Reader: “But the believers who were scattered”
Response: “preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.”
Scripture: Acts 8:1b-8
A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.
But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
The impact of the resurrection of Jesus was bringing great turmoil to the city of Jerusalem. There were those people who believed in Jesus whose lives were being transformed. Then there were others including Saul of Tarsus who were attempting by every means possible to stamp out what they considered blasphemy against the God of Israel. Following the infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples proclaimed the gospel wherever they went. Under severe persecution, the fledgling church scattered from the city of Jerusalem into the surrounding areas of Judah and Samaria.
We are given in this passage the account of the disciple, Philip, and his evangelistic ministry as an example of what was happening. You’ll recall that before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told the disciples that with the coming of the Holy Spirit they would be empowered to do miracles and even greater things than he had done. Such was the case here with Philip.
Philip was called by Jesus to be one of his twelve disciples. Unlike some of the other disciples, Philip was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian. He spoke Greek. He was one of the first disciples to take the gospel to those outside Jerusalem as we read here. He, along with Stephen, was one of the first seven deacons.
After the death of Stephen, Philip traveled north to Samaria, the region where Jesus had met the woman at Jacob’s well. There were already some believers in that region as the result of Jesus’ previous encounter with the woman. It was there that Philip fulfilled Jesus’ words in performing many miracles, healing the lame, and casting out demons. On another occasion an angel directed him to travel southwest out of Jerusalem. While traveling down the road, he met an Ethiopian eunuch and explained to him how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53. The Ethiopian believed and Philip baptized him on the spot. Philip was then transported by the Holy Spirit to Azotus, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Philip preached his way north along the coastline eventually settling in the city of Caesarea. Years later, Paul stayed overnight in Philip’s home there on the coast. Due to his sharing of the gospel, he was known as Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8). Tradition records that he was martyred in 52 A.D. by crucifixion.
There are a couple of things to note from this passage. Philip, a Hellenistic Jew, helped communicate that the gospel was to extend far beyond the Jewish world to all peoples. Second, he lived in a tense world where the message of the gospel went directly against the culture of the day. But to Philip that was no hindrance as he ambitiously proclaimed the risen Lord and the transforming power of the gospel and as a result many believed.
But the truth of one exclusive way to deal with sin and separation from God through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ was not popular among the secular masses. The presence and goodness of the truth of God exposed the darkness and depravity of the people and their culture’s values. As a result, those alienated from God sought to stamp out the Christians and the gospel message through all forms of persecution including martyrdom. Many of the early church fathers died painful deaths rather than recant their Christian faith in a failed attempt to exterminate Christianity. Philip serves us as an inspiration on how to live in our world with fearlessness and proclaim the gospel in the midst of, in Paul’s words, “a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Let us live the gospel with joy. You may be the clearest picture of Jesus people see today. Like Philip, live with abandon!
Music: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” Jadon Lavik
Use me then, my Savior, for whatever purpose, and in whatever way, you may require. Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with your grace. Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with your love. Take my heart for your abode; my mouth to spread abroad the glory of your name; my love and all my powers, for the advancement of your believing people and never suffer the steadfastness and confidence of my faith to abate; so that at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, “Jesus needs me, and I am his.” ―D.L. Moody, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.81