Acts 8: Persecution--the Message Spreads

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Reading: Acts 8

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 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 committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word....
And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:1-4; 39-40, ESV)

Reflecting and Thinking
We would hardly think in today's world that the best way to get the message of Jesus out would be for intense persecution to arise. That is not the subject of our prayers: "Lord, please help the message spread by sending us persecution." But that is exactly what happened in our text. After the death of Stephen, the church in Jerusalem suffered even greater persecution so that the Christians scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Luke notes that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. Saul was a major factor in the persecution in Jerusalem.
The result was the spread of the message. Those who went forth from Jerusalem preached the word. Philip went to Samaria and many of the Samaritans, along with Simon the sorcerer, believed and were baptized. Peter and John go to Samaria and preach the gospel in many Samaritan villages. Philip is called south and encounters a eunuch from Ethiopia, whom he teaches and baptizes. After this baptism (8:39-40, text above), Philip preaches the gospel as he travels to Caesarea. The impact of the persecution is the spread of the message-to Samaria and Judea (remember 1:8), and also to the African continent through the eunuch.

As the gospel spreads in this chapter, it should be noted that in moving away from Jerusalem, the gospel goes to Samaritans (intermarried Jews who were rejected by those who claimed a pure Jewish lineage). The gospel had previously gone to proselytes (Gentiles who had converted to Judaism), but this is a new step. The gospel goes to an Ethiopian eunuch (also a Gentile proselyte). Do you think the gospel could spread in this way today? That is, by one person telling another person who would tell another person? How can the modern church get the gospel into new regions and areas? Must we undertake "mission trips" or could we take the gospel where we are going anyway?

Dearest heavenly Father God, we marvel at the way in which the gospel spread in its early years. We are amazed that the message continued, and that many received the word. Our world is as much or more in need of the gospel as the first century world. Help us dream afresh the ways in which we can spread the word. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

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Last updated June 13, 2011