Today’s Reading: Acts 8
A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. HE went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. – Acts 8:1b-3
When I stop and think of how difficult this time must have been for the believers, I find myself sympathetic. I have gone through some difficult times in my life but I have never had to flee for my life. I have had to move my family a great distance from the home and life we knew well, but never under negative circumstances.
What I can take from this is – no matter how difficult a circumstance in my life may appear now, God can do something wonderful with it. The severe persecution the believers experienced led to the spread of the gospel – to a revival that went beyond Jerusalem and spread across the land, across nationalities, and across the world.
The believers did not just leave Jerusalem in fear, feeling sorry for themselves for the difficult time they were enduring. They left praising God in the midst of the storm and preaching the Good News about Jesus wherever they went (8:4). One of these believers was Philip.
Philip was uniquely equipped for this experience because he was a Jew who could speak Greek. This gave him the opportunity to reach more people. Also consider the fact that Philip went first to Samaria (8:5). The Jews did not like Samaritans and the Samaritans did not like Jews, YET this is where Philip began his ministry as an evangelist and this was the response.
Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city…the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. – Acts 8:6-8,12
A sorcerer named Simon was among those who accepted Philip’s message and was baptized. The problem was that Simon was so caught up in the miracles and the laying on of hands that his desire became selfish. He wanted this kind of ministry but for his glory and not for the purposes of God. The disciples pointed this out to him and Simon’s response was to repent of his selfish motives (8:14-24).
I think this is VERY similar to what many of us in the Church struggle with. We see how God is using someone else and we find ourselves jealous and wishing God would use us in the same way, but for the wrong reasons. It begins to affect our relationships and attitudes towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out… – Acts 8:26-27a
His new ministry in Samaria was going great, but Philip followed the Lord’s leading south and it changed lives. Philip listened and obeyed without hesitation.
An Ethiopian eunuch was the next person to benefit from Philip’s new role outside of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit led Philip to walk alongside the eunuch’s carriage, overhear his struggle to understand the Scripture and offer his help. By coming alongside the eunuch and being willing to answer his questions, Philip had the opportunity to tell him the Good News about Jesus. The eunuch believed and was baptized (8:26-38).
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea. – Acts 8:39-40
Sometimes God shakes things up and moves us out of our comfort zone. We then have a choice – to feel sorry for ourselves or to let the Holy Spirit lead us into new situations and new relationships. It may be our presence in someone else’s life that God uses to bring them to a saving knowledge of Him. It may be our willingness to walk beside someone very different than ourselves that brings about new life.
I do not know if anyone else needed to hear this today but I know it is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Lord, forgive me for my moments of jealousy and selfish ambition. Lord, forgive me for this cloud of self-pity I have comforted myself with all too often. Place me where YOU want me to be today. Give me new opportunities and new relationships for your purposes. Make me an evangelist like Philip, willing to go WHEREVER, WHENEVER and to WHOMEVER.