Sunday School Lesson: Persecution Scatters the Church

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Free Sunday School LessonsThis Sunday School lesson for children teaches about the events in Acts 8. After a period of success and rapid growth, persecution breaks out against the early church in Jerusalem. God uses these hard times to spread the Gospel to the surrounding region and eventually to all the world. This Bible lesson about the early church would also work well for a children’s church lesson plan.

Bible Story: Persecution Scatters the Early Church
Scripture: Acts 8:1-25
Target Age Group: Age 9 – 11 (U.S. 3rd – 5th Grade)
Learning Context: Sunday School
Target Time Frame: 60 minutes
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Supply List: Picture of an eagle’s nest.
Learning Goal: Students will learn that God uses difficulty in the lives of believers to help others learn about Jesus.
Learning Indicator: Students will demonstrate their understanding of the lesson by being able to answer review questions.
Learning Activity #1: Story about how a mother eagle teaches her babies how to fly.
Learning Activity #2: While waiting for students to arrive have the students present write a difficult situation they may have faced or someone they know has faced on the board or a piece of paper.  (Example:  Divorce, sickness, death, bullying, etc.)  As the students share a difficulty talk about how they can trust God in that difficulty and discuss how God could use that difficulty to share Jesus with others.
Test: Review Questions
Memory Verse: Continue to work on last week’s verse Luke 6:22-23.  As we continue to memorize this verse we can be comforted in difficulties and trust God as we face them.

Bible Lesson:  Persecution Scatters the Church

(Give Bibles to any student who didn’t bring one.  You may give your students an incentive to bring their own Bibles so they have their own each week.  We give Bible cards from the curriculum we use (Discipleland) to those who bring their Bibles.)
(If you have a picture of an eagle’s nest show the students what a real nest looks like.) Once upon a time there was a Mama and Daddy eagle who began to build a nest high atop a tall sturdy pine tree.  They found strong branches to weave together to build their nest.  They filled in the spaces with grass, moss, cornstalks and other strong fibers.  The inside of the nest is not yet a comfortable place for their babies to be born.  To make the nest a comfortable place the eagle parents put their own feathers in the bottom of the nest to pad their future babies from the sharp sticks.
When the eaglets hatch they have a nice comfortable place to live while they are cared for by their parents.  There comes a day that the eaglets need to learn to fly.  In order to learn to fly they need to leave the nice, big comfy nest they have been accustomed to.  The mama eagle knows that the eaglets will not survive if they don’t learn to fly.  She begins to make the nest uncomfortable by taking the soft feathers out of the nest.  Now the eaglets’ soft fluffy bed has been turned into a bed of sharp pointy sticks.  Mama eagle know that her babies need to fly to survive so she begins to beat her wings driving the eaglet to the edge of the nest. She pushes him over the edge and he begins to fall forcing him to try to use his wings to learn to fly.  Since he’s never used them he flaps and falls.  Mama swoops under her falling eaglet and catches him on her back and soars upward into the sky.  The eaglet feels safe once again until his mama without warning dives downward causing the eaglet to lose his grip.  The mama eaglet continues to allow her baby to fall and flap and each time his wings are strengthened and soon he is able to soar on his own.  If mama eagle would not have made her eaglets uncomfortable her babies may have never left the comfort of their nest to become the strong beautiful birds they were intended to be.
In our story today we see how discomfort has a similar effect on the believers living in Jerusalem.  As a way of review let’s refresh our memories with Jesus’ final instructions to His apostles before He returned to heaven.  Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
(Place circle with Jerusalem in a place where students can see or draw a circle on the board and write Jerusalem inside.)  We have seen exciting things happen in Jerusalem after God sent the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  Many people believed in Jesus and were saved from their sins. As a result of the mighty works God was doing in Jerusalem enemies started trying to stop people from believing in Jesus.  Who remembers what the religious leaders did to the apostles to try to get them to stop teaching in the Name of Jesus?  (Put them in jail/beat and commanded them not to speak in the Name of Jesus)  Last week God’s enemies took even more drastic measures to try to silence the message of Good News.  Who remembers what happened when Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin and spoke God’s Words to them?  (He was stoned to death.)
Stephen didn’t die fearful of God’s enemies.  Because he was filled with the Holy Spirit he was courageous even in death.  As other believers saw their beloved friend killed for his faith in Christ, he left them an example that they too could be courageous for Jesus.
Let’s think of Jerusalem as a comfortable nest for the believers. When the apostles were thrown in jail and beaten it was like having the  feathers plucked out of the nest making life a little less comfortable.  When Stephen was stoned to death it was similar to Mama eagle pushing her eaglet out of the nest.  God allows difficulties in the lives of believers so others can learn about Jesus.  God knew that there were people outside of Jerusalem that needed to hear the Good News about Jesus.  It was time for the believers to leave the comfort of Jerusalem and go to other places and obey Jesus’ command to go into all the world.
Let’s turn in our Bibles to Acts 8:1a (And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.).  We were introduced to Saul in Acts 7:58.  We will be learning more about this man next week.  Saul approved of Stephen’s death.  In other words the death of Stephen pleased Saul.  He did not like the message the Christians were spreading.  He was a devout Jew and he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Promised Messiah.  Acts 8:3 tells us what Saul did to try to silence the Christians living in Jerusalem. If you were a believer living in Jerusalem what do you think you would feel like?  Imagine sitting at your table with your family and Saul busts down your door and drags you and your family off to jail.  This would be a time of uncertainty and would not be a comfortable time.
After Stephen’s death this great persecution that broke out against the believers living in Jerusalem caused them to scatter or move away.  The believers went into towns throughout Judea and Samaria.  The apostles did not leave Jerusalem when others scattered and left.
(Place the ring around the Jerusalem circle with Judea and Samaria written on it/or draw another circle around the one with Jerusalem on it.)  This time of persecution forced the believers to move in the directions of Jesus’ instructions in Acts 1:8.  The persecution brought discomfort and drove the believers out of Jerusalem so they could share the Good News with others in surrounding territories. Let’s read what the believers did as they scattered into other areas outside of Jerusalem in Acts 8:4.  God used this difficulty in the lives of the believers so others could learn about Jesus.
These believers weren’t running scared from the persecution of their enemies, they were being obedient to Jesus’ command to go and share the Good News of Jesus.  We have that same command today.  How are you sharing the Good News about Jesus in your daily life?
Philip, one of the seven men chosen to serve the needy in the Jerusalem church travelled to Samaria and began sharing the Good News about Jesus.  In order to understand the significance of Philip’s obedience we need to know some background history about Samaria.  What do you know about Samaria or the Samaritan people (allow students to answer if they know)?
What does the word prejudice mean?  To be prejudiced is to think a certain group of people is less valuable or important than another.  It can be that rich people don’t want to be friends with poor people or it can be that a person doesn’t like a certain nationality or race.
The Jewish people were prejudiced against Samaritans.  Samaritan people were half Jewish and half Gentile.  That means that a Jewish person married a non-Jew and they had children. By marrying Gentiles they were not pure Jews.  This offended the Jewish people. They didn’t value the Samaritan people and tried to avoid going anywhere near Samaria.
Philip didn’t allow prejudice to keep him from obeying Jesus’ instructions.  He went to Samaria and taught the people about Jesus.  Let’s read Acts 8:6-8 and see what the results were.
God shows no favoritism (Romans 2:11) and the Good News is for all people (Romans 1:16).  There was great joy in the city because the people heard that Jesus had died for their sins, was buried and rose again the third day.  The people saw God’s great power working through Philip.
Read Acts 8:9-12.  Before Philip shared the Good News with these people they believed false teaching and thought that Simon had God’s power.  God’s enemy Satan tries to deceive people with tricks to keep them from believing in the One True God. In the past they gave their full attention to Simon and followed him because they were amazed by his magic.  When these people heard the truth about Jesus and saw God’s power working through Philip they believed by faith that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the World.
Even Simon the sorcerer could see that it was God’s power working through Philip.  Let’s read Acts 8:13.  We will talk more about this in a minute but first let’s go on to the next verses.
Read Acts 8:14-17.  To understand this passage we need to remember that Jews had a long history of disliking the Samaritan people.  When Peter and John came and met the believers they prayed with them to receive the Holy Spirit.  By doing this it showed that God had saved the Samaritans and they were believers and a part of God’s family too.  No where else in Scripture do we see that believers receive the Holy Spirit after salvation.  When a person believes in Jesus and trusts Him as his/her Savior the Holy Spirit immediately comes to live inside him/her. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The Book of Acts is the history of the very first church.  Things that were done such as laying hands on a person and praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit are not necessary today.  This happened in Acts to show the believers in Jerusalem that the Samaritans had received the same Holy Spirit as they did.  This showed that the Samaritans who had been despised for years by the Jews were just as valuable as the Jewish believers.
Now we are going to turn our attention back to Simon.  He asks Peter if he could buy this ability to lay his hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit.  Let’s read Peter’s response in Acts 8:20-23.
Peter’s reaction to Simon has many students of the Bible asking whether Simon was a true believer or not.  What do you think?  Since there is no right or wrong answer to this question you can share what you think and why.
There are some that believe Simon really was a believer.  Others believe that he wasn’t truly saved.  Those who think he wasn’t a true believer say that he liked the attention of all the people. He saw that he was losing that following of people when they began to believe in Jesus. He wanted this same ability to have people follow him and he thought he could buy God’s power to give the Holy Spirit to others.  Simon doesn’t seem interested in being obedient to follow Jesus and make His Name famous among the people.  It seems as though he wants Jesus to help him be famous.
Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and just as God enabled him to know that Ananias and Sapphira were lying about the sale of their property, Peter could see that Simon had evil motives for desiring the power of the Holy Spirit.
After hearing Peter’s rebuke Simon didn’t ask for forgiveness from God but asked Peter to pray that the bad things that Peter said would happen to him would not happen.  His request reminds us of Pharaoh in Egypt who when faced with the many plagues that God sent would ask Moses to pray for him but he never turned away from his sins (repented) and turned to God.
Jesus told His disciples a parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds NIV) in Matthew 13:24-29.  He was teaching them that there would be people that looked like they were believers but really were not.
We don’t know if Simon was a true believer.  Historians have said that he went on to start a false religion with him being the leader.  It is said that he became an enemy to the true followers of Christ. Based on these facts it would appear that he wasn’t a true believer in Jesus. Only God knows if a person is a true believer or not. It’s important for believers to live according to God’s Word and teach others the truth and pray for those who may not seem like they are true believers.
Peter and John returned to Jerusalem and as they travelled they shared the Good News in many Samaritan villages on their way.
The Jerusalem believers faced difficulty when they were persecuted for their faith in Jesus.  The difficulty was not wasted on these believers.  They allowed the difficulty to send them out of their comfortable nest and go to others to share the Gospel with others. They trusted God to help them as they faced persecution. The believers were becoming strong in their faith as they left the nest.  God was using their obedience to bring more believers into His Kingdom.
How are you allowing difficulty to make you a stronger believer?
Close in prayer.
Review Questions:

  1. Why does a mother eagle begin to take away the feathers in the nest where her eaglets are? (To make them uncomfortable)
  2. What would happen if the mother never forced her babies out of the nest?  (They couldn’t survive on their own)
  3. What difficulties were happening in the Jerusalem church?  (Persecution, Saul put believers in prison)
  4. Who scattered throughout Judea and Samaria?  (Everyone except the apostles)
  5. Where did the believers preach the Word?  (Everywhere they went)
  6. Why did the Jews dislike Samaritans?  (They were part Jew and part Gentile not pure Jews)
  7. How did the people in Samaria respond to the message of Good News that Philip preached (they believed in Jesus)
  8. Why did Peter and John come to Samaria? (To pray with the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit)
  9. Why was it important that Peter pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit?  (So the Jerusalem believers could see that God saved the Gentiles as He had saved them and filled them with the Holy Spirit)
  10. When does the Holy Spirit come in to the heart of the believer?  (The moment he/she believes in Jesus)
  11. Why did Peter rebuke Simon?(He asked to buy the ability to give others the Holy Spirit)
  12. Why were the believers able to obey God’s command to share the Good News even though they were facing difficulty?  (They trusted God to help them)

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