“Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. 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 of the Apostles 8:1-3 NLT
Yesterday I shared the story of Sauls conversion, how God used him mightily to spread the gospel to the known world, and how his name was changed to Paul in Acts 13:9. I included this passage of Scripture (Acts 8:1-3) as a reference to his zealous and vicious efforts to destroy the church of the Lord Jesus prior to his born again experience in Acts 9.
Today I want to focus on the result of the persecution. When this persecution took place the church had grown to a great number. Some estimate the number to be up to 20,000.
Let's rewind a moment. In Acts 1:15 we read:
“During this time, when about 120 believers were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them.” NLT
This group of 120 are the ones who abode in the upper room as Jesus had instructed in Luke 24:49 to wait for the promise of the Father. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as "Paraclete" - the Greek word for the "comforter, encourager, counselor, and advocate" in John 14:16. The Holy Spirit was going to be sent to empower them. These believers were now capable of having the presence of God's Spirit deposited inside them because the blood of Jesus had, once and for all, purged their transgressions.
“With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.”
Hebrews 9:12 NLT
In Acts 2 we read that this empowerment occurred. The church (God's people) was instituted by Jesus in Matthew 16:18. In Acts 2 the church was inaugurated and empowered when they were baptized by His Spirit. This equipped them to preach and teach the gospel with His anointing. Mary, the physical mother of Jesus was among the number (see Acts 1:14). Even she had to be baptized by the Holy Spirit! Yes, Mary is a respected woman in history. However, she was a human vessel that God used to give birth to the physical Lord Jesus! We call Him the Son of God because He was Divine in His origin, pre-incarnate as God in the beginning (see John 1:1-18; 8:58; 14:8-12; Colossians 1:15-16; 2:9; I John 1:1-5 and more), yet born in human flesh through the woman named Mary. She gave birth to Him humanly. He gave birth to her spiritually. She was here because of Him. He was the Creator and yet he came here among us through the avenue of a baby by a woman. His Father is God!!! Only a sinless blood could redeem us. His blood was sinless because God was His Father!!! He did this to experience humanity in every facet - from conception to adulthood (see Hebrews 4:15). Mary was no more than a human vessel, like any of us, who must have the Spirit of God re-deposited into our lives through the born again experience. Moses, Daniel, Peter, Paul, Billy Graham, etc. We all have to be born again. None of us are holy without the blood of Christ!!! We all need the Spirit of God to baptize us with His presence and power!!!
Getting back to the number within the early church. In Acts 2 we read that 3,000 were saved on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41).
In Acts 4:4 we read:
“But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.” NLT
Acts. 4:4 indicates the number of men. When we add the women and children to that equation we easily come to approximately 20,000 people associated with the early church.
There is one problem: The church is just in Jerusalem! God wanted the church to go to all the world (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-20).
Acts 1:8 says:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts of the Apostles 1:8 NLT
Up to this point (Acts 8:1-3) the church is only in Jerusalem. God used the persecution to drive the laity to other regions of the world. He even used the main persecutor (Saul - Paul) to proclaim His truth to the world. From Acts 8:1 through the end of the book of Acts we read how the church took the gospel to the known world of the time.
In Acts 8:1 we read that all the believers "except the apostles" were scattered to the regions of Judea and Samaria. This meant that the laity (members, not overseers) of the church were dispersed. These laity established homes and began sharing their faith with the society around them. We read from Acts 13 and beyond how God used the church to send out missionaries like Paul and Barnabas to preach the good news of the kingdom to the world. This continued until even Caesars household (the Roman Emperor) had even heard the gospel.
“And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household.”
Philippians 4:22 NLT
In Acts 28:17-31 we read that Paul preached under guard to the Roman authorities and anyone else who came to his place of lodging.
We, too, must be about our Father's business of preaching the gospel to the world until Christ Jesus our Lord returns!
Preaching the gospel is every believers responsibility!! No, not everyone is a pastor but everyone can proclaim the message of salvation through Jesus Christ!
“And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”
Matthew 24:14 NLT
Curtis R. Norris
Rev. Curtis Norris