2016-11-13 Counter Cultural Values

ACTS 8:1-8                                                                                                 NOVEMBER 13, 2016


The culture I grew up with no longer exists. I grew up in the 1960’s in a southern city. I grew up in a time where going to church was the norm. We had bible readings and prayer every day in school. We had fish every Friday at the school cafeteria to accommodate the Catholics. I was disciplined at school and then went home and was disciplined again. None of these cultural characteristics exist in our society today. I have come to understand that change is constant. I am grateful for many of the changes that have taken place since I was a youngster. I am grateful for the civil rights movement which has given more freedom and opportunity for minority rights. I am glad to see a return of patriotism and support of the military.

However, I am concerned that our culture is growing more intolerant of those who do not support the mainstream values. As a Christian I cannot go along with the approval of what must be called perversions. I must stand up for the truth that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. I have come to the realization that to be a faithful follower of Christ means that we have counter cultural values. According to the dictionary being counter cultural means to “reject or oppose the dominant values and behavior of society”.  We are not alone and this is not unique. The church in the first century possessed counter cultural values. The Jewish nation during the time of the early church rejected the church and all that it stood for.

The early church had been seen as a small group of Jews who followed the strange teachings of a provincial rabbi. However the trial and stoning of Stephen marks a profound change in how the disciples of Jesus were perceived. The Christian church was now considered a major threat to the well being of the Jewish people. Acts 8:1, 3 (NIV) 1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 3 Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” The followers of Jesus were now seen as being anti-Jewish and worthy of being eliminated.

Another sign of counter cultural values was the mourning of Stephen. Acts 8:2 (NIV) 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” Jewish tradition considered mourning for an individual who had been condemned to death by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, as being very inappropriate. This did not stop the believers from showing outward signs of mourning, weeping and the tearing of their clothing over the death of one who was faithful to the Lord.

It is understandable that most of the church fled. It is estimated that between five and ten thousand disciples of Jesus fled the city of Jerusalem. Because of the actions of Saul and others, the believers had to flee leaving everything. This means that those who owned homes and property had to leave everything and get out of town quickly. We do not know how long the disciples were in prison and if they were tortured and some executed. What is known is that the church scattered throughout the region.

We should note that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem according to verse one. We know that the apostles were not fearful of being seized or of dying. Acts 5:41-42 (NIV) 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” The apostles set an example that in spite of the persecution against the church they continued to preach and teach about Jesus, the risen Lord.

Jesus had told them from the beginning that they must be willing to suffer and even die if they followed him. Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” All of the apostles had already been flogged because they would not stop preaching about Jesus. They were willing to die for Jesus.

A normal reaction to being persecuted would be to hide out and remain as inconspicuous as possible. However, the ones who fled did not act normally. Again they were counter-cultural. Acts 8:4 (NIV) 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” The church took up the call to be witnesses. Because the church scattered to the four winds the gospel began to spread in all directions.

Luke then gave the example of Philip, another one of the seven deacons. Acts 8:5-8 (NIV) 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.” What is looked down upon in one place may be accepted in another.

The Samaritans were the descendants of the Jews who had intermarried with the pagan people of the land. The Samaritans still worshipped God, but they only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament. (Pentateuch) Jesus had preached to the Samaritans during his ministry. John 4:21-26 (NIV) 21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” The time that Jesus had spoken of had now arrived. The gospel of Jesus Christ was received with great joy. God is at work at all times, even in the midst of suffering and persecution.

We must discontinue viewing suffering and persecution as something to be dreaded, but accepted as a part of the call to follow Christ. None of us should seek persecution but accept it when it comes. Suffering is seen as a sub theme in the book of Acts.

Paul understood this aspect of suffering which we hesitate to acknowledge. Romans 8:18 (NIV) 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:28 (NIV) 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV) 12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” God is at work even when we don’t understand what is going on.

“The story is told of a Christian martyr who was smiling as he was being burned at the stake. His persecutor was annoyed by that smile and asked him what there was to be smiling about. The Christian replied, “I saw the glory of God and was glad.” Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV) 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Keep the faith at all times!

Let us pray.