After the church began, there was a time when the disciples were blessed by “having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). As time went along, that scenario changed drastically. Two apostles of Jesus, John and Peter, were taken into custody by Jewish authorities, interrogated by them, and warned not to preach in Jesus’ name (Acts 4). Next we read that all of the apostles were brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin, threatened, and beaten (Acts 5). The persecution escalated when Stephen was murdered (Acts 7).
Then what? The attack against Jesus’ disciples continued. “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). Saul of Tarsus was leading the way as “he made havoc of the church” (Acts 8:3).
Those thoughts serve as the background to the one-sentence declaration recorded in Acts 8:4: “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Who was scattered? The disciples who had been in Jerusalem (excluding the apostles). What forced them to leave Jerusalem? Fiery persecution against them.
When God’s people come under attack, that is never a pleasant thing for them. Yet, sometimes in life good things can come out of unpleasant circumstances. We wonder: when the disciples had to leave Jerusalem and were scattered, did anything good come out of that? Most certainly! What? The scattered saints went about teaching the word, and by doing so, they gave many “new” people the chance to hear the gospel and be saved. We know that scattered disciples went to teach in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), as well as in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:19). Fantastic! It is always a great thing when the gospel is carried into new areas. Are we doing that?
When one door is closed, another one may be opened, and it may turn out to be better than the one through which we originally wanted to pass. Again, disappointments or unpleasant experiences sometimes can lead to good results. Many of us know individuals who were facing serious health issues, and because they were brought face to face with the reality of life’s brevity and uncertainty, they began to have an interest in the message of the Bible, which ultimately led to their conversion. I have a couple of friends whose salvation was initiated by a conversation at a funeral. Seriously? The unhappy occasion of losing a friend or loved one played a role in their redemption.
On the human, personal level, those disciples who were forced to leave Jerusalem would have faced some challenges. Some of those may have been intense. They had to take along at least some physical belongings. They had to relocate their families. They had to find a new place to live. They had to make arrangements to have a job to support their families. Some people are great at adapting to new challenges and new environments; others are miserable when they must face such changes. Whatever the early disciples’ individual comfort zones might have been in adapting to new circumstances, it was great that they were spreading the word.
In the book of Acts, we see God’s people on the go. Sometimes it was by choice; on other occasions, it was out of necessity. Jesus wants us to go, go, go and teach, teach, teach the gospel to all people (Mark 16:15). We should not have to wait on a natural disaster, a national calamity, serious health issues, the death of a loved one, or severe persecution to get us moving. We have the message of Calvary and a risen Lord. Lost people need to hear all about that!
In the early days of the church, we see the apostles taking the lead in evangelism (Acts 2-5). But, when we read in Acts 8:4 about somebody going everywhere to preach the word, that somebody was not the apostles, since they had remained in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). So, just who was it that was going all over spreading the gospel? Scattered brothers and sisters. The work force included Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:5) and perhaps other notable teachers, but it also was comprised of common, plain members of the church. What a beautiful thought!
Paul instructed Timothy to take what he had learned and commit it (by teaching and training) to other faithful people, with the goal being that those trained ones could, in turn, go out and teach others (2 Timothy 2:2). It never was God’s plan for an elite, professional, or semi-pro group of Christians to do all of the teaching. It is God’s will for each child of His, yes, every child of His, to be involved in teaching the gospel to others. The twenty-first century church is not getting the job done in this area. We need more teacher training and 100% involvement in teaching!
What do we see in Acts 8? We see God’s people under attack, God’s people on the go, God’s people teaching His word, and God’s people refusing to quit when life got tough. Surely we can learn from this.
— Roger D. Campbell