In Acts 8, a great persecution breaks out against the church in Jerusalem. However, like the persecution of Jesus, this persecution of Jesus’ people leads not to death, but to life for the world. As the first Christians are forced to leave Jerusalem, the Way begins to spread dramatically. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In Acts 8:1, as the persecution breaks out in Jerusalem, “all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” Once again, the world’s attempt to stop Jesus’ plan only advances his kingdom and victory. Indeed, Philip not only preaches to the Samaritans, but also to the Ethiopian eunuch - Ethiopia is pretty close to the ends of the earth for the early church!
One of the most important moments of the book of Acts occurs in chapter 9, when Saul (aka Paul the Apostle) meets Jesus on Damascus road. This transformation is so critical to the life of the church that Luke actually tells this story three times in the book of Acts (chapters 9, 22, and 26). Many have said that the conversion of Saul is one of the most convincing proofs of the Christian gospel. While Saul’s experience is unique, this story contains echoes of our own experiences in first meeting Jesus. Did your spiritual journey have a dramatic moment like this? Or a series of smaller God-encounters?
Acts 10 and 11 begin the conversation about carrying the gospel to the Gentiles. Significantly, it is Peter, not Saul/Paul who first converts and baptizes Gentiles in Acts. This will be a major point of contention in the rest of the story; how can anyone be a Christian without first being a Jew? Yet again and again, the apostles affirm that we are saved by faith in Jesus, not by obeying the Old Testament Law. Do you struggle with this faith vs works question today?
Acts 12 includes the first recorded death of an apostle - James, son of Zebedee and brother of John. Again, this violence against the church does not have the intended effect. Note that the James that Peter speaks of in 12:17 is the brother of Jesus, not the deceased apostle.
What if there had been no persecution of the early church? Is there a danger in living in comfort and safety as the church today? Is it ever possible to live in real comfort and also be the church of Christ?
This week, we begin the second half of Acts, which focuses primarily on the missionary work of Saul/Paul. Luke begins to use the name Paul for Saul in Acts 13:13, but we are not given a reason for the change. Paul’s first journey runs from Acts 13:1-14:28. Which of his experiences are most impactful for you?
Acts 15 is the Council at Jerusalem. This is a pivotal moment in the life of the church - read carefully!
After Acts 15, Paul has two more major missionary journeys. Pay attention to the names of the cities where he plants churches - many of them receive letters from Paul that we include in the New Testament (1 and 2 Corinthians, for example, are written to the church in Corinth).
This is exciting stuff! Enjoy and keep with it!