Acts 8:1-5 Persecution and Faithful Preaching
“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
Saul was a Pharisee, “consenting,” unto the death of Stephen. Saul was overseeing the stoning, and he was delighting in it. Saul was approving of the wicked works of the Jews and partaking in their joy of seeing God’s people crushed.
Saul was an instrument of Satan, used by his father to carry out his wicked works. All of God’s enemies delight in any inkling of Christ’s people and kingdom being stifled.
One of the reasons for this delight is because sinners do not want to come to terms with the consequences of their actions. Acknowledging the holy God who sees all their deeds and will hold them accountable is a terrifying thought. The wicked solution is to attempt to wipe God out, and that is done on earth by persecuting His people.
Luke tells us that this persecution was not just against Stephen but against the entire church in Jerusalem (see verse 3). The result of the persecution was God spreading out His people throughout Judea and Samaria.
Jesus has told his disciples that rejection in a city should lead you to the next city. Though his people changed locations, their mission remained the same.
Only the apostles remained in Jerusalem, presumably to see the remaining church in Jerusalem through the difficulties of the persecutions they were facing.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
Christians who witnessed this horrific murder took up Stephen’s body to give him a proper burial, and to mourn his death.
In Jewish culture, men who died a shameful death (like public stoning) were not to be lamented over.
These devout men cared for Stephen and chose to identify with him before a people that had just stoned him, and to forgo the cultural expectations of their time by mourning the loss of a hero in the faith.
Jesus calls for His people to identify with Him and with one another. Doing so could result in further harm to those doing so, but the world is to see a unified body, bound together by the only Savior.
We are also shown here the importance of honoring hero’s in the faith who give themselves wholly to the cause of Christ. The psalms tell us that Stephen’s death is precious to God (Ps 116:15). How is it to be seen then by God’s people?
As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
While Stephen was being buried and the church at large in Jerusalem was scattering Saul was ravaging the church anywhere he could smell it.
Saul entered the homes of those hosting churches and of those known to be Christian, and he dragged out men and women alike. Saul’s lack of discrimination between men and women in his enforcement, and his willingness to cast both into prison, shows how full his wrath was towards the church of God.
When God’s just wrath falls on a society, we see judgement upon men and women alike. Here we see Saul’s wrath, filled up, as it were; against Christ’s people.
Later in Acts, Paul recounts even the insistence he made that these Christians blaspheme Christ as Saul persecuted them.
“And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.”
Saul was exceedingly mad at Christ’s people. He sought the destruction of the only one who could offer him life, and the people preaching that gospel.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.
What happened to the church because of this persecution? They spread through Judea and Samaria. And what did they do in these regions? Everywhere they went, the preached the Word.
The preachers from Jerusalem did not go forth to other cities with any vain or worldly hope. They came with the only hope for all humanity, the gospel of Christ that shines forth in the Word of God. They came preaching the Word. They brought the same law and gospel preached by Stephen. No alterations, no adjustments to avoid the same result of Stephen; just the Word.
God calls all of his messengers to the same calling. Preach the Word, in season and out of season. Bring them the piercing law of God that pierced hearts and reveals sin. Bring sinners the only hope they have for reconciliation with God as they see Christ for who he is. And bring them the law of God again so that they might walk with Christ all the days of their life.