Reading: Acts Chapter 8
By Pastor Jason Walsh
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4 ESV).
In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he calls the first disciples and tells them they will be fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-19). At the end of his ministry here on the Earth, the last command he gives them is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). As we read these, we can imagine that these commands were only for the eleven disciples, now called apostles, or for those who have been called specifically by God to grow the church. Maybe you don’t even know what a disciple is or how to become a disciple; rather, you figure the guy at church who is in charge of evangelism does that stuff.
But, as we look in Acts today, the book of the early church, there arose a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem (8:1). God was doing awesome things through the apostles, and people weren’t liking it. Acts 8:4 tells us that those who were scattered because of the persecution just kept preaching the word and growing the church. They were the ones going to Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus said they would earlier in Acts: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But the ones scattered, preaching the word and growing the church in this moment weren’t the apostles. They weren’t the guys who Jesus said he would make fishers of men and commanded to make disciples. They weren’t the men who spent three years with Jesus on the Earth. Remember, Acts 8:1 tells us the apostles stayed in Jerusalem; and the average Joe like you and me went out and made disciples.
You see, God does two things with this rage of Saul's. First, He forces the church out of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria to fulfill the divine plan and purpose as he had outlined; and second, He makes the early church depend not upon the apostles but upon the gifts of the Spirit distributed to everyone. Let us again be reminded, those who were scattered abroad were not the apostles. In fact, Dr. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, is very careful to tell us that. These were ordinary, plain-ole Christians like you and me. And yet they had gifts of the Spirit. But they would never have discovered their gifts if they had not been pushed out and put to work. So, God used this pressure to place them in circumstances where they began to develop the gifts of evangelism, of witnessing, of helps, wisdom, knowledge, teaching, prophecy, and all the other gifts of the Spirit that had been made available to them.
The command to make disciples wasn’t just for a certain group of people, but for every Christian. The early church would have never grown as fast as it did if the first Christians thought it was the job of the apostles to do the disciple making.
Sometimes I think that God will have to do this in our day before people will begin to believe that they have spiritual gifts and put them to work. Look around at the world today. Is the church being persecuted? Are plain-ole Christians like you and me being pressured in any way? Perhaps God may allow persecution upon us so that there cannot be dependence upon a central ministry, but each one will begin to utilize the gifts that God has given him.
Are you going through some kind of pressure today? Be assured, it is not punishment for our sins; Jesus took our punishment fully, on the Cross. The pressure, the trials, and the problems that come are by no means always the result of sin in our lives. Sometimes they are, but today, the pressure you are feeling may be God's way of moving you, of pressuring you into a new experience, into a new understanding of his truth and of his equipment in your life and giving you a new opportunity to put it to work.
Jesus said, 'In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world' (John 16:33)! Our "cheer" (contentment) is not with our trials, but with God who is at work, causing 'all things to work together for our good' (Rom. 8:28).
Will you rest in God as He works within your difficulties to make you more like His Son?