Spreading Power Through Persecution


John Piper — Acts 8:1-8
  • Spreading Power Through Persecution
May 5, 1991

And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

On January 9, 1985, Pastor Hristo Kulichev, a Congregational pastor in Bulgaria, was arrested and put in prison. His crime was that he preached in his church even though the state had appointed another man the pastor whom the congregation did not elect. His trial was a mockery of justice. And he was sentenced to eight months imprisonment. During his time in prison he made Christ known every way he could. When he got out he wrote, “Both prisoners and jailers asked many questions, and it turned out that we had a more fruitful ministry there than we could have expected in church. God was better served by our presence in prison than if we had been free.” (Herbert Schlossberg, Called to Suffer, Called to Triumph, p. 230)

God Rules over Persecution and Suffering

There are thousands of stories like this to tell today. And even more over the centuries of Christian history. The lesson comes true again and again: God uses the persecution and suffering of his people to spread the truth of Christ and to bless the world (cf. Luke 21:12–13). Everyone I know in this church who has been to jail in the cause of defending the life of the unborn would say that great good came from it. And I don’t doubt that the suit against us as a church and against some individuals will serve to advance the cause of Christ and his kingdom. I want to encourage you this morning from Acts 8:1–8 that God rules over the sufferings of the church and causes them to spread spiritual power and the joy of faith in a lost world. It is not his only way. But it does seem to be a frequent way. God spurs the church into missionary service by the suffering she endures. Therefore we must not judge too quickly the apparent setbacks and tactical “defeats” of the church. If you see things with the eyes of God, the Master strategist (who cannot lose because he is omnipotent), what you see in every setback is the positioning for a greater advance and a greater display of his wisdom and power and love.

Four Encouraging Facts About Our God and Mission

This is the main point of Acts 8:1–8 (probably of the whole book of Acts). Let me break it down into four parts: four tremendously encouraging facts about God’s way of guiding the church in its mission.

1. God Makes Persecution Serve Mission

First, verse 1b shows us that God makes persecution serve the Great Commission. “On that day [the day of Stephen’s murder] a great persecution arose against that church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Moving into Judea, Samaria, and Beyond Up until now in the book of Acts all the ministry has taken place in Jerusalem. No one had moved out to Judea and Samaria. But Jesus had said in Acts 1:8 that the coming of the Holy Spirit was to empower missions in Jerusalem and beyond. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Now Acts 8:1 uses exactly those two unreached areas in that order: ” . . . they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria.” So whether the church may have awakened to her calling eventually without persecution, the fact is that God used persecution to move his people into the mission he had given them. To confirm this missionary purpose of the persecution, look at Acts 11:19. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews.” But in Antioch some spoke to Greeks also. In other words, the persecution not only sent the church to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1) but also beyond to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19). The Danger of Comfort, Ease, and Prosperity I think there is a tremendous lesson for us here. The lesson is not just that God is sovereign and turns setbacks to triumphs. The lesson is that comfort and ease and affluence and prosperity and safety and freedom often cause a tremendous inertia in the church. Inertia is the tendency of something that is standing still to stay standing still and of something moving to keep moving. The very things that we think would produce personnel and energy and creative investment of time and money in the cause of Christ and his kingdom, instead produce, again and again, the exact opposite—weakness, apathy, lethargy, self-centeredness, preoccupation with security. The Star Tribune had an article on Friday (May 3, 1991, p. 2A) showing that the richer we are, the less we give to the church and its mission proportionate to our income. (The poorest fifth of the church give 3.4% of their income to the church and the richest fifth give 1.6%—half as much as the poorer church members.) It’s a strange principle, that probably goes right to the heart of our sinfulness and Christ’s sufficiency—the principle that hard times, like persecution, often produce more personnel, more prayer, more power, more open purses than easy times. I know it’s true, from Jesus’ parable of the four soils, that some fall away during persecution because they have no root. But it seems to be true that even more people are like the third soil—”the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word and it proves unfruitful” (Marks 4:19). Persecution can have harmful effects on the church. But prosperity, it seems, is even more devastating to the mission to which God calls us. My point here is not that we should seek persecution. That would be presumption—like jumping off the temple. The point is that we should be very wary of prosperity and excessive ease and comfort and affluence, and we should not be disheartened but filled with hope if we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10). Because, as Luke shows us here: God makes persecution serve the mission of the church.

2. Stephen Is Honored, Not Blamed

The second encouraging thing to see in this text is that Stephen is honored and not blamed. The persecution in Jerusalem started because of Stephen. That’s clear here; and it’s clear in Acts 11:19—”the persecution that arose over Stephen.” I can imagine some cautious and prudent and well-meaning believers in Jerusalem saying: “Stephen’s speech was utterly uncalled for. There are other less inflammatory ways to defend the truth than to call the Sanhedrin ‘stiff-necked people who always resist the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 7:51). It’s always hotheads like this that get the church into trouble. Now the whole city is against us. Look at the waste of life and property and time. Look at the families that are being broken up. Look at the homes being lost and the children being taken away from all their friends. Now we have to live like refugees and exiles in Judea and Samaria. Why didn’t Stephen think before he spoke?” But when Luke tells God’s version of the story, Stephen is a man full of grace and power (Acts 6:8). When he spoke his final words that enraged the council, Luke says he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55). And here in Acts 8:2 Luke says that “devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him.” Stephen is honored not blamed for the persecution—at least by devout men. Worldly people might be more worried about goods and kindred and status. But the devout people, who think the way Jesus thinks about life, they “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.” So the second encouraging truth here is this: when persecution comes because of courageous, faithful, God-honoring obedience, godly people don’t blame the servant of the Lord. They give honor.

3. Adversaries Can Become Advocates

The third encouraging thing to see here is that sometimes our worst enemies become our best friends. Verse 3: “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” This Saul is the one who would be dramatically converted and become the best friend and advocate Christianity ever had. We need to live in this hope again and again: fearsome enemies can become precious friends. Adversaries can become advocates. Critics can become comrades. For most of us it’s pretty easy to believe that an intimate disciple can become a deadly betrayer, like Judas. That’s the way the world is. But we need to remember that a deadly persecutor can also become a great ally and partner in the cause of Christ. That’s the way God is. That’s the kind of power he has. Look on your adversaries with the eyes of faith—that someday, by the power of God they could experience a turn-around as amazing and unexpected as Saul’s.

4. The Word of God Is Good News and Brings Joy

Finally, the fourth encouraging thing in this text is that even though the Word of God brought persecution and exile, it is still good news and brings joy. The paragraph that begins with verse 4 ends with verse 8. Verse 4 says that the scattered, persecuted Christians preached the Word wherever they went. They announced the very Word that brought persecution as good news (euanggelizomai). And verse 8 confirms that it was good news because it says, “So there was much joy in that city.” The Word that brings persecution also brings joy—and the joy it brings is so much greater and longer than the trouble it brings that the trade-off is worth it. Why? Well, verse 7 says that unclean spirits were coming out of people and leaving them free and whole and pure. It says that many that were paralyzed or lame were being healed. But the main reason there is joy is what we read in verse 5: “Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ.” Christ alone has the power to deliver from Satan and all his evil. Christ alone has the power heal our bodies now and finally in the resurrection. Christ alone has the right and power to forgive our sins and make us right with God (Acts 10:43). So if you have Christ, if you know him and trust him, then no matter how severe the persecution is, no matter how great the suffering of life, you have hope and you have joy. “There was much joy in that city” because Philip preached Christ.


So I urge you this morning to put your faith in Jesus Christ. Because if you do then all these reasons for encouragement become very personally true for you and not just generally true.

  1. God makes persecution serve the unstoppable mission of the church—your mission, your ministry.
  2. If your faithfulness brings trouble to the church (like Stephen’s did), you will be honored and not blamed—at least by the godly.
  3. Your worst critics can become your precious comrades by the power of Christ’s converting grace.
  4. And the very Word—the gospel—that brings persecution sometimes, brings joy always and forever.




The first mention of this word is in relation to two men Bezaleel and Aholiab (Ex.31) who were given the job of overseeing  the making of the tabernacle and all its furnishings and  the priestly garments. We read in Exodus 28:3 “And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” Wisdom was given these men and presumably other under them (Ex.36) to skilfully handcraft a variety of cloth, wood and metal objects used in the worship of God at the tabernacle.

   But wisdom is a lot more than skill in handcrafts as we read in Deuteronomy 4:5, 6.  “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me,  that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  Here clearly stated near the beginning of the Bible and in the early covenant life of God’s church is the truth that wisdom is spiritual and moral and consists in applying and obeying the word of God to all of life.

     It is vital in leadership. Deuteronomy 34:9, “ And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses.”

   Solomon excelled in this gift. I Kings 4:29, “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.” Sadly later in life he despised this great gift and made many unwise decisions most importantly loving (lusting for) pagan women.





How do you know objectively that the Bible is true and God’s word?



Objective proof that the Bible IS the truth and the word of God.

1) Fulfilled prophecy. Hundreds of Old Testament prophesies fulfilled including scores around the death of Christ–the chances of them happening by chance billions to one.

2) History and archaeology.

Many of the kings, places and events in both testaments are attested to in secular history and by archaeological finds.

3) Reality–what Scripture says is true about human existence explains evil, suffering and all that goes on in the world.

4) Changed lives–the testimony of millions who have been regenerated by God and had their lives turned around from slavery to sin, hopelessness and purposelessness to godly living, eternal hope and earthly purpose. Christian fellowship showing the love of God.

5) The living God who answers prayer in our lives every day.

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A comparison: A race and the Christian life

            Recruitment             Decision to run             Effectual call
Rest Rest/easy recovery days Sabbaths






Daily training alone and also periodically in a group.

Inclement weather. Injury. Illness.

Good balanced diet.

The lightest possible/club or country colours

Daily devotion, Church attendance (praise and preaching), Bible studies.

Tribulation. Battle versus world, sin and Satan. Times of trial.

The Word.


Righteousness of Christ.

Coach Club coach Christ’s Spirit/church office bearers
ObjectiveimagesVSDEQJBQ Race day-to win. The finish-death and Last day (of judgement)
Start Gun fires Conversion/regeneration
RunningHindrances Correct pace. Speed, plus or minus stamina.(a fall, obstacles, adverse incidents) Dependence on God (Prayer)Wisdom. Patience.Cast off every weight (hindrances/sin)
FinishimagesJQQZKRAY Crossing the line. Death
Fellow runners Competitors Brethren
Reward Perishable wreath/medal Imperishable wreath/crown,treasure in heaven, ‘Christ’s well done’, crowns.

Remember the persecuted


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Listen to the great Reformer John Calvin


Quotes to Consider

John Calvin:  “If at any time we are colder or more indifferent about prayer than we ought to be because we do not feel the pressure of immediate necessity, let us instantly reflect how many of our brethren are worn by varied and heavy afflictions, are weighed down by sore perplexity, or are reduced to the lowest distress. If reflections like these do not rouse us from our lethargy we must have hearts of stone” (Commentary on Ephesians).

John Calvin:  “If we then gather together all the miseries and adversities to which the church is subject and consider well the distress of each of our brethren, must it not of necessity be that we are more dull than brute beasts if we are not moved to pray to God, yes, even with a right perseverance? For though I may be at ease today, there are thirty thousand in great perplexity, and I make it very clear that I cut off myself as much as I can from the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, if I do not pity the members to whom I am joined” (Sermons on Ephesians, p. 686).

Prayer website.

Malachi Lesson 3

CPRC   Men’s BS   Malachi 1:6-14  Lesson 3


Where is my honour?

1. What constitutes true worship of God?

We learn much about worship from Scripture.Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.“..and that with both internal and external worship; and in true holiness, in which there is a real beauty: holiness is the beauty of God himself, he is glorious in it; it is the beauty of angels, it makes them so glorious as they are; and it is the beauty of saints, it is what makes them like unto Christ, and by which they are partakers of the divine nature; and in the exercise of holy graces, and in the discharge of holy duties, should they worship the Lord; unless this is to be understood of the place of worship, the sanctuary, or holy place in the tabernacle; or rather the church of God, which holiness becomes; but the former sense seems best.”(John Gill on Ps 96:9)All nations involved in ascribing all honour to him (Rev.7:9-12) Draw near to God, commune with him, receive his blessing, in private or public (Ps.27:4, 84:1-3,122:1-4). ACTS-Adore, confess sin, give thanks, supplicate (Eph.6:18, Ps.51, Prov.28:13)i.e., COVENANT FELLOWSHIP.


The creeds emphasize worship according to his commandments and centrality of preaching (Heidelberg LD 35 Q96,98). 


All worship is to glorify God and be acceptable to him.

True worship is only by the Holy Spirit, according to the word (Regulative principle), with brokenness (contrition) and humility, and by a godly life (Ps.51:15-17, Is.1:10-17, 57:15, John 4:24, Hos.6:6). Reverence is awareness of his greatness, power, glory and transcendence (Ps.89:7). Worship involves showing mercy and justice toward others. Humility comes from a true knowledge of God and ourselves as creatures, sinners and redeemed people and is shown in dependence upon God (prayer), no boasting except in him, obedience and worship. (There are two good books called “Humility” are one by Andrew Murray (on line) and one by Wayne Mack). Worship involves joyful, thankful, active, wholehearted singing, giving and listening to his word.


 Purpose of worship

a) It is a life devoted to God (Rom.12:1).

b) Christ is in the midst (Matt.18:20).

c) The church, where he is worshipped is glorious-so we need to be there! (Ps.87:3). Attitude of reverence (Ps.95:6)


Worship means ascribing worth to God (Rev.5:9).There are several Greek words used but the main one in the NT is PROSKUNEO which literally means to “kiss towards”, an act of reverence and another is LATREUO meaning service, service of God and others.

2. The abuse of worship.

The “polluted bread upon mine altar” referred to all the sacrifices and the table (v7) to the altar. The animals sacrificed were meant to be without blemish (as types of Christ) hence their offerings were disobedience, dishonoured God and his Messiah. Hence heresy, which portrays a false (blemished) Christ is so vile. The priests were complicit in this and God would have it all cease (v10). Those bringing blemished or female sacrifices trying to pass them off for good ones are deceivers (remember Ananias and Sapphira). All false worship is like this. The priests despised God (v6), were careless (v8), guilty of contempt (v12), and weariness (v13). Rev Stewart in his sermons states that both the worship and the worshipper are cursed (makes me think of Hebrews 10:26-29). The people deny wrongdoing which compounds their sin and leaves no room for repentance.



3. Jehovah says this constitutes an attack on his person as father and sovereign.

There is a lot involved in God’s fatherhood of us: he has adopted us and we belong to him (HC LD 1,9,46). He cares for us and gives us good gifts. We are his heirs. Thus we should honour, reverence and have confidence in him. As Lord of Hosts, Lord Sabaoth, he is the sovereign saviour and protector of his people with all the heavenly angels at his command (I S.1:3,17:47, Ps.24:10,46:7,11). I Chron.29:11speaks of his absolute power, ownership, headship and unique glory, victory and majesty. This ought to evoke reverence, peace and trust and condemn our doubting his love and lack of trust.



4.The promise of Malachi 1:11 is that across the globe God will be worshipped in truth by the gentile nations.


The sacrificial system which covered daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal offerings served to:

Continually remind men of sin and their need of forgiveness and a mediator.

Was linked to ritual purity (OT holiness issues e.g., foods, death, disease).

Continually reminded them of need to give thanks and consecrate themselves. All the blood sacrifices did nothing to atone for sin but faith in the coming Messiah’s blood did.

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Malachi Lesson 2




Covenant Theology is Not Replacement Theology

The Heidelblog


Recovering the Reformed Confession


Covenant Theology is Not Replacement Theology

A sensible article on the topic of what constitutes  Israel.

Recently I had a question asking whether “covenant theology” is so-called “replacement theology.” Those dispensational critics of Reformed covenant theology who accuse it of teaching that the New Covenant church has “replaced” Israel do not understand historic Reformed covenant theology. They are imputing to Reformed theology a way of thinking about redemptive history that has more in common with dispensationalism than it does with Reformed theology.

First, the very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement. Such a way of thinking is contrary to the promise in Gen. 3:15. The promise was that there would be a Savior. The national people was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. According to Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, in Christ the dividing wall has been destroyed. It cannot be rebuilt. The two peoples (Jews and Gentiles) have been made one in Christ. Among those who are united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, there is no Jew nor Gentile (Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).

At least some forms of dispensationalism have suggested that God intended the national covenant with Israel to be permanent. According to Reformed theology, the Mosaic covenant was never intended to be permanent. According to Galatians 3 (and chapter 4), the Mosaic covenant was a codicil to the Abrahamic covenant. A codicil is added to an existing document. It doesn’t replace the existing document. Dispensationalism reverses things. It makes the Abrahamic covenant a codicil to the Mosaic. Hebrews 3 says that Moses was a worker in Jesus’ house. Dispensationalism makes Jesus a worker in Moses’ house.

Second, with respect to salvation, Reformed covenant theology does not juxtapose Israel and the church. For Reformed theology, the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church. Reformed covenant theology distinguishes the old and new covenants (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 7-10). It recognizes that the church was temporarily administered through a typological, national people, but the church has existed since Adam, Noah, and Abraham; and it existed under Moses and David; and it exists under Christ.

Third, the church has always been one, under various administrations, under types, shadows, and now under the reality in Christ, because the object of faith has always been one. Jesus the Messiah was the object of faith of the typological church (Heb. 11; Luke 24; 2 Cor. 3), and he remains the object of faith.

Fourth, despite the abrogation of the national covenant by the obedience, death, and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:14), the NT church has not “replaced” the Jews. Paul says that God “grafted” the Gentiles into the people of God. Grafting is not replacement, it is addition.

It has been widely held by Reformed theologians that there will be a great conversion of Jews. Some call this “anti-Semitism.” This isn’t anti-Semitism, it is Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The alternative to Jesus’ exclusivist claim is universalism, which is nothing less than an assault on the person and finished work of Christ. Other Reformed writers understand the promises in Rom. 11 to refer only to the salvation of all the elect (Rom. 2:28) rather than to a future conversion of Jews. In any event, Reformed theology is not anti-semitic. We have always hoped and prayed for the salvation, in Christ, sola gratia et sola fide, of all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile alike.

Christ’s One Future Visible Coming

Belgic Confession, Article 37: Christ’s One Future Visible Coming

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

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I Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God …


According to Belgic Confession Article 37 “our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly, as He ascended, with great glory and majesty.”  It is important to remember that the Reformed do not accept the teaching of Premillennial Dispensationalism that the Lord will come twice in the future, once secretly in a “rapture” and then later visibly in a “revelation.” These meditations are not the place to examine Premillennial Dispensationalism in any detail, but we should contrast briefly what our Belgic Confession teaches with this popular doctrine.

Those who believe in the doctrine of the rapture often appeal to I Thessalonians 4. They believe that at any moment the Lord will secretly snatch away all faithful Christians from the earth. This will cause great consternation because suddenly millions of people will disappear without trace! After the rapture history will continue and God will pour out His wrath upon the world of those left behind—unbelievers and unfaithful Christians. After seven years of awful tribulation (mostly for the nation of Israel) Christ shall return visibly and destroy His enemies to set up an earthly kingdom for one thousand years in Jerusalem. After the period of one thousand years is complete, the Lord will crush one final rebellion of Satan. History will then end with Christ’s judgment of the wicked.

The Belgic Confession contradicts that scheme in several ways. First, when Christ returns the wicked will be oppressing the church—there is no indication that the church will have been removed from the earth.  Second, the Belgic Confession teaches that “all the dead” shall be resurrected and “all men will personally appear before this great Judge” on the same day—there is no indication that the resurrection of the wicked and the just (and their judgments) will be separated by a number of years.  Third, the Belgic Confession teaches that the one, future, visible coming will be “with great glory and majesty”—there is no indication that He will come secretly.

I Thessalonians teaches the very opposite of a secret, silent, invisible coming of Christ to take away His church. On the contrary, Christ shall ascend “with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God”—an event so loud that it shall summon the dead to judgment! Moreover, when Paul writes that “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” he does not mean they shall rise some 1,007 years before the wicked, but he means that the dead in Christ shall rise before those who are alive at Christ’s coming. Paul’s concern was to comfort the Thessalonians concerning their dead, believing relatives—will they miss out since they have died before the Second Coming? Absolutely not!

The hope of the saints is not that they be snatched away secretly, but that they—whether they are dead or alive at His Coming—partake in His glory which is publicly to be revealed.

Is that your hope?

Convalescence or recovery

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Convalescence or recovery from a major illness or operation is a slow process requiring patience and wisdom. I am pleased with progress-walking easily for over a mile on crutches, went to the gym to exercise arms and abs today and the bruising has almost gone except round my left heel where it burns! The major ” problem” is sleeplessness due to aching discomfort deep inside the leg but I can get a lot done in the quietness of night, watching wildlife documentaries, reading and writing. I have come to accept that I will never do the strenuous athletic activities I once did but believe other avenues to push myself will emerge-this man must measure and compete! I appreciate all who have supported me in prayer and thank God for this episode in my life-all things do indeed serve our salvation.