For the Love of God, Volume 2/January 8

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Genesis 8; Matthew 8; Ezra 8; Acts 8

OUR VISION IS MYOPIC AND OUR understanding patchy. We rarely “read” really well the events going on around us. Consider the immediate aftermath of the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1-5). “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem” (8:1). That situation probably was not very comfortable for the believers undergoing it. Nevertheless:

(1) “[A]nd all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (8:1). Doubtless it was easier to hide twelve men than the thousands of people who now constituted the church. Moreover, to keep the Twelve at Jerusalem was to keep them at the center, and therefore to maintain some oversight of the rapid developments.

(2) “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (8:4). This signaled far more rapid extension of the Gospel than if the apostles had all gone out on missions while the rest of the church stayed home. Here was a force of thousands and thousands, most of them simply “gossiping the Gospel,” others highly gifted evangelists, disseminated by persecution.

(3) “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there” (8:5). Often in the book of Acts, Luke makes a general statement and then gives a concrete example of it. For example, in 4:32-36, Luke tells how believers regularly sold property and put the proceeds into the common pot for the relief of the poor. He then tells the story of one particular man, Joseph, nicknamed Barnabas by the apostles, who did just that. This simultaneously provides a concrete example of the general trend Luke had just described, and introduces Barnabas (who will be a major player later on), who in turn provides a foil for Ananias and Sapphira, who lie about the proceeds of their own sale (Acts 5). Thus the account is carried forward. So also here in Acts 8: Luke describes the scattering of believers, observing that they “preached the word wherever they went,” and then relates one particular account, that of Philip. He was one of the seven men appointed to the nascent “diaconate” (Acts 6); now he becomes a strategic evangelist in bringing the Gospel across one of the first social-cultural hurdles: from Jews to Samaritans.

(4) “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (8:2-3). The contrast is stunning. Saul thinks he is doing God’s work; in reality, the really godly mourn for and bury the first Christian martyr. Yet in God’s peculiar providence, this Saul will become one of the greatest cross-cultural missionaries of all time and the human author of about one-quarter of the New Testament.

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