Thursday, February 14
Seeds of the Church
8:1Saul agreed with putting him to death.
On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and amazed the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great.10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God.” 11 They were attentive to him because he had amazed them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.
14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit because he had not yet come down on any of them. 16 (They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God.22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.”
24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
25 So, after they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
(Act 8:1-25 CSB)
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
Early church father and theologian Tertullian wrote those words in the 2nd century, referring to the fact that persecution in the first and second centuries by Rome had not accomplished its goal of stamping out Christianity; instead it had been the means by which it grew. While this adage does not prove true in all times at all places, it is an apt description of what we read about in Acts 8.
After Stephen’s murder, intense persecution began against those who professed faith in Jesus, causing many to flee Jerusalem for the surrounding Judea and Samaria. While Saul, the young zealous Pharisee heading up the campaign, thought he was eradicating this dangerous threat to the Jewish faith, he was actually helping fulfill its purpose.
Jesus’ last words to the disciples before he ascended into heaven were that they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The first seven chapters describe the growth and development of the early Church, but they do not describe them formulating a long-term plan with strategic growth goals to meet their given mission statement. They didn’t need to, though. Jesus does not send His people on missions for which He is not ultimately responsible for the planning and success of said mission. To those early Church followers, the resistance, persecution, and dispersion of their close-knit community must have felt like failure. They might have wondered as they left Jerusalem if it was the beginning of the end. They could have given up, but instead they kept preaching. And everywhere they preached, new communities began and grew and spread. It might have felt like the end, but it was only the beginning.
Among the Samaritans is not where a Jew would have expected, or wanted, a new beginning, though. Samaritans were despised as half-breeds by ‘true Jews.’ Samaritans did worship the God of Abraham, though, and were awaiting the Messiah (see John 4). They accept Philip’s message about Jesus readily and joyously. The fact that they do no receive the Spirit with their baptism has caused a lot of theological speculation, but as N.T. Wright points out, the delayed arrival of the Spirit has more to do with the Samaritan’s full acceptance and equal status in the Jesus-movement than with some sort of ‘Spirit baptism.’ Philip was one of the seven Hellenistic Jews chosen (along with Stephen) back in Acts 6 to serve the Church; he was not an original disciple. Peter goes to Samaria not as a sign of distrust in Philip, a fellow evangelist, but as a sign that the Samaritans, historically ostracized as less-than, second-class citizens, were equal participants.
As you read Acts from this point on, notice how Luke is describing the fulfillment of the Great Commission—from Jerusalem, to all Judea and Samaria, and soon to the ends of the earth. Also notice how each new shift is preceded by persecution or change that might have felt like an intense loss, failure, or end in the moment. Have you ever noticed the same pattern in your own life, when opposition or failure felt like the end of what you thought was God’s plan? Remember, the difficulties are often the seeds of growth.
Father, grant me the faith to see circumstances through Your eyes. When I face opposition or even failure, remind me of your earliest followers who turned persecution and scattering into new communities. I am their legacy, and may I follow their example by continuing to declare your Truth, build community, and follow your mission for my life and the life of Your Church. Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.