Yesterday, in the account of Stephen’s murder, we read that a young man named Saul watched the coats of those throwing stones at Stephen. Here in chapter 8, we read that Saul wasn’t just a passive observer. He was a passionate detractor of Jesus. Even though he had heard the forceful arguments that Stephen had made, Saul deliberately set himself against all that God had been saying and doing – both through the Old Testament era and in the person of Christ. Rather than argue or even debate the case, Paul agreed that the only way to undo the “damage” done by the followers of Jesus was to violently force them into submission.
It was the murder of Stephen that opened the flood-gates of public opposition to the faith. Christians everywhere started to be persecuted, to the point where they were forced to flee from their homes. In part because of Saul – who had taken to dragging people from their homes into jail to be tried for their trust in Jesus.
Of course, God uses this apparent set-back to marvellous effect. Rather than cowing the followers into quiet submission, Saul and his like drive them into loud exile. Where ever they went, they preached the good news about Jesus. And many became believers.
Luke highlights just one man’s journey – Philip, one of the seven. He goes to Samaria, not far away. Samaria the “half-caste” former capital of the northern kingdom, inhabited then by ethnically different peoples who followed their own version of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Here he is met with open arms – many are eager to hear the news of Jesus. And as Philip preached, God validated his message with signs and wonders. So many are baptised into the name of Jesus and Peter and John come across from Jerusalem. The apostles pray for the new coverts and they receive the Holy Spirit.
Not, it should be noted, that the Holy Spirit can only be received from an apostle. Simon the Sorceror assumed that much, and was quickly chastised. He had been used to treating the divine as something to be controlled and used by humanity. And though a believer in Jesus, the old thought patters lingered. He was jealous of the power that Peter and John seemed to have; not realising that it wasn’t their power at all.I believe the Holy Spirit only came upon them with the arrival of Peter and John because God was showing how this was a legitimate expansion of the church beyond the boundaries of the Israelite nation. We are told that anyone who believes in Jesus receives the Spirit. But God isn’t bound to any formula that we might dream up.
At the Spirit’s prompting, Philip then takes the gospel to a travelling official from Ethiopia, who also becomes a believer. Truly, the gospel was spreading at an amazing rate – and all because Saul and his like couldn’t best the Christians in debating the truth!
Lord, thank you that nothing can stand in the way of your plans. I don’t always understand them, but I do trust you. Jesus, please make me as bold as Philip. I want to grow in my knowledge of you, so that I am able to share you to anyone, and answer with your help whatever questions may come. I want to see your powerful hand at work.
But Lord, I also see a bit of Simon the Sorceror in me. I want to see your work to strengthen my trust, but I also want people to think me great. Forgive me, and keep me focussed on you. Lord, you use the small things of this world to achieve your greatness. Keep me small, I prayer. Truly humble.