Study 11 MANY BELIEVERS SPREADING THE WORD
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 8 -11)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 11:19-21
In these verses, which constitute a simple historic note given to us by Luke, there are five important truths to consider. The section of scripture between Acts 8:4 and 11:18 is in parenthesis, because in Acts 8:4 we read that the disciples “had been scattered”, and in Acts 11:19 we read what happened when they “had been scattered”. What lessons should we learn from these verses?
1. The seeming tragedies of life are often seen to be triumphs for the gospel when viewed in retrospect
It must certainly have seemed a tragedy, and it was a great trial and upset, when as the result of Stephen’s persecution and martyrdom the Church at Jerusalem was stirred up so much that the believers were scattered. But now we learn from Acts 11:21 that all this had turned out to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12). The tragedy led to a great outreach for God’s message of grace and love. When Stephen died the believers must have felt that there could not be any possible purpose in God allowing such an awful thing to happen; but God is sovereign, and nothing happens by chance. We know tragedies can happen in our lives; we experience sorrows, trials and disappointments. At the time we cannot see how there can be any good purpose resulting from them. If a loved one is taken, we are involved in an accident, our business suddenly fails, or we experience a crushing disappointment – can we see at the time any purpose in all these things? No – we cannot! But God is on the throne, and Romans 8:28 has not changed; like Joseph, we may be fruitful day after day even in the land of our affliction (Genesis 41:52). The one thing that the Lord wants is that we should trust Him. He knows what He is doing; we are His children and He wants us to leave all our worries, doubts and fears with Him, and He assures us that if we do that, all will be well – look up Job 23:10.
2. The spread of the gospel is dependent upon the witness of the laity
This truth is emphasised repeatedly throughout Acts; see verses 19-20:
- 1. “THEY” (verse 19 KJV). In Acts 8:1-4 we notice that they were the rank and file members of the Church, not the apostles but the ordinary members. It is important for us to see this.
- 2. “TRAVELLED” (verse 19). This word tells us that they preached as they went, and wherever they went.
- 3. “TELLING THE MESSAGE” (verse 19). They had no pulpit, no prepared ‘sermon’; they told others about the Lord and what He had done for them.
- 4. “SOME OF THEM” (verse 20). These words are interesting, because it reminds us that there were many people who were on the job whose names are not given, and this encourages us. The gospel is spread mostly by its unnamed heralds!
- 5. “PREACHING” (verse 20 KJV). This means ‘proclaiming’ and is the only kind of thing done from a pulpit; it is important. Spreading the gospel is dependent not only on telling (verse 19) or gossiping the good news.
3. The message entrusted to us is simple and sufficient
Verse 19 refers to this, and we know that the message is “the Word”. In verse 20 it is described as “the good news about the Lord Jesus”. The written Word and the Incarnate Word must go together; the Bible and the Lord Jesus cannot be parted because they are inseparable (John 1:1; Acts 4:12). But what is it to preach the Word, the Lord Jesus? Notice that you cannot really preach Him in His full glory, dignity and power unless you accept and believe in the Bible as the Word of God, because it is the Bible which reveals Him in the perfection of His Person and Work. An imperfect Bible means an imperfect Christ, because the Bible is our only true and valid revelation of Him. What then is it to preach the Word? It is to preach the Lord Jesus (the Word), who is God’s thought fully expressed in the Person of His Son – John 1:14; 14:8-11; Hebrews 1:1-3. What a message – simple and sufficient!
4. The preaching which honours God and exalts the Lord Jesus secures the co-operation and blessing of the Holy Spirit
This is the only preaching which does secure God’s blessing – and what is God’s blessing which comes as a result of the preaching of the Word? It is contained in verse 21, in the word ‘believed’. What would happen if in every Christian church the preaching centred upon the Person and work of the Lord Jesus and proclaimed Him as He is revealed in “the Word”? – verse 21 would happen! There would be real results, because “the Lord’s hand” would be upon the preacher and the listeners, and multitudes would be converted. But what does real conversion mean? It means trusting Christ as our personal Saviour. Does it mean more than that?
5. The evidence of real faith is seen in a genuine turning to the Lord
When people really believe on the Lord Jesus Christ they turn to Him. This means turning away from sin and turning to Him (Isaiah 55:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 1:9); it means turning away from all that is unlike Him and contrary to His will; it means putting our whole trust in Him as our Lord and Saviour, and going on into a life of trust and obedience to Him.
What wonderful things would happen if we got back to the New Testament Acts of the Apostles pattern, as indicated in Acts 11:21! God grant that we may see the Lord working like this in the coming days, before He returns.