Today we’re beginning a new series and for the next 10 days, and I (Sheree) get to take over Coffee with the King (and give Tim a break). In this series we’ll be looking at Acts 8-10, honing in on the formation of the church in the first century and also the conversion of the apostle Saul.
But first, let me introduce myself. Some of you may remember me, I was one of Tim’s preaching students in 2015 (view my previous blog here). More importantly than that however, for the past 4 years I’ve had the privilege of being one of Tim’s colleagues at Morling College where until recently I was the Marketing Manager. I have been studying theology at Morling on and off since 2005, and I am so excited to get into God’s word with all of you. I also enjoy photography, I am currently attempting horse riding lessons, and once I fed a kangaroo while I was dressed as a kangaroo.
Let’s get into it!
You may remember last August we did a series in Acts, and this series will be picking up where that finished up, and we find our selves at the beginning of Acts 8, verse 1b (I’m cheating a little bit, technically verse 1 in its entirety has already been covered here, but I think it gives today’s passage a bit of context, so we’re going to repeat it now).
The Church Persecuted and Scattered
Acts 8:1b-3 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Well, that’s a nice gloomy passage to begin our time together. A lot of you will know that although Saul is introduced as a brute here, he will in a few passages undergo a dramatic conversion, but for now, let’s pretend we don’t know the end of this story.
Stephen has just been stoned to death as a martyr and Saul approved of his death. This act of martyrdom had a domino effect and as a result the church in Jerusalem was subject to extreme persecution. This persecution caused all the believers (except the apostles) to be scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
At the beginning of the book of Acts, Luke told us that Jesus had declared that the believers would be his witnesses in Judea and Samaria.
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.”
This persecution against the church basically aided the fulfilment of Christ’s commission. This dispersion of believers throughout the nation resulted in widespread evangelism. Actions of men like Saul that were intended for evil, God was still able to be used for good.
Please don’t hear me wrong, what happened to the early church in these times was horrific. The persecution was great, as it states; Saul started to destroy the church and people were sent to prison because of their faith. This would have been a time where if you had any doubts or inclination to deny your faith, this would have been the opportunity to do so.
But, it also helps us to truly know that Jesus and the resurrection were true. These people being persecuted had witnessed the risen Christ, and they were willing to go to prison rather than deny what they knew they had seen. Because they knew that Christ was real and the message of the gospel was one worth dying for.
In these verses we are also introduced to the infamous Saul. Saul is out to destroy the church and is ruthless in his mission, dragging people away, approving of people being stoned, throwing people into prison. As a believer in this era, Saul would certainly not have been someone you’d want to cross paths with.
To think about
Martyrdom is still a real threat to many Christians around the world today, but for those of us (in the West at least), it’s not a reality we truly understand. But, have you ever been in a situation where you could far more easily deny your faith rather than face the consequences of being known as a believer?
Have you ever found yourself travelling on a path you didn’t expect, like those who were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria? Perhaps you’re in the exact place where God intended you to be. How can God be using you to spread His good news in the place where you find yourself today?
How can you be praying for our brothers and sisters around the world who are faced with severe persecution on a daily basis? What else can you be doing to support and care for them?
I would love for you to comment below, let me know what you thoughts about today’s study are, and also let me know who you are. Speak to you tomorrow. 🙂