On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at 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 …
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there … (verses 1-3, 5)
The martyrdom of Stephen unleashes a wave of persecution against the church, its surge carrying people in multiple directions.
The church itself, having begun life in Jerusalem, is now “scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”, a phrase that echoes Jesus’ own command at the beginning of this narrative: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria” (1:8). The very thing the Lord himself had foretold is now happening, not shaped by human strategic design, but rather sprung upon them by the force of unfolding circumstances. Indeed, more strongly yet, it’s the combined animosity of human hostility working hand in hand with invisible forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The church is under attack. Yet, what was intended for evil, the Lord is working for good, moving his followers into the very fields of witness and service that he himself desired. The Sovereign Lord will not be thwarted.
Meanwhile, the apostles remained in Jerusalem. This sets my curiosity working overtime. Why did they stay? Were they more brave than the rest, or somehow less vulnerable, or specifically directed by the Spirit to stand their ground? We’re not told. I wish I knew. But the upshot is that the bases are covered – Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria each has a vital presence of the church of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, Stephen was buried by godly men who had lingered longer in Jerusalem to carry out this act of devotion and honour. They were compelled by grief. We feel their anguish. For Stephen was a truly remarkable man, filled full of the Spirit of Jesus, powerfully furthering the church’s calling and mission. His passion and gifts contained such promise. He shone brightly for Jesus. He’d only just begun and there was so much yet to do. But now his journey was done. How could it be? Those who bury him are described as “godly men”, so I assume they will steadfastly abide in the Lord as they walk through this tragedy, turning their unanswered questions to him and yielding to his timing and purposes. But it won’t minimize the profound grief and loss. That will linger.
Meanwhile, Saul is stirred to passionate pursuit of any who are followers of the Way. Like a shark, he’s got the taste of blood in his mouth and he’s eager for more. He’s blinded by rage over the perceived blasphemy of these Jesus-followers as they claim him to be “Lord,” a blindness that will continue until his eyes are opened through a face to face meeting with the Risen Lord himself on a road to Damascus. The road he’s now on leads inexorably to that life-altering moment.
Meanwhile, Philip is one of those who is scattered, heading into Samaria and ‘gossiping the Gospel’ as he goes. The results will yield fruit for all eternity.
And so, the repercussions of Stephen’s sacrifice echo far and wide. The Sovereign Lord is at work. Tragedy is reshaped in his hands. His furtherance of the kingdom is relentless. As then, so now. Praise his name.
Sovereign Lord, praise you that your work is ongoing. Your kingdom come, your will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven. To your glory. Amen.
Pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done. As you pray, ask the Lord how he would choose to use you in the process. Commit yourself into his hands.