A movement can be defined as a group of people working together to advance a specific purpose. Christ ignited by His coming, death, resurrection, ascension, commissioning, and filling of His disciples on Pentecost quite a movement. This movement is still vibrant nearly 2,000 years after His ascension. We gain a historical picture of the early days of this movement in the Book of Acts. We discover in Acts the birth of Christ’s church upon the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, expanding from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts covers events from the 30’s through the 60’s AD.
Let me give some context to the events leading up to a passage I want to draw our attention to in chapter 8. In Acts 1, we read of Christ’s commissioning of His disciples, His promise of the Holy Spirit, and His ascension. Acts 2 records the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost as well as Peter’s sermon where 3,000 receive Christ as Savior and Lord. Acts 3 draws our attention to the first physical healing mentioned in the Book of Acts and Peter’s preaching in Solomon’s Portico. In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested and put on trial before the Council. They are told not to preach. Peter and John answer that they must obey God over man and will continue to preach. They are released. We also get a beautiful picture of a united church caring for one another and growing together. Acts 5 describes how the church continues to grow and bear fruit. The Apostles are arrested and are released. We read: “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42). In Acts 6, seven are chosen to serve to help meet the needs that existed in the Christian community. Stephen is one of the seven and appears to be quite an evangelist. He is seized and falsely accused of blasphemy. In Acts 7, Stephen preaches the gospel to his accusers. They kill Stephen by stoning. Stephen is the first recorded Christian martyr. Then, we arrive at our passage in Acts 8. The events from Acts 1 – Acts 8 occur in a period spanning over approximately a year.
We read in Acts 8:1-4:
“And Saul approved of his (Stephen’s) execution. And 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.”
From the apostolic center (Jerusalem), the persecution is used to push out an ever-expanding witness. The persecution of Christians still occurs today. The scattering of believers from Jerusalem creates a band of missionaries, not refugees. All are scattered, as a seed is sown, and are witnesses and disciple makers.
As we look at the movement of Christ, as described in Acts 1:1-4, we discover that suffering does not need to hinder the gospel’s advance but can actually be used to propel it. In fact, sometimes evangelism provokes persecution, while often, persecution energizes evangelism.
I often use the verbiage that we, as Christians, gather to scatter. I think about this moment in salvation history where persecution could have stomped out the church. However, the church flourishes and expands from Jerusalem to the ends of the world.
Whenever the church gathers, we eventually leave, scattered throughout our region, facing all the stuff of earth. It’s not all bad, but at times it is not good. But, as we walk with Christ, it doesn’t matter our circumstances; we are continuing to Know God and make Him known. Therefore, in our going, in our scattering, we are never destroyed but are more than conquerors, as witnesses to our Savior and Lord. As we grow as a disciple the fruit is multiplication, we make disciples. We gather to scatter!
John Wesley taught: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” That is good teaching. I am also encouraged and challenged by these words from Wesley: “Let the Lord light you on fire with passion, and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” Here’s my prayer for us: I pray that as followers of Christ, as we scatter, we will share the gospel in and word and deed in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and throughout our region. Lord, ignite us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!