“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” -Acts 9:1-4
The will of God is profound, mysterious, and effective. “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?” Romans 11:34. In the first quote above from Acts 1, Jesus revealed His plan and will for the Apostles before he ascended into heaven. “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Apostles did well in following their Lord’s will in Jerusalem. Jerusalem became the first base of operations for the Christian church. The Church flourished and grew by thousands in just the first few months. But in the first eight chapters of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, there is no indication that the Church had any real plan to reach out beyond Jerusalem.
That all changed when persecution exploded upon the Church, spearheaded by a Jew named Saul (Acts 7:58). Under Saul’s approving gaze, Stephen, a Deacon in the Church, was stoned to death. After that, Saul inaugurated a great persecution of the church,”Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” But look at the last verse of the Acts 9 quote above: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
The Church was not moving out of Jerusalem with the Gospel, so God moved them. God used the persecution of the Church, which scattered Christians in every direction, out into the regions of Judea and Samaria. And wherever the Christians were scattered, they preached the Word. Saul applied all his mind and might toward destroying the Church; God used the persecution to make the church expand in every direction. The word of God was like a virus, passed from person to person, from human lips to human ears. And the church began to grow exponentially. Notice too that it was not the Apostles who were scattered. The apostles, the clergy, remained in Jerusalem. It was the lay people who were scattered and who preached the word wherever they were scattered.
I’m sure that at the time the Christians in Jerusalem thought they were suffering a terrible fate. They wondered whether the Church would survive at all. I doubt they saw anything good in the persecution lead by Saul. Looking back, perhaps years later, they saw the hand of God working in and through it. They saw the Jerusalem persecution as a great turning point for the Church, the point at which it turned outward and began its worldwide spread. Saul, the persecutor, was converted and became Paul, the Apostle. The early Christians learned to trust in God, even during great trouble. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” -Acts 8:28
God’s hand is working now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, for the good of His Church and the furthering of the Gospel. We cannot see exactly what good God will bring out of this, so we must trust his deep and mysterious will. One day we will look back on 2020 and we will see the hand of God. We will recognize what good God brought out of disaster. We can thank him now for what we cannot see, but what we know He is doing.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. 5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” -Psalm 146:3-5
– Pastor Anderson