…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. Acts 8:1b-3
If you think back to the very beginning of Acts you may remember that Jesus gave the disciples a promise and a commission: “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” Acts 1:8). In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon them, with the result that many in Jerusalem- even those originally from all around the world- heard the gospel and believed. Yet up until Acts 8 we have seen the church mainly stay in Jerusalem. Acts 8 is where this all changes. A great persecution, triggered by the death of Stephen in Acts 7, forces the believers to flee and from here on out in the story we mainly see the spread of the gospel around the Roman world as opposed to just what is happening in Jerusalem.
From here on out we will spend less time in Jerusalem and more time following the church as it spreads to Judea and the Mediterranean world at large, especially through Paul’s mission to the gentiles.
So why does this matter, apart from giving us context for this week’s passage of Acts 9? Sometimes we may be so familiar with the stories of Scripture, and, if you have been around church for a while, the story of Paul, that we fail to really see the big picture. The story of Paul’s conversion to Christianity is an amazing, miraculous story in and of itself but it also is part of God doing yet another new thing within this fledgling church which should also inspire our awe and praise. After all, the spread of the gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world will have ripple effects throughout the centuries that eventually lead to our church communities and our own knowledge of the gospel. God knows what he is doing as he sends his people out, even if it’s under duress.
Today, take some time to meditate on the spread of the gospel throughout the centuries, starting with the events of Acts. Thank God for the ways the gospel has spread that allowed you to hear and receive the good news and ask him how you can be part of its spread this week.
By Jessica Rust