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Bible Gemz 1486 - The Turning Points Are Under God's Control (Acts 8:1-4)

February 5, 2019

Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria

(Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) 

But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. (Acts 8:1-4)

 

 

I left you in the last Gemz with the connection between what was happening in the time following Stephen’s martyrdom and the comment in the preface of Acts related to the disciples being His witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and of course, to the ends of the earth. I told you at the beginning of the Gemz on Acts that the book of Acts can be viewed from many different perspectives, not the least of which is as a prescriptive book outlining the thrust of this new phase of God’s approach to reach the world. Many see that Acts is set up geographically to track the expansion of the Kingdom of God. We have come now to the end of the Jerusalem phase. 

 

Below I have clipped for you a portion of what I wrote in Gemz 1334 and 1335. 

 

Gemz 1334

 

Notice in terms of structure that Acts is arranged in particular ways. The most significant thing to note is the comment made by Jesus in Acts 1:8 appears to become a statement of intent around which the Book of Acts is arranged. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8 There is clearly a progression in the Book of Acts which follows the order of Jesus statement. 

First: Jerusalem

Second: Judea and Samaria

Third: Ends of the Earth – well, the extent of the Rome Empire at that time. 

 

The Acts of the Apostles is based on the activities of two Apostles in particular, namely Peter and Paul. Peter, the Apostle to the Jews is the focus of Acts 1 to 12 while Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles is the focus of Acts 13 to 28. Maybe it should be called the Acts of Two Apostles or the Acts of Peter and Paul. I suggested earlier in these Gemz it could be called The Acts of the Holy Spirit. Why are only Peter and Paul in focus?

 

There is yet another pattern in this book to note as we move through the details before us. Take note of the following verses:

 

Act 6:7So God's message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

Act 9:31The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers. 

Act 12:24Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers. 

 

Act 16:5So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.

 

Act 19:20So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.

 

 

Now the believers have faced increasing persecution and have been scattered to avoid being killed. This appears to be a part of the plan. There are many times that disastrous events end up being the best thing that could have happened to us individually or for the sake of the church worldwide. I could list endlessly world events that have contributed to the spread of the gospel down through the centuries. Events which at the time seemed to spell the end of an era but which, in time, gave indication that God was using the disaster in the best way possible. 

 

 

Gemz 1335

 

There is clearly a progression in the Book of Acts which follows the order of Jesus statement. 

First: Jerusalem

Second: Judea and Samaria

Third: Ends of the Earth – well, the extent of the Rome Empire at that time. 

 

The Acts of the Apostles is based on the activities of two Apostles in particular, namely Peter and Paul. Peter, the Apostle to the Jews is the focus of Acts 1 to 12 while Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles is the focus of Acts 13 to 28. 

 

There is yet another pattern in this book to note as we move through the details before us. Take note of the following verses:

 

Act 6:7So God's message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increasedin Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

Act 9:31The churchthen had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became strongeras the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers. 

Act 12:24Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers. 

Act 16:5So the churcheswere strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.

Act 19:20So the message about the Lord spread widelyand had a powerful effect.

 

You will see I have highlighted the repetitive refrain in these verses. There is a pattern to these verses. And it appears that these summary verses are used to close sections in the book of Acts, much like repetitive refrains are used to delineate large sections in the Book of Psalms. If we assume that is going on then we end up with six sections in Acts each determining a particular region or cultural group in focus. 

 

Jews in Jerusalem (1:1 – 6:7)

Hellenists and Samaritans (the despised) (6:8 – 9:31)

Gentiles in Antioch (9:32 – 12:24)

Asia Minor (12:25 – 16:5)

Europe 16:6 – 19:20)

Rome (19:21 – 28:31)

Where each of the verses quoted above closes the section outlined. 

 

David Pawson in his book, Unlocking the Bible, suggests Acts is made up of TWO SECTIONS, THREE SECTIONS or SIX SECTIONS.

 

If the divisions are based on Peter and Paul as the dominant Apostles then it follows there are TWO sections: 

1. Chapters 1 – 12 

2. Chapters 12 – 28 

 

If the divisions are made based on the geographic spread of the Gospel then there are THREE sections: 

1. Chapters 1 – 7 

2. Chapters 8 – 10 

 

 

3. Chapters 11 – 28

If the divisions are based on the linguistic refrain of the Word spreading and church growing in numbers then there are SIX sections:

1. Jews in Jerusalem (1:1 – 6:7)

2. Hellenists and Samaritans (the despised) (6:8 – 9:31)

3. Gentiles in Antioch (9:32 – 12:24)

4. Asia Minor (12:25 – 16:5)

5. Europe 16:6 – 19:20)

6. Rome (19:21 – 28:31)

Where each of the verses quoted above closes the section outlined. 

 

Or is it possible there are three patterns working at once here to convey a deeper message to us? I intend to leave this puzzle with you as a problem to keep before you as we progress through the book of Acts. I have inserted a list of the segments or pericopes for the whole of Acts so you have the full summary of what Acts contains and can use that to determine if there are any patterns to the way Luke laid out or structured the Book of Acts. We will look at this in summary at the end. But I will make comment about it as I did when we worked our way through Luke’s gospel from his Lesser Interpolation to the Greater Interpolation and all the shared material (Harmonised Sections) in between. I will do the same with each segment of Luke. Each time we come to the end of one of these sections.

 

I am simply reminding you we have reached the end of a section. Not only that but we have been introduced to a major protagonist in the form of Paul, or is he an antagonist to the Gospel? Luke is prepared to launch us from Jerusalem outward and also build the transition from Peter to Paul. Take note of the details in this transition. Just as in the life of the church worldwide, God holds your life in the palm of His hand and will often orchestrate circumstances in ways which at first seem contrary to your wellbeing. Only in retrospect, can you see God’s hand at work and realise that actually, He had your best interests at heart all along. That is where the Body of Christ was at during the time after Stephen’s martyrdom. At the time, events must have appeared tragic with the loss of one of their best leaders and the followers of Christ thrown into confusion and persecution. Imagine living in those times when Saul is driving the wedge into the church and dividing them and causing them to flee for their lives. He and his band, with help from the Sanhedrin who condoned his actions, were going house to house rooting out the Christians – the followers of Christ. I am sure they must have thought end times had arrived – blood moons and all. Not much has changed today has it? Just realise one thing – Jesus said upon the rock of Peter’s confession as to who Christ is, He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. 

 

 

You can’t stamp the church out, you only end up stamping it in. 

 

God will not waste a hurt if we let Him write the story. Steve Saint

 

Dad (Nate Saint) strove to find out what life really is. I suppose he is best known because he died for his faith, but the legacy he left his children was his willingness first to live for his faith. Steve Saint

 

I would rather die now than to live a life of oblivious ease in so sick a world. Nate Saint

 

Forgive me for being so ordinary while claiming to know such an extraordinary God. Jim Elliot

 

He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Jim Elliot

 

The turning point or pivotal points are under God’s control, whether for the sake of the church or for your sake personally. Trust Him who has it all under control. 

 

He knows just how long to leave the gold in the furnace in order to purify it. 

 

 

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