May 5, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Physics nerds have some really strange conversations when they get together. One of the things that physicists like to talk about is the irresistible force paradox. Now, I realize most of you in this room probably don’t have the first clue what this refers to, but let me try to explain it for you. They ask the question, “What if there was a force that was so strong that nothing in the universe could ever stop it?” Then they would ask, “What if there was an object that was so strong that nothing could ever move it?”
Let me put it to you in terms you can understand. What would happen if an unstoppable force got into a fight with an immovable object? How many of you think the unstoppable force would win? How many of you think the immovable object would win? How many of you dropped physics in college because of this very question? You’re like, “Man, I couldn’t care less what would happen if these two things met.”
Maybe I could put it in terms that some of you Marvel Avenger fans would recognize. What would happen if the unstoppable hammer of Thor hit the immovable shield of Captain America? If you know anything about Marvel’s Avengers, you know that Thor is roughly based on Norse mythology. He has this hammer that was created out of Asgardian medal. According to Norse mythology, this hammer is the most powerful and the most unstoppable weapon anywhere in the universe. If you know anything about Captain America, you know that he has this shield made out of Vibranium. If you know the story line from Captain America, it’s really not the metal of the shield that’s immovable. It’s the man that’s holding the shield that’s immovable. So, the question that Avengers nerds would ask is, “What would happen if the hammer of Thor hit the shield of Captain America?”
Really, this is a trick question because physicists would tell you it’s a logical impossibility. That’s why it’s called the irresistible force paradox. It’s called the paradox, because if there is such a thing as a force that cannot be stopped, then by necessity, there’s no such thing as an object that can’t be moved. If there is such a thing as an object that can’t be moved, then there cannot be a force that’s unstoppable. That’s what makes it a paradox.
I want to put these in terms that we would understand today. There is no such thing as a business that’s too big to fail. You don’t believe me? Go look at what’s happening to the Sears and Roebuck Company, the world’s largest and most successful company over the course of history, and see what’s happening to it. There’s no empire that hasn’t crumbled. There’s no military force that cannot experience defeat. There’s no force on planet Earth that will be around forever. There’s no superpower that won’t eventually lose its power.
I read the last book of the Bible. Here’s what it says: Every nation on planet Earth will one day cease to exist. But there is one force that is unstoppable and will continue to advance until the end of time. King Jesus’s Gospel is the one force that cannot be stopped. It will advance until God’s ready to call his people home. This is what the Bible is describing for us today in the book of Acts.
We’ve been studying through the book of Acts, and today it takes a turn. Before today we’ve been looking at the original followers of Jesus. Now we start to look at a different person who becomes the center of the story. We start to see how God’s kingdom continues to advance today in the midst of great pressure and terrible persecution.
I. The Gospel has always been under attack
You as a follower of Jesus Christ are part of the only unstoppable force. As long as Jesus is King, his Kingdom will continue to advance until he comes back and claims his own. The first thing that I want you to see from Acts chapter eight is that the Gospel has always been under attack. Let me just summarize for you these first seven chapters of Acts because early on, Peter and John are persecuted because of their faith. The other followers of Jesus are persecuted and flogged because they are advancing the Gospel, because they are sharing the good news of Jesus.
By the time that you get to chapter seven, there’s one believer who is kind of singled out. His name is Stephen. Stephen comes under immense persecution, and by the end of chapter seven, Stephen is the first martyr, the first man to ever give his life in faith of Jesus after that Easter Sunday morning. You see, the Gospel has always been under attack.
For those of you who may be new to church and don’t really understand this word Gospel, let me make sure you know what I’m saying today. The word Gospel is the good news that King Jesus, though you and I have been in rebellion against him, has come and paid the price for our mistakes. He has purchased us back from our sin. He’s enlisted us into his Kingdom. Today, you see a vivid example of the cost that it may take for you and me to be faithful followers of Jesus in the midst of a world that is still messed up and sick with sin.
Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.
Saul is a Pharisee who’s living in Jerusalem at the time. By the time we get to Acts chapter eight verse one, Saul becomes a Palestinian terrorist that will do anything that he can to stamp out Christianity. He takes part in the death of Stephen. In fact, he takes some sick, twisted pleasure in the death of Stephen. He holds the cloaks of those guys who are throwing rocks, who ultimately kill Stephen in Acts chapter seven. The reason why I’m telling you that he takes some sick pleasure in it is because that word agreed says he was complicit. He was part of it. He wanted this to happen.
It’s like when your friend falls down and he does something clumsy and he stumbles a little bit; it’s natural for us to start laughing. It’s just pretty funny. That’s not what this word is implying. This word is implying you take some sick, twisted pleasure in watching your enemy fall down and stumble. Or, in Stephen’s case, watching your enemy who was an innocent man brutally murdered.
By the end of this first sentence, something changes for the believers in Jerusalem. Now all of them are under severe persecution. In fact, the language that day is the day that they look back on and say, “That’s the moment where it became really, really bad for all of us.” Can I remind you how many people the Bible is referring to? Thousands have already started following Christ. In fact, in one day, several thousand people in Jerusalem have already become followers. Now all of these followers are under severe persecution. All of them start to take off from their homes and they start to head out to the neighboring villages. They start to go to other towns because if they stay where they’re at, they are probably going to suffer the same fate that Stephen suffered.
This verse blows my mind because of the last phrase. It’s like thousands of people started to experience the pain and the pressure that goes along with suffering for your faith. All of them, except the apostles, took off and ran away. A few of those guys were ready. A few of those guys dug their heels in, bunkered down, and were ready for whatever happened next. They were not willing to leave Jerusalem. Those few apostles were the original followers of Jesus, and I think the reason why they were ready is because Jesus had prepared them ahead of time for this. He said to them, “They’re going to persecute me, and because they persecute me, they’re going to persecute you too. You better be prepared for it.”
I really believe that the church today, especially the church in the West, especially in the United States, is not ready for the kind of suffering that we may have to endure one day. I’m not one of those guys who believes this is going to happen tomorrow, but it may be coming around the corner. When it does come around the corner, I think the church is unprepared. It’s not prepared today like it was two hundred years ago, let alone two thousand years ago. One of the reasons it’s not prepared is because pastors haven’t been preparing churches for the pressure that may come when you share your faith.
Have you ever flipped through one of the safety cards on an airplane? This is their way of kind of preparing you for anything that might happen. What this thing is saying is, “Hey, do you realize that you’re getting into a giant piece of metal that’s going to fly through the air? If something goes wrong, this giant piece of metal is not going to do to well when it gets ready to land or when it lands. I don’t know; hypothetically, let’s just say this airplane could skid off the runway in Jacksonville, Florida, and land in the St. John’s River. If that happens, we just want you to know about it ahead of time. Here’s a little picture of what you should do if this thing goes off the runway and into the river. Do this right here, and maybe you’ll be okay.”
That’s kind of what the safety instructions are doing. That’s a little bit like what Jesus is doing to prepare his church. He’s saying, “Hey, they persecuted me. They persecuted Peter and John. They persecuted all of the disciples. They killed Stephen, and it very well may happen to you tomorrow, and you need to be ready for it.” Keep this in mind: The Gospel has always been under attack. Even though it’s always been under attack, God continues to grow his church. He can grow his church, no matter how severe, no matter how significant the problems become.
II. God can grow the church despite problems
I want you to think about this. This moment in the book of Acts is incredibly important, because this could be the moment that Christianity dies before it ever really takes root. If this were the moment that people stopped telling others about Jesus, this would be the moment that the church would cease to exist, and you and I would have never heard about Jesus today. But that’s not what we read next in Acts chapter eight.
Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
I want you to imagine that you are in Acts chapter eight, verse two. You’ve just seen one of your best friends who is an innocent man, brutally murdered. You’re hurting really bad. Frankly, you’re confused because what you’re thinking to yourself is, “God, I don’t get it. Stephen did exactly what you told him to do. He didn’t do anything wrong. He was an innocent man. God, you’re supposed to be big enough to handle stuff like this. God, did you fall asleep at the wheel? Do you not know what just happened to Stephen? God, do you not know what’s happening to us? Do you even care what’s going on right now?” Many Christians are going to ask this question when it starts to hurt really bad. They’re going to start to ask, “God, do you know? God, do you care?”
In Acts chapter eight, it goes from bad to worse. By the time you get to verse three, Saul is now so militant and so ready to stamp out Christianity that he’s going from house to house. He’s looking for everybody in the room who claims faith in Jesus Christ. If he can’t kill you, he will at least throw you into prison. You want to know how violent this persecution is? The word ravage is a word that you would use two thousand years ago to describe what a lion does to an antelope when it catches it.
Saul is doing whatever he can to rip the church apart, to really stamp out Christianity at its very beginnings. God’s church is under immense attack right now. Sometimes it’s pain. Sometimes it’s pressure. Sometimes it’s persecution. Sometimes all of those things can come on God’s people just because they’re doing what the Bible says you and I are supposed to be doing. When those times happen, it may feel like, “God, you don’t know, or God, you don’t care.” Sometimes the problems are from outside the church, and you got this maniac who’s doing whatever he can to stop the church from spreading the Gospel.
Sometimes those problems come from inside the church, and the church is being torn at the seams because it’s being forced to ask some questions that are really, really hard questions to answer. Please think in these terms with me. For those early Christians, it just felt like their future is over with. For most of them, it probably felt like, “I’ve just lost all of my friends. My family and I are on the run. I’ve just lost everything. I’ve got no future. I’ve got no family; I’ve got no friends.”
If you were an early Christian, the only thing that you had to hang on to next, the only person that didn’t turn his back on you, is King Jesus. You may have just lost everything that you ever hoped for. -all of your dreams gone in an instant. But that early church knew, “I haven’t lost my King. He knows what’s going on. He cares. He’s going with me in the midst of great problems, in the midst of severe persecution.” God can grow his church even in the most difficult of all circumstances.
III. God always gets the glory in the end
I don’t know if you’re in the habit of underlining stuff in your Bible, but if you are, I want to ask you to underline all of Acts chapter eight, verse four. I’m convinced this is one of the most important verses in the book of Acts. What you hear next explains why the church becomes this unstoppable force today. By the end of verse three, it could have ceased to exist at that moment right in its infancy. But by the time you get to verse four, this Gospel army is now spreading all over the globe and taking the message of Jesus with them everywhere that they go.
So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word.
Notice the language from the Bible. It’s not saying that they moved from Jerusalem to another city, and when they got to the next city, then they planted. They started a Bible study, and then they started telling people about Jesus. The language in verse four says that while they were going on the roads, they were talking to people. While they were stopping in villages, they were talking to people. When they went to the grocery store or bought a tank of gas, they were talking to people about Jesus.
They’re doing in Acts chapter eight, verse four exactly what Jesus says the church is supposed to do in Matthew chapter twenty-eight. He says, “As you are going to work, as you are going to the gym, as you’re going to the grocery store, make disciples.” The church is taking their faith with them every step of the way. Now the Gospel is exploding to the edges of the earth. Now it’s no longer just in Jerusalem, and you’ve got to come here to hear the message. Now it’s going all over Judea. Now it’s going to the neighboring country of Samaria. Pretty soon it’s going to make its way to North America and to Columbus, Georgia, because of what you’re reading in Acts chapter eight, verse four.
God sometimes uses great pressure to advance his Kingdom. God sometimes uses great power or great persecution to rub off the edges and to shape and sharpen what he’s calling his people to do. God takes immense pressure on a piece of coal and turns it into a diamond. He turns immense heat up under gold, and he refines it and makes it pure. It’s that heat of the fire. It’s the pressure that makes the thing beautiful, that makes the thing powerful. That’s what you have here today in Acts chapter eight. You have this Gospel message that’s going all over the globe, and it’s unlike anything people have ever heard before. It’s unlike any religion on the planet.
On Easter Sunday, churches in Sri Lanka were bombed. Suicide bombers also detonated their vests in hotels where lots of Westerners were. The death toll right now is 321 killed and about 450 people wounded in that one day of attacks. What the news is reporting about these attacks in Sri Lanka is that the Islamic state is taking credit for this, saying this is its retaliation for what happened in one mosque in New Zealand, half way on the other side of the globe. This is their way of letting the world know what they believe. In fact, what the Islamic terrorists are trying to do is to try to advance their faith by using a gun barrel or by using the edge of a sword.
But Christianity is different. I bet something is happening that those of Islamic terrorists never expected. Church leaders all over Sri Lanka and all over the world are calling for Christians to pray; don’t retaliate. Don’t let hate rise up in your heart. Just simply pray for the brothers and sisters that are being persecuted in this little island country of Sri Lanka and across the Bay, in India, in China, and around the world.
The way that God advances his Kingdom is through the power of the Holy Spirit, and no one and nothing can stop this force. It’s not through threats and violence and murder. It’s not the approach that Saul is taking to stamp out Christianity. In fact, that very approach backfires. Christians explode all over the face of the known world, taking their faith with them. Many other places hear the Gospel for the first time because those Christians were under immense persecution.
• Today, I surrendered to Jesus for the first time.
– I’m struggling with some big problems right now. Pray for me to have peace in the midst of my problems this week.
+ I will not let fear keep me from sharing my faith.
- What does it mean to be persecuted for you faith?
- Can God ultimately use wicked men for His purposes? How?
- Read Matthew 5:10-12: a. What does Christ say of those who are persecuted? b. What does Christ say we are called to do when persecuted? c. What type of person is Christ describing here? Why is it important?
- What does persecution look like today versus the time of Acts?
- What did the scattered church do as a result of their persecution?
- In what ways can you respond to persecution today?
- Pray for the persecuted Church around the world. (Resource: www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list)