May 9 – Acts 8:1-8
We try to do this often when we read scripture in community groups, but this is an excellent passage in which to insert yourself. Imagine what it was like to be one of these early followers. You’ve maybe only believed in Jesus for a few months, but you’ve been gathering with other believers daily, praying together and encouraging one another in your newfound faith, and seeing God save more and more people daily. But one day you hear that a monstrous thing has happened—Stephen, a godly man whom everyone thought highly of, someone you maybe even knew personally, has been drug out of the city and lynched. You and your community are reeling, but before you can mourn or attend Stephen’s funeral you’re located by the same people who murdered Stephen and chased out of the city.
For these early followers, their faith was both precious and costly. Surely this time was monumentally difficult for them—any of them would have reasonably doubted their new faith was worth the hardship of persecution. But God can work wonders out of tragedy, and two beautiful things emerge out of Stephen’s death and the great persecution. First, though Saul and the authorities in Jerusalem attempted to stamp out the church, all they did was spread the seeds. In the coming chapters the gospel will come to Samaritans (8:4), an Ethiopian (8:27), Gentiles (10:45), and other regions like the city of Antioch (11:19), all because of the persecution. The second beautiful thing is this: the very same Christians who were chased out of Jerusalem were the ones bringing the good news with them.
We see this particularly with Philip, one of the seven who served right alongside Stephen. After leaving Jerusalem, Philip headed to a city in the region of Samaria to faithfully preach the gospel. As we’ve discussed in previous sermon series, relations between Jews and Samaritans were really quite bad. But Philip, a Hellenistic Jew, perhaps had an easier time connecting with the Samaritans than his Hebrew speaking brothers and sisters would have. As he evangelized God worked amazing miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit, and many Samaritans came to faith. This shows us that even when Christians are being harassed and vilified they can go bless even those who could be called “enemies” with the transformative power of the gospel.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Acts 8:1-8 for us?
• What stood out to you in this passage?
• What do you think this time period was like for the early church?
• As this persecution arose, how do you think these early Christians felt about their faith?
• How does the context of persecution help us understand what Philip did?
• How does this passage help you think through the way you relate to evangelism?
• Why do you think God is interested in using us to bring his word to others?