May 9 – Acts 8:1-8


Right before our passage for this week the first Christian martyr was killed. Stephen, one of the seven leaders we looked at last week, was stoned because of his faith, and his death set off a campaign of systematic oppression among the early Christian community. Soon many followers were driven out of Jerusalem, likely leaving behind family, employment, and property. This was no average hardship; it was a “great persecution.”(8:1)

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.

Perhaps placing ourselves in this passage can help us reflect on our own relationship with evangelism. If we’re honest with ourselves, much smaller things than the threat of death keep us from faithfully sharing the good news. Whether that’s concern about image or approval, fear of rejection or not having the answers, doubts about our own beliefs, or apathy about the eternal destiny of others, often the list of what prevents us is longer than the list of what motivates us. But hopefully, in looking at this passage, we’ll see that the message of God’s love for us in Jesus is sustenance enough through the worst of trials, and that the hope that we fan into flame among God’s people propels us out to the entire world. As crazy as it sounds, God wants to use us little, ordinary Christians to accomplish his grand, cosmic purposes. That alone can delight our hearts to sing his praise.

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?