Before you start reading this devotional, take a moment to stop what you’re doing, slow down and focus on Jesus.
Pray and ask him to open your eyes to see as you read the scriptures, and to open your ears to hear as you wait on the leading of the Spirit.
1And 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. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city[a] of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city.”
In Acts 8, the Church has had to respond to a sudden, unexpected, life-changing crisis, which would effect how it would operate from there on out. Just like we have had to over the last few weeks, in Churches around the world.
For the Church in Acts, this follows a golden period of growth, expansion, increase and influence for the Church:
Acts 2v41: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Acts 4v32-35: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
Acts 5v14: “… more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”
Acts 6v7: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Isn’t this a beautiful picture of the Church at its best?
But, this period of unprecedented growth and increase is interrupted in Acts 6 and 7, by the Martyrdom of Stephen. This is the first big knock the Church has taken, after these moments of rapid growth and advance. And then, after Acts 7 ends, we read:
Acts 8v1-3: “The Church Persecuted and Scattered”
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”
This must have been a very scary time to be a Christian.
People are being arrested, beaten and martyred all around. And your friends, your Life Group, your whole Church has scattered all around the Empire, and you don’t have Zoom, or WhatsApp or any form of technology to stay in touch.
You don’t know if they’re safe or not.
They’re scattered, which means that they couldn’t gather the way they normally did all together, to worship, pray, learn, take communion, and be together. Just like we can’t at this time. And worst of all, for them, it seems that the Church might not make it, with men like Saul out on the streets, and going from house-to-house ravaging and destroying the Church.
But the story wouldn’t end there:
Acts 8v4: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
This wasn’t just one or two really confident Church Members. This was everyone. The whole Church! In this time of Crisis, the Church didn’t die, and it didn’t shrink back. The Gospel multiplied, everywhere. And, what had been taught, and modelled, and coached into the Church over years of discipleship, was taken out and spread all around the Roman Empire.
The Church had been commanded to live on Mission and to take the Gospel to the Whole World. And God used this scattering, crisis moment, to get His people to do just that.
God’s will is done in the midst of the Crisis. And in Acts 8, we see the people of God take on their rightful identity in Crisis, and spread out as Missionaries and Ministers and Gospel-preachers and Disciple-makers, and they advance the Kingdom of God everywhere.
And the rest of Acts 8 and 9 tells us of their exploits:
-Revival in Samaria.
-A number of unlikely converts: A Sorcerer gets saved out of witchcraft, an African Finance Minister becomes a follower of Jesus (and takes the Gospel back to Ethiopia with Him, maybe as the first ever missionary to Africa).
-And one of the most Passionate Leaders of the Anti-Christian Movement gets saved and becomes one of the greatest leader in the History of the Church. We call Him Paul the Apostle today.
Scattering and Crisis in the Bible does not lead to the destruction of the Church, but to its advance.
As our Churches are currently unable to gather on Sundays, and in our midweek Groups, in the ways we are used to. And as the effects of COVID-19 disrupt and effect our lives, world and Church, maybe in very significant ways. Is it possible that God is wanting to use His Church in new and unprecedented ways, again, to spread the Gospel, to love our neighbours, to plant Churches, to plant hope, to point people to Jesus and reveal Jesus through our words and deeds, and to be the Church in our Cities at this time?
And if so, how do you think God could use you to play a role in this?
Respond to God in prayer by speaking to Him about what stood out to you from this passage this morning.
What is the Holy Spirit saying to you this morning?
What are you going to do in response to what God is saying to you from the text and by the Spirit?