Everywhere Evangelizing

Everywhere Evangelizing!

By Dr. Rick Flanders

“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.  And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.  As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.  Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”

(Acts 8:1-4)

The eighth chapter is a key part of the book of the Acts, the divine record of what the Christians did after Jesus went back to Heaven.  In the book of John we learn what was to happen when Jesus would “go away,” and it was all really good news to His followers.  At that time He would inaugurate the New Testament Age, with phenomenal blessings for God’s people.  Jesus was

small hand-reaching to be seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for believers on earth.  He would send the Holy Spirit to live within each Christian, and to minister both to and through him as he obeys the Great Commission.  The New Testament era was to be a wonderful time, and of course

you and I live in it now.  The Acts is the book that shows us how the promises of the book of J

The program Jesus left for His followers as He prepared to leave them is stated in Acts 1:8.ohn (especially in chapters 13 through 17) came to pass, what real Christianity looked like.  It is an exciting book!  But chapter 8 begins with words about the radical changes that came to the believers in Jerusalem when an onslaught of persecution rained down trouble on them.  It was a very important transition for the mother church, with powerful effects and important lessons for believers in our time.

“But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Chapters one through seven tell us about the phenomenal success the Christians had in evangelizing the city of Jerusalem in the power of the Spirit.  They “filled Jerusalem” with the gospel of Christ (see Acts 5:27-29).  But in the first months of the new era, little was done about the rest of the program of Acts 1:8.  Nobody was spreading the gospel to the rest of Judaea, or to Samaria, and certainly not to “the uttermost part of the earth.”  Then persecution scattered the church members away from the city, and they “went every where preaching the word.”

This record gives us insight into what we should be doing now in our dark times, in the face of harsh criticism of the things we believe and declining respect for the morals and teachings of Jesus Christ.  The Greek word translating “preaching” in Acts 8:4 means (and looks like) evangelizing, which is spreading the gospel.  We should go everywhere evangelizing.  It should be happening today everywhere Christians live.  We ought to be on the offensive spiritually, and not cowering in fear.

I have seen believers active in obeying the Lord’s command to evangelize, and it is a wonderful sight to behold!  I have seen groups of excited teenagers combing a neighborhood to find people they can tell about Jesus.  I have seen revived preachers pairing up to evangelize door-to-door in connection with a revival conference.  I have witnessed people preaching on the streets and giving out gospel literature in public places.  I have known of dedicated disciples really giving a witness to somebody every day.  And I have lived in a time when Bible-believing churches were given to winning everybody to Christ they could.  The truth is that another explosion of evangelism among God’s people is needed right now!

1.     God is serious about the Acts 1:8 program.

In a way, the breakup of the church in Acts 8:1 comes as a surprise to the reader of the book.  As the people moved ahead with the evangelization of the city, things were not easy, but they just kept going in spite of difficulties.  The persecution that began in chapter 4 was met by a prayer meeting that produced “great” things: “great power” in the preaching of the apostles (verses 31-33); “great grace” in the relationship of the church-members (verse 33); and “great fear” (verses 5 and 11 through 14) in the handling of sin in the church which created a mysterious attraction to the light of the gospel.  And the evangelism went on.  Discord among the brethren caused a pause in the progress of the gospel, but it was met with wise measures and another prayer meeting (Acts 6:1-7), and “the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  Great things continued to happen as the evangelism went on.  But when the “great persecution” arose against the Jerusalem church when Stephen was martyred (Acts 7; 8:1-3; 1:19), the congregation was basically obliterated!  And the reader of Acts is taken by surprise.

However we should not have been surprised at this.  When Jesus spoke about the characteristics of the New Testament era, He promised not only wonderful blessings, but also persecution (review John 14 through 16).

“These things have I spoken unto you that ye should not be offended.  They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”

(John 16:1-2)

When the Spirit of Christ dwells in men, and is seen in them, those in the world who love Him will love them, and those who hate him will hate them (look over John 15:18-25).  It is to be expected.

But something else was going on here.  It is interesting to compare Acts 8:1 with Acts 1:8.  Of course Acts 1:8 outlines the program the Christians were supposed to be following.  Remember that it called on them to “be witnesses unto me [Christ] both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  So far the church, under the leadership of the apostles, had got only to the first stage of the program: witnessing to Jerusalem.  But then Acts 8:1 says that the “great persecution against the church” forced them out to “the regions of Judaea and Samaria.”  God was breaking up the church in order to fulfill His larger program.

The Greek word for “scattered abroad” in verse one has to do with what a farmer does when he sows seed.  The parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30 begins with “a man which sowed good seed in his field.”  In the Lord’s explanation of the parable, found in Matthew 13:36-43, He tells us, “He that soweth the good seed in the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom.”  In Acts 8 the Son of man was scattering good seed to places it was needed.

It is important for us to notice in scripture that even the church is the means to an end.  It is not the end itself.  It is the means for God to implement Acts 1:8.  And He was willing to blow up the Jerusalem church in order to get on with His program.

It is easy to confuse the means with the end.  Marriage is the means to an end.  The family is not an end in itself.  In times of family disintegration, Christians are tempted to think of their homes as ends or goals in themselves, and the development of happy families as the ultimate goal.  But it is not so according to scripture.  The prophet said that God instituted marriage, making two into one, in order that “He might seek a godly seed” (read Malachi 2:11-15).  Marriage and the family are the means to present God with children that love Him.

Our very lives are a means to an end.  The apostle said, “Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22-24).  An important part of wisdom in to distinguish the goals God has given us, and the means to be employed to reach those goals.  The local church, although dear to our hearts and to the heart of Christ, is a means to an end.  God might sacrifice it in order to pursue the end, which is in Acts 1:8.  And that is just what He did in Acts 8:1.

Strangely, the only ones in the church that were not “scattered abroad” were “the apostles.”  The title “apostle” means “a sent one” and corresponds to our English word “missionary.”  All the church-members were pushed out to Judaea and Samaria (according to the divine program), and went about evangelizing everywhere, “except the apostles.”  The called and gifted missionaries were the only ones who didn’t go!  Our ministries are not ends in themselves.  People with gifts to minister to the church are not exempt from evangelizing.  The apostles were wrong to put the brakes on the Acts1:8 program, and God moved to work it without them, at least for a while.

2.     Evangelizing is critical in a time of anti-Christian pressure.

It is understandable that the Christians neglected reaching out to the regions beyond the city when the local church was doing so well; but it was wrong.  The charter of the church is to evangelize the whole world!  It is also understandable for Christians to seek shelter when under attack, rather than to take the battle to the enemy, but this would also be wrong.  When the followers of Jesus stop evangelizing, the devil has already won, at least for the time being.  His goal is that we stop telling the gospel, or that sin in our lives rob our attempts at evangelizing of divine blessing and power.  When the Jerusalem believers were attacked, they “went every where preaching the word.”

Look at what was happening!  “There was a great persecution against the church” (verse 1).  “Devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him” (verse 2).  “Saul…made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling [hauling] men and women committed them to prison” (verse 3).  But neither the persecution by fanatics, nor the wails of fellow-Christians mourning the wicked murder of a very good man, nor the daily arrest and incarceration of godly men and even women, disheartened the followers of the Lord to the degree that they stopped spreading the gospel!

The trends and events of our times suggest that a new wave of persecution against Christians is on its way.  The horrible mistreatment, imprisonment, and murder of Christian believers in communist and Muslim countries will soon be joined by the persecution and prosecution of Christians in western countries for refusing to comply with government insistence on approval of same-sex marriage, homosexual practices, and the abortion culture.  But it is no time for the disciples of the Lord to cower or hide.  It is time that they take to the streets.

Some have suggested that the shocking insults and threats against traditional American values in the last year might bring conservatives into the streets, not in violence (we would expect and certainly hope), but in public protest of the violations of the United States Constitution and of simple ethics by the highest authorities of the federal government.  However a more effective counter-measure to the rise of evil in these days would be intensive evangelism by Christians in the cities and villages and rural areas of the land.  Let us rise to the occasion, and face the foe by evangelizing everywhere, starting today!

3.     Nothing can prevent us from getting back to obeying God!

One very clear teaching of the book of Acts is that Christians can keep on obeying God under any circumstances.  When the apostles were warned against continuing to evangelize Jerusalem, they told the authorities, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  Then they reminded the members of the council that God had given the Holy Ghost to “them that obey Him” (Acts 5:32).  Behind His commands, God puts His power.  We can evangelize everywhere if we will do it in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Ruler of the Universe will make a way, and the Lord of the Harvest will bless our efforts.  It is time for a renewal of New Testament Christianity in the churches that will set us to evangelizing.  It is time for each Christian to ask the Lord for a revival in His own life that will make him a light in a dark place, a fiery witness for Jesus Christ!

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