From Jerusalem to Samaria: How God Uses Our Suffering For His Glory and the Others' Joy
Acts: To The Ends Of The Earth • Sermon • Submitted
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Suffering is everywhere you turn your head.
It used to be that major crises happened only so often.
But now, these things happen seemingly every week, at the same time. Just think of all that’s happened in just the last two years. Unprecedented racial unrest just as widespread and violent as that of the 1960s if not more so. Utter hatred between Republicans and Democrats, as opposed to just heated disagreement.
Economic problems - inflation being the highest now that it’s been in 40 years. Gas prices higher than any of us have ever seen. A ground war in Europe perpetrated by Russia the likes of which hasn’t been seen over there since WWII. The biggest exodus of refugees, now over 2 million, since the 1940s.
Then there’s the suffering that hits closer to home. Marriages are stressed to the breaking point. Families are being torn about by the same political battles that divide Congress. Churches declining. Healthcare seems now to be hard to come by. Home prices and rent prices absolutely out of control. Mental health problems, as a result of all this, are now being called the next pandemic.
And here’s what makes this so much more fun — it’s mostly all related. You can’t really tackle one of these crises without solving the others.
There may not be much any of us can do, but we can change the way we think. We can change the way we look at this suffering. We can rewire our brains and hearts to respond differently. And all of that starts with this foundation: What is God doing as we suffer?
The point is this: suffering is all around us, and for may of us it has invaded our homes and families.
The good news it that God is here, He is active, He is involved, and He is doing something about it.
#1: Suffering intrudes upon the lives of Christians
#1: Suffering intrudes upon the lives of Christians
Let me explain. I don’t mean that the Christian life is not a joyful one. I don’t mean that Christians are miserable and should be miserable. I simply mean that Jesus promised us that we would have trouble. He promised us joy, too, for sure. But He also promised that joy and pain would mingle. Like literally, those were his words. “In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus said, “but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). We can have joy now, real joy! But until heaven, that joy will be a mixed joy. “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing”, said the apostle Paul.
This has been the experience of believers for thousands of years. Virtually all of the letters in the NT were written to churches going through serious adversity. And this was true of the church as far back as its earliest days here in the book of Acts.
Look with me at verse 1, the second part: “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions ofJudea and Samaria...”
Luke tells us in verse 1 that the persecution began “on that day”, on the day the Stephen was stoned to death. Stephen’s stoning was the catalyst the started it; his martyrdom was the spark that triggered the explosion. His death gave others the courage to do what perhaps they had been wanting to do for some time.
The fact is that there are still people today who would approve of this treatment of Christians. More and more, the intellectuals in our society look at Christians not just as being misguided or wrong, but dangerous. A prominent French magazine published an article awhile back about evangelical Christians, and his argument was basically that our real goal is to move society backwards. This is what he said:
"[Christians are out to] perform a U-turn against the secular state, the autonomy of science, the importance of universities, free-thinking, women's status, gender issues, minority rights...They are medieval in the worst sense." [https://albertmohler.com/2020/09/23/briefing-9-23-20 (accessed Sep. 23, 2020]
As our secular society marches on toward “progress”, we will increasingly be viewed as the main people who get in the way of that progress.
Now there are two ways we can look at this. The first would be what we might call “positive thinking.” My wife is an eternal optimist and I absolutely love that about her. She says I’m a pessimist; I like to call myself a realist. I sometimes say there’s a fine line between optimism and delusion.
In all seriousness, positive thinking can be a good tool, right? Let’s not focus on the problem; let’s focus on the solution. Let’s not assume everything will be horrible; God might turn things around. Not bad, right?
There’s a better way to look at it, I think - one that’s more biblical. And that is not positive thinking, but hopefulness.
Some forms of positive thinking are actually hopeless.
Positive thinking is ultimately hopeless - why? Positive thinking is ultimately hopeless because it does not face the reality of pain. It denies the reality of pain. “I’m not really suffering. This isn’t really that bad. Other people have it worse than I do. I should have a better attitude. If I just keep a good attitude, all this will go away.” But that’s not true, is it? Some things are bad no matter how you look at it.
But hopefulness looks horrific pain in the face and says “This is horrible – but God is good, wise, and sovereign, He has already met my deepest and most urgent need in Christ, and He is therefore worthy of my life, my service, and my obedience, whatever happens to me here.”
And who was at the center of this persecution? Look with me at verse 3: “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 commited them to prison” (Acts 8:2-3 ESV). This is none other than Saul of Tarsus.
Now who was Saul of Tarsus? Or better, who did Saul of Tarsus become? Well that’s for a future sermon. All Luke is doing here is introducing us to this man who will become the main character, the main protagonist in the book.
For now it’s enough for us to seal it into our minds that suffering does intrude upon the lives of Christians. I know many of you here this morning have suffered greatly. Some still are now. Many of you have wounds and scars that are still raw and will be a for a long time. Some of you e have not forgotten about you. Forgive us if we have given you that impression. Neither has Jesus forgotten about you. Your suffering — your pain — is not a sign that God is upset with you; your hardship does not mean that God has turned his back on you; he’s not done with you.
Listen to this promise from Jesus Himself: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and” — notice this — “no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father,” Jesus says, “who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one will be able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-29 ESV).
You probably aren’t suffering from persecution today, but that does not mean that you aren’t truly suffering. No matter what you’re going through, your pain matters to God. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. He is with you. And that is how you can have joy in the midst of pain.
Suffering often intrudes upon the lives of Christians. The second thing we see is that God uses our suffering to kick-start our involvement in His mission.
#2: God uses our suffering to kick-start our involvement in His mission
#2: God uses our suffering to kick-start our involvement in His mission
When I went away to college in 1999, I met two guys that first semester who have been two of my closest friends since then. One lives in southern CA, another lives in Baltimore. I love those two men. We spent a lot of time together in college. They spent many weekends at my parents’ house with me, and I spent alot of time at my friend Gary’s house because he lived with his parents off campus.
At the time, Cory and Gary were not Christians.
Today, though, all three of us are followers of Jesus. My friend Gary had been an atheist all through college. He had a dramatic conversion about the same time I did when were both 24-25 years old. I regret that I didn’t get to spend much time with Gary after we both got saved. I spent a weekend with him when he came to visit me in DC. Then he moved to California and got married. Three years ago he had a massive stroke and now can’t really speak. The days of having deep spiritual conversations with Gary are over. I have always regretted that.
What I regret more is that I didn’t share the gospel with him and with Cory in college. But I never made a single attempt to share the gospel with them. I was intimidated. I didn’t want to be rejected. Perhaps I didn’t really believe the gospel myself back then. By God’s grace both of them are saved now and they are different men entirely. But they are different men in spite of me, not because of me.
The point is, we often need a kick in the pants to get involved with evangelism. And sometimes God uses circumstances we might not really like to get us going.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
What do I mean? Well, back in Acts 1:8, Jesus commissioned them and us to take the gospel out. He said, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (NASB). But acts of Acts 8, the disciples and apostles are still in Jerusalem. They haven’t moved out yet.
So what did God do? He used the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem to be a kick in the pants. Look at verse 4: “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” Notice that word “went about”. If you underline in your Bibles, mark that one. It means “they went everywhere”. It means “as they went from place to place, they shared the gospel.” This is lifestyle evangelism. This is building a relationship with and sharing the gospel with those people that your daily routine brings you into contact with.
God is absolutely crazy about missions. The heartbeat of our Savior is that people from every tribe, nation, language and tongue come to know Him by faith in a personal relationship and be forgiven and be changed.
Which is why our long-range planning committee has come up with some goals for our church for missions. Tyra shared these last week and we’re going to update you every month going forward. But here’s another recap:
Long-range planning team two-year goal #1:
With God’s help, every Buffalo member will become missions aware
The first goal is that with God’s help, every Buffalo member will be missions-aware. Doesn’t mean we don’t think you know about the importance of missions, because you do. But we want every one of you to have a personal conviction of the importance of missions; we want every one of you to have a personal conviction about being involved in missions. “You know what, I feel very strongly that God wants me involved in this work.”
Even if all you do is fill out cards to send to our neighbors or cook food for those of us who might go out into these neighborhoods. Not everyone is called to preach the gospel; but there are a multitude of other ways you can be involved, ways that fit your unique temperament and personality and gifting. Every Buffalo member becomes missions aware.
Long-range planning team goal #2:
With God’s help, we will establish a regular pattern of outreach to our immediate community.
This means things like the fall festival, back to school bash, the card outreach, car washes in our parking lot with music and snacks. We want the unchurched in the Moss Lake community to know that not only are we the closest church to them; we are a place they can belong and grow because here they are loved by Jesus and loved by us.
And by the way, this does not mean we are forgetting about our inactive members. We will never forget about our inactive members. Jesus told the story about the shepherd who left the 99 sheep who were safe and went out searching for the one, not willing to rest until he was carrying him back on his shoulders. That’s Jesus’ attitude toward those who have strayed and it is to be ours too.
But church, do you know the best way to bring them back? Turn to the person beside you to your right and point each other. And turn to the person beside you to your left. You all have to help me in this. You have years of history with these people that I don’t, years of history that Shawn doesn’t have.
So who is there today, just one person, that you can call up or text and say, ‘Hey, let’s catch up.’ Gently and prayerfully inquire as to why they’re not here. Ask them what they would need in order to come. And pray for them. Lovingly pursue them. It sounds intrusive, I know, but church that is how Christ pursues us, and that will be more effective than any event or festival or program designed to bring them back.
It’s interesting that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem thought the persecution and violence would actually stamp out the church. It’s interesting to me that they thought, “Good, our problems are over because they left.” You know what they overlooked, though? What happens if I go into the woods and pick up a tree branch covered with leaves and light a match and hold it up? It goes up in flames. Now what happens if I throw that branch that’s on fire about 30 feet into the woods? Are my problems over? If you pick up a burning branch and throw it, you don’t put the fire out; you spread the fire instead.
“Christ had said, I am come to send fire on the earth; and, they thought, by scattering those who were kindled with that fire, to have put it out, but instead of this they did but spread it.”
God uses the suffering of His people to kick-start our involvement in His mission.
#3: God uses our suffering for His own glory
#3: God uses our suffering for His own glory
So many of the disciples from the church in Jerusalem were scattered into exactly the area that Jesus instructed them to go.
One example of this is given in verse 6 with Philip. Philip was a deacon. But Stephen was also a powerful evangelist. He knew how to communicate the gospel with accuracy and clarity and power; he knew how to present the claims of Christ and bring them home to the harts of his hearers in such a way that they were convicted of sin and brought to trust in Jesus as their Savior.
Look at verse 6, and look at how the Holy Spirit was with Philip and how Philip was empowered by the Holy Spirit: “And the crowds” — notice this — “with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip.” As a preacher I can tell you that there some people who are always engaged; there are some who are sometimes engaged and sometimes not depending on what’s in their mind and heart on a Sunday morning; and there are some who just don’t care, who are never engaged. They look around, they look up, down, side to side, anywhere but down here. It is rare to have 100% of your audience engaged in the sermon.
But the people in the city of Samaria, Luke said, “with one accord they paid attention to what was being said b y Philip.” I wonder — do you think that if we were to be reminded of what’s happening in a sermon, we might be more inclined to be engaged? If we were to remember that in a sermon, where the Bible is being opened and explained and proclaimed and applied, that in those moments God is actively and truly speaking to His gathered church here in this room — not because the preacher is speaking for God but because He’s preaching God’s word? Something to ponder between this Sunday and next.
Look at what was happening was Philip was preaching. Philip was preaching and God was confirming his preaching - how? By miracles. This happened a lot in the early days of the church as it spread from one geographic area to another. As the gospel broke through cultural barriers, like here with the disciples moving out of Jerusalem into Samaria, the gospel was accompanied by signs and wonders. Here, those signs were the healing of those who were sick and casting out demons.
The purpose of miracles:
“Signs” - they point away from themselves to God
They make the message credible by showing that this is a message from God
They bring glory to God
Now, I said that God uses our suffering for his glory. Here’s where we see how. What do signs do? What is the purpose of the miracles in the Bible? It’s significant that miracles are called “signs”. What does a sign do?
I had a driver’s ed teacher who made us get out of the car and walk up to the stop sign and apologize to the stop sign for running the stop sign.
But of course a stop sign isn’t a person and it isn’t the point. A sign points beyond itself to something else. When you see a sign on Hwy 150 that say “Shelby 8 miles”, no one would stop and walk up to the sign and say, “Oh, great. I’ve made it to Shelby!” We would be rightly concerned about that person. The sign is not Shelby. It points to Shelby. The signs exists because Shelby exists.
Miracles are the same thing. Miracles are a supernatural happening that is unusual - an instantaneous healing. How did that happen? The appearance of $1000 in the mail box when you have a huge expense. Where did that come from? Miracles are meant — by the fact that they’re so unusual and clearly supernatural — miracles are meant to point us to the only One who could possibly pull off that kind of thing: the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God. It’s God intervening in the normal course of events with something strange and arresting as if to say, “I’m here. I’m real. I’m for you. So listen to my voice. Pay attention.”
In that sense a miracle is a sign, and because miracles point us to the all-knowing, all-powerful God, miracles bring glory to God. They enhance his reputation, not ours. They point to his power and his greatness, not ours. Miracles and signs reveal the glory of the unseen God.
Now here’s the point, church: None of this would have happened in Samaria, church, unless Stephen had died and the early church been persecuted and scattered. “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 ESV). God uses our suffering for His glory.
What are you going through today? There are probably some of you who are struggling with something and you’re all alone in it. You haven’t told very many people or anyone at all, maybe, because it’s so painful and you’re so ashamed. Friend, Jesus knows where you are and He wants you to let Him into that suffering. One day, I don’t when or how, but one day God will take what you are going through right n ow and use it in your life or in someone else’s life, for His glory and your good, and you will know that all that you went through was not in vain. It was for a higher purpose, something bigger than you alone.
God uses our suffering for His glory. Lastly, God uses our suffering for the joy of the nations.
#4: God uses our suffering for the joy of the nations
#4: God uses our suffering for the joy of the nations
Joy vs. happiness:
Happiness is circumstantial (dependent on conditions)
Joy transcends circumstances
I can have joy even in the face of terrible odds
What is joy? It’s different from happiness, right? Happiness is dependent on circumstances. Joy is not. You can have joy even in the face of terrible pain.
Some of you may be familiar with Joni Eareckson Tada. She’s a quadriplegic, meaning she has no use of her legs. She dove into a pool at the age of 17 and was paralyzed from the waist down. She’s in her 70s now. She has spent her life speaking and writing about suffering.
Her suffering has just piled on and piled on. Not only does she have no use of her legs. She also has had cancer twice and deals with severe, chronic pain.
One day her and her husband Ken were coming home from a medical treatment of some kind and she said, “You know, suffering is like hell splashing over into our lives.” Her husband agreed and after thinking for a while, he asked, “well, if suffering is a splash-over of hell, what is happiness? Is it when the sun shines and you’re smiling and everything is right with the world?”
They thought silently about that for awhile as they drove. “No,” they said. “That’s not happiness. That’s not joy. Joy is you find Jesus, with you, in your pain, by your side, in the midst of your splash-over of hell. That is what joy is.”
Why do I say that? And why have I worded it like that? God uses our suffering for the joy of the nations. Look with me at verse 8: “So there was much joy in that city.” Let’s interrogate this verse, shall we? What city? The city of Samaria where Philip was preaching. What did the people in that city experience? Joy. To what degree? Much joy, Luke says. Why? Well, look at the previous verse: “For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.”
That’s why there was much joy in that city.
This, church, is why we do missions: the joy of others. We have found the joy and peace that come from being completely accepted and forgiven and loved by Jesus. And we want those who lack that joy to know that joy. We tell others about Jesus because only in a relationship with Him is that joy found. That’s why I can say that God uses our suffering for the joy of the nations.
Our suffering = their joy
Samaria discovered joy in Jesus because Philip preached
Philip preached because they were scattered
They were scattered because of the persecution
The people in Samaria found Jesus and the joy that He gives. Why did they find that joy? Because Philip came and preached Jesus to them. Why did Philip come and preach Jesus to them? Because he was among the Christians driven out of Jerusalem. Why were they driven out? They were persecuted because of their faith in Jesus. Persecution is suffering of the worst kind. God used their suffering for the joy of the nations.
And God will do the same with you.
Conclusion and call for response
Conclusion and call for response
Are you noticing a pattern here? Suffering will intrude into the lives of Christians. God will use that suffering to kick start our engagement in His mission. God will use our suffering to glorify Himself. God will use our suffering for the joy of the nations. You see the pattern?
Our suffering is not about us.
Oh, that’s not a truth we want to hear. Oh how hard it is for me to hear that.
But for all the pain it brings, suffering does carry this benefit: if you’ll let him., God will use it to really teach you that lesson that everyone else struggles to remember, which is that our lives are not our own. We are not here for ourselves.
We are here to bring God glory in all that we do. We are here to serve others and help them grow into all God made them to be. Everything we have is from God. Not even our suffering belongs to us. God has given it to us for a purpose. This is what life is all about. This is our purpose, and if you’re living out of sync with that, then why wouldn’t you struggle with restlessness? Why wouldn’t you feel empty?
The most fulfilling way to live, is to live a life of pouring yourself out for others. Living to minister Christ and His gospel to others, no matter what your job and calling are.
Maybe some of us today need to open our palms to God again and offer Him all that we have. “Lord, my family exists not for us but for you; what do you want us to do for you? Lord, my money and my possessions and my property are not for me; they are for you. How do you want me to use them? My talents and gifts and abilities are not mine; you gave them to me; how do you want me to use them?
Maybe others of you need to recommit your lives to Jesus today. You’ve been out of His will. You’ve been in some unrepentant sin. You’ve fallen away. Maybe your suffering knocked you off track. Jesus understands, and He wants you to know itt is not too late to come back. There is an invitation from Jesus to you: Jesus says you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev. 2:4-5). Jesus’ arms are wide open with love to receive you back today. Come home today. He will receive you; He will forgive you.
Maybe others of you need take another step in commitment to Christ today by becoming a part of this church, by joining up with us as members and partners. We need you; you are valuable; there are ministries that we cannot do here at Buffalo without you and your unique gifting. And you need us. Join our church. You can come up during the invitation and sit on the front row and I’ll call you up to introduce you to the church. You don’t have to say anything; I’ll do all the talking. Why don’t you make that step today?
Maybe others of you have come to realize today or in recent weeks that maybe you’ve never really trusted Christ as your Savior. The gospel is good news! It announces that God has intervened in all this chaos and sent His Son. His Son Jesus died on the cross, in our place, bearing our sin and guilt and the wrath of God. He lived a perfect life in our place too. Then He rose from the dead in victory, ascended into heaven, and sent us His Spirit to be His presence with us here.
And if we will just believe in Him, if we will only trust Him, our sin is transferred to Him, His righteousness is transferred to us. We’ll be forgiven all our sins. We’ll be declared innocent by God. And God will begin working on us gradually to change us into the image of His Son. After, we get to enjoy life on a new heaven and new earth, with Jesus by our side.
And church, this truth, which is the gospel, must begin to change how we see ourselves, everyone around us, and everything happening around us.
Don’t leave here today, friends, without settling that. God the Father has promised in Scripture that He will forgive any and all sin, past, present, and future, if you will but come to Jesus in faith and say “I am yours; save me.” You can do that right where you are or you can come down front or you can me or pastor Shawn aside after the service. All who call upon the Lord will be saved,.