preacher of the Gospel is a man of the Word. He knows the power of the Word, and his trust is in the Spirit who guides him to proclaim the excellencies of Christ (1 Pet 2:9).
Deliverance is still a reality, today. The charlatan show, however, is always placing emphasis on the power, or the preacher, or the process. In truth, a man of God opens the Word of God, and deliverance occurs with relative obscurity. Most Christians will tell you of God working His salvation from some predicament they faced, and how it could only be attributed to the Spirit of Christ. True believers in Jesus boast in Him alone. They do not claim anything for themselves. If the blind man in John 9 could say, “I was blind but now I see,” then today, the one who was delivered can certainly say, “I was spiritually blind but now I see.”
God has the prerogative to do as He pleases. It would be wrong to constrain the testimony of His work, as did the Enlightenment era Moderates (Liberalism). Still, the attributing of every little thing to being the miracle of God, as do the Pentecostals, is not helpful. We must be people of the book, and we must believe the revelation on its pages. For it is there that we see the truth that sets us free from enslavement to sin and its ravages.
The salvation of our souls is an eternal one. Like Philip, a preacher has blessed our ears with the Word of life. It is the Spirit of Christ who opened our hearts to respond to the Word proclaimed to us (Acts 16:14). That is a miracle worth noting, first and foremost! Lazarus was raised from the dead (Jn 11), but he died again because this world is fleeting. Therefore, let us focus on the eternal rather than the temporal and may our joy surpass even that of the Samaritans (Acts 8:8).
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 10, 2021