God’s Word for You
Acts 8:2-4 The good news
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 6, 2020
2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned for him deeply. 3 But Saul tried to destroy the church. He entered house after house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison.
These two verses serve almost as a poetic couplet, tying what precedes with what follows in a single antithetic point: Godly men buried Stephen’s body while Saul began dragging off bodies of men and women to imprison them. Saul’s desire was to destroy the church, but the result, made clear by verse 4, was just the opposite.
The scene Luke describes is of Saul (later Paul) going into house after house, searching for Christians. Was there loud knocking and cries of fear and terror? Were doors kicked in? Were windows broken? Were people dragged from their beds, mothers pulled away from children, fathers who went off to work and then simply never came home again? Slaves who went out into the fields and then disappeared? Religious persecution of this kind can make anyone look like the Gestapo; even the Jews. It was the beginning of a pogrom against Christians.
People in the world often complain that Christians have persecuted others in the same way. There is no excuse for Christians to act in this way toward those who want to persecute us. If religious persecution comes, let it come. God had a reason for allowing it to fall upon our heads. When wicked men get it into their hearts to murder in the name of the church, they have nothing to do with Christ who taught us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). That means that Christians do not go around burning down abortion clinics or taking the law into their own hands. We have the option of appealing to the government to do its duty, as Paul did (Acts 25:10-11), or the option to flee, as David did when his own son conspired against him (2 Samuel 15:13-17), or the option to submit, as Jesus our Lord did. But we should not go looking for martyrdom. The early church shared accounts of persecuted Christians, seeking glory perhaps, or trying to show their great faith, who could not stand up to the test of martyrdom and fell even to accepting idolatry to spare their lives. In the early “Martyrdom of Polycarp,” we are told this: “But one man named Quintus, a Phrygian (and newly arrived from Phrygia), became frightened when he saw the wild beasts. It was he who had urged himself and some others to come forward voluntarily. The proconsul earnestly convinced and persuaded him to swear the oath [to Caesar] and to make the sacrifice. That is why, brothers, we do not praise those who come forward of their own free will, for that is not the teaching of the gospel” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 4:1).
4 Therefore, those who were scattered began to go around telling the good news of the word.
Saul’s plan was to end this Christian teaching; God’s plan was to use Saul and his plan to spread the gospel of Christ further and further into the world. The people who were driven away from Jerusalem simply spread the word of God where they went, and the word did all of the work.
Luke uses the word ‘evangelize’ (εὐαγγελίζoμαι) in its ordinary, non-professional sense. These were regular Christians, not apostles or deacons. They were the people from the pews of the churches driven away from the city. They did not all become preachers, but they did share the good news of the gospel of Jesus. We must take care never to compel people (1) to join the church by force, or (2) to behave according to “Christian morality” if it will make some believe that by the seemingly good work of Christian-like behavior they might somehow therefore be saved. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified changes hearts, and that is the gospel we share, preach, and teach.
How simple a thing it would have been for the Christians to live and let live, to keep quiet about their faith and to tell no one else about it. That’s how faith dies in a man, in his family, in his community; in his nation. The doctrine of “getting along” and of “interfaith friendships” douses the flame of true faith in Christ and violates the very words of Jesus: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It pleases God to work through the lowly, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the abused, and the cast-offs. He lifts up the lowly. “You save the humble” (Psalm 18:22). “He sustains the humble” (Psalm 147:6). “The lowly he sets on high” (Job 5:11). “He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).
God permitted Saul to scatter the people, but Saul’s action was the same as blowing on a dandelion in the late summer. Everywhere the people went a new patch of dandelion-Christians grew, and the gospel spread, as it always does. Think of where the Lord has let the wind carry you along to where you are today. How far has the gospel of God’s holy word spread around you? Share it. Live it. Tell people about the Lord you love so dearly. You won’t always be in the place where you are now, but let this moment, while you’re there, be a blessing to everyone you know.
Pastor Timothy Smith