Our First Introduction to Saul of Tarsus and beginnings of Persecution
His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.Acts 7:58, 8:1-4
Why does Luke introduce Saul in the way he does? It is clear that Saul became the main agent of persecution and that persecution initially extends all the way through Judea to Samaria. Why are just those places mentioned? Because Luke is telling us the story of how the Gospel spread through His witnesses from Jerusalem to the whole province of Judea and beyond that to the very area the Jews despised – Samaria. The partial reason as to why Luke is telling the stories he did, was to make it clear to us how the statement of Acts 1:8 was fulfilled. He is telling us also that the spread of the Gospel was accomplished by persecution. On many occasions throughout history, the Gospel of Christ has been spread to a new region because of persecution. When we are hesitant to go, persecution occurs to force us to go. Did you pick up on the inferences and implications behind why Luke splits his coverage on Saul into two parts?
Luke introduces us to Paul, the major figure of the New Testament, in the way he does simply because Paul was the reason the Gospel spread, even when he didn’t believe the Gospel. When he was vehemently opposed to it God still used him in the midst of his opposition. This God of the Gospel is in complete control. He will even use those who are most zealous in their opposition to His cause. Luke leaves us hanging by telling us this young man Saul was a bystander at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, but not an innocent bystander. He was in full agreement with what was happening and then became the prime antagonist of the fledgling church. At the time Luke wrote Acts, Paul was well established as the church’s foremost apostle. When Acts was written, Paul was actively planting churches all over Asia Minor and had even started into Europe. Luke was telling the story in retrospect. In so doing, he makes it very clear that God used the very one who spearheaded the persecution against the church, to eventually become the one who did the most to establish the church in Asia and Europe.
God began with the very one who opposed him the most. Luke makes that clear to us at the outset in the way he tells us the story. He makes it very clear that Saul was the one who was the instigator of the spread of persecution from Jerusalem outward. God used the one who was “going everywhere to destroy the church” to become the one who would go everywhere to establish the church. How did such a thing happen? Well just wait. Luke will tell you – that part of the story is coming. But first Luke focuses on how the believers adjusted to persecution. While Saul was breathing fire down their necks, God was active in ensuring the Gospel would be extended by his witnesses to all the then-known-world. At that point Luke tells us about what Philip was doing in Samaria.
Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.Acts 8:5-8
What a remarkable economy of words Luke uses to tell the next link in the story. In just 4 verses, 67 words, Luke tells us the story of what happened in Samaria. Not Judea, but Samaria! Why are we not told of what happened in Judea? Surely that region is first and then Samaria. Notice that Luke has told us Philip was one example of the witnesses who went out. There were thousands of them because the disciples of Christ were leaving the city en mass. The immediate inference to take from this statement is there were other witnesses doing the same thing in other places. It was not just Philip who suddenly became a witness to Jesus being the Messiah. There were many others. I don’t know the exact way in which Kev was using the word disciples in his question, “Were the other disciples involved in similar exciting activities that aren’t included in our scripture?” But I suspect he was using “disciples” to mean “the twelve”. Notice that Luke doesn’t use the word disciples, nor apostles. Rather, he uses the word “believers” when he says, “the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.”
These people went out in their thousands to become witnesses to gossip the gospel. Now is the time for us to consider the next set of questions. One thing is clear. It was not only Philip who carried the seed of the gospel beyond Jerusalem. It was not just the twelve disciples, it was all of the believers who now numbered 25,000 at least. What follows this is the story of one such believer, Philip. Time for me to pause again and leave you with the questions you readers have come up with. But take time to note what was told of what Philip did in Samaria.
- Who was Philip? (Helen)
- Were the other disciples involved in similar exciting activities that aren’t included in our scripture? (Kev)
- Or was it just Philip? (Kev – inferred)
- What do you know about it? (Kev)
- Why is verse 8 coloured in yellow? Is it important? (Bruce)
- Is the general theme irrepressible joy?
- Is the city named Samaria or is that the name of the region? (Bruce)
“Must you go to China? How much nicer it would be to stay here and serve the Lord at home!” She made it plain at last that she would not go to China.”Hudson Taylor’s new ex-girlfriend
“Now Mr. Morrison do you really expect that you will make an impression on the idolatry of the Chinese Empire?” “No sir,” said Robert Morrison, “but I expect that God will.”Robert Morrison
“Young man, sit down: when God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.” Said to a young William CareyWilliam Carey
Had I cared for the comments of people, I should never have been a missionary.C.T. Studd
If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.C.T. Studd
We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.John Stott
Here am I. Send me.Isaiah