Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 11 2013 - Acts 7:51-8:13 – Driven into all the world

Steven’s accusatory sermon so enraged his hearers that they ground their teeth at him. But what maddened them all the more was his assertion that, as he gazed upward, he could see heaven opened up “and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). This blasphemous assertion echoed words which Jesus had uttered at his trial and had led to his condemnation (see Luke 22:69-71; Matthew 26:64-65). They could not bear to hear any more. Shouting at the top of their voices and with their fingers stuck in their ears they rushed upon Steven, dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Steven’s last words echo those of Jesus as he was nailed to the cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (7:60, cf. Luke 23:34).

His death must have struck the church as a terrible blow – and worse was to follow. But God was at work to accomplish his own purposes.

Jesus had told the disciples that they were to be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, and in Judea and in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Thus far in the book of Acts the gospel has scarcely got beyond Jerusalem – though it had made considerable impact there. All of that changed with the death of Stephen.

After Stephen’s death, the church in Jerusalem began to suffer persecution. This seems to have been directed particularly at the Greek speaking Christians for whom Stephen had been a spokesman; the apostles (along perhaps with other Aramaic speaking Christians), seemed on this occasion to have avoided the worst of the trouble. Christians fled the city and wherever they went they spoke of Jesus. Philip, one of Stephen’s companions among the Seven, settled for a while in Samaria where his preaching and miracles brought many to faith in Jesus. The gospel is on the move. The very attempt to extinguish it is the means by which it is propagated – from Jerusalem to Samaria and on to the ends of the earth.

Sometimes God has to bring trouble our way to drive us out of our comfort zone and into new areas of service.

And this will become a continuing theme in the book of Acts. Saul the Pharisee, pleased with Stephen’s death and determined to destroy the church of Christ will become Paul the apostle, sent by Jesus Christ to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The rejection of the message and persecution of the messengers by Jewish hearers will drive Paul to the Gentiles. God delights to turn those who oppose him into his key agents for the accomplishing his purposes. That’s what happened with the death of Jesus; that’s what happened here with opposition to his disciples.

In Samaria, Philip “proclaimed the Messiah” (8:4) and performed many signs such as healing the sick and casting out demons. One who was greatly impressed by these signs was a man named Simon (of whom we shall read more tomorrow). He was a notable practitioner of sorcery whose activity had previously amazed the inhabitants of the city. He had been called “the Great Power of God” (8:10). But now his power had been put in the shade, not by the power of Philip but by the genuine Great Power of God at work through the name of Jesus. There is no name in all the universe greater than this name.

Living God, thank you that those opposed to your kingdom cannot stamp it out but only promote its advance. Strengthen and encourage those who today face threats and persecution. Give them the wisdom and courage they need to be faithful to you and your calling. Above all, may they know that you have not abandoned them but are with them as their help and their God. Help us also to be faithful and courageous in the work of your kingdom and gracious towards those who oppose us, knowing that there is no greater name than Jesus.

Peter Misselbrook