It’s ironic how the actions of a few to stop something often leads to an expansion and growth of the very thing they tried to stop.
Think about the actions of the Jewish elders and especially Saul who became Paul. Before coming to Christ he persecuted and harassed the early church, even going to distant towns and cities to drag the Christians from their homes and throwing them into prison. Saul was so fanatical he wanted to stamp out Christianity from the very face of the earth.
But what was the effect of his threats and actions? This section of scripture tells us what happened and it is typical of the strength of the church and the power of The Lord.
In Acts 8:1 we see these words which was as the direct action of Saul’s persecution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
The early church scattered around the region in direct response to the persecutions that came upon them. They did what Jesus told them to do in Matthew 10:23 saying,
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Jesus did not say they should stand and fight. He said to get out of there and move on. If someone doesn’t want to listen and they are giving you a hard time, leave.
So they did.
Spreading The Word
But they didn’t go quietly and hide in a corner somewhere. Look at what Phillip did in this section when he left Jerusalem. Verses 4-5 show they went out and preached.
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.
As they went on their way they spoke to all those they met to spread the gospel. So the effect of Saul’s persecution was not to crush or quash the word but instead he directly influenced the initial spread of the gospel to other places.
The Hand of God
We can see how the hand of God works in all situations and circumstances in this sequence of events. Rather than destroy the gospel by dispersing the church, Saul caused it to spread further afield. This is a clear example of how The Lord is in control of all things and His plan will be carried out.
But we also see the words of Jesus fulfilled in the work that Phillip carried out as he spread the gospel in the towns of Samaria. Verses 6-8 we see the following occur.
6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.
7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
8 So there was much joy in that city.
In Mark 16:20 we are told that when the TRUTH of the gospel is preached The Lord will confirm the testimony of the truth by the signs and wonders that attend it. Mark writes,
And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
When you look again at the work that Phillip was doing it is clear that those words written by Mark were being fulfilled. As Phillip spoke the words of the gospel The Lord backed up the truth of those words by healing the people, casting out demons and more. And that is how the word was spread.
The persecution of the church spread the people throughout the land and as they went they spoke to others who heeded the call of Jesus. And as they spoke the words of the gospel, God backed up their words with signs, wonders and miracles to prove that they were the words of life. This is how we can discern the truth. It will be backed up by the actions of The Lord to prove it to those who hear through His intervention along with signs and wonders.
The clearest of His signs are the signs of the Spirit for it is through receiving the Holy Spirit that many of the signs are made manifest. And we see also that when Jesus said that He would confirm the truth of the message with signs and wonders, one of those was the sign of speaking in tongues, which can and does only come from receiving the Holy Spirit. But there are also a number of other signs spoken of at the end of Mark 16 which He uses to confirm the truth of the gospel. All of which is designed to confirm the truth of the word as it is spread to people everywhere.
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