Today’s read included Acts 8-9. As persecution increases, the church scatters. The religious Jews who watched as the believers left Jerusalem to seek refuge in other regions thought they were making progress in suppressing it; instead, it strengthened the church. The reason was evident: “Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 4:8)
Philip went down to Samaria and began proclaiming Christ. With apostolic power, he cast out unclean spirits and healed, signs which testified to the truth of his message about Jesus. A sorcerer, Simon, makes a profession of faith and is baptized, but is later revealed to only be seeking the power he sees in Philip. He is rebuked and urged to repent. Later, Philip is sent to a desert road in Gaza, where the Spirit of God has planned a divine appointment with an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the queen of Ethiopia. God has already prepared his heart, and Philip simply explains the scriptures he is reading, preaching Jesus. He responds in faith and is baptized.
Saul, a young rabbi who witnessed and approved the stoning of Stephen, goes on a murderous rampage to root out any believers hiding in the surrounding areas. On his way to Damascus, he meets Jesus personally in a blinding flash of light and a voice from heaven. For three days he waits in the dark until Ananias is sent by God to lay hands on him, restoring his sight. Saul receives the Holy Spirit and immediately begins preaching and teaching about Jesus.
As Saul seeks an introduction to the disciples, he is not received easily. They don’t trust him, and with good reason. A disciple named Barnabas steps up and speaks on his behalf. We first met Barnabas when he sold his property and gave all the proceeds to the growing church. Nicknamed the “Son of Encouragement,” he will become one of Saul/Paul’s closest friends and mission partners. They will work together to see many come to Christ, and they will have sharp disagreements and differences of opinion, but they will remain fast friends for the rest of their lives. Paul would never forget Barnabas’ willingness to be one of the first to trust and accept him when everyone else was skeptical.
Many people are not mentioned by name, or only in passing. A man named Judas offered a blind Saul hospitality. Unnamed others helped Saul escape through the city wall when his life was threatened.
What’s today’s takeaway? As the church grows, we see the parts of the body of Christ developing. Philip has a passion for evangelism, going to difficult places, even to share with just one person. Saul experiences a dramatic conversion and becomes Paul. He has God-given gifts of leadership and wisdom, and a heart for missions that will firmly establish the church across the Roman empire. Barnabas is the quiet encourager, a generous giver of both his money and his trust. He’s the one behind the scenes, the man willing to be in the background so that others can accomplish what God has called them to do in the spotlight.
Many things have changed since the church first came into being, but the process of its growth and the uniqueness of each part of the body remains. We are called to do just what Philip, Saul and Barnabas did: Live in the fear of the Lord, be encouraged by the Holy Spirit, and preach Jesus wherever we go.
What’s your part? Are you fulfilling what God has called you to do?