In this passage the persecution of Christians is the catalyst for the gospel spreading beyond Jerusalem. The Lord had given the apostles a commission to be his witnesses beginning in Jerusalem, and then to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. 

After Stephen is put to death, “there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (verse 1). Saul was one of the most zealous, vicious persecutors (verse 3).

This is a reminder that Christ’s people are called to endure persecution in this world. Believers share in Christ’s sufferings. It isn’t always martyrdom it was in the case of Stephen, or prison (verse 3), but Christians and the church are targeted by the devil.

The Lord said he came to bring division among men. He means to make clear the distinction between his kingdom and the kingdom of this world. His people are called and translated out of the kingdom of darkness and death to His kingdom of light and life (Colossians 1:13). You have to decide which kingdom (and king) you will serve. 

His people are given forgiveness of sin and eternal life in the Son of God. They can never really die. But they can suffer. The suffering here was terrible. Men and women were dragged out of their homes, their lives suddenly shattered. 

Yet we read that the ones who escaped and scattered to other regions proclaimed the word of Christ (verse 4). They had to leave their homes and livelihoods because of the word of the Lord. Why would they still proclaim his name? Because they believed; they had faith. In Revelation 12, we read that Christians under intense persecution “loved not their lives even unto death.” Rather, they conquered “by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony.” They live forevermore.

Another thing we learn from the passage is that the Lord will build his church, just as he promised. The church in Jerusalem was huge, with powerful fellowship, the best leadership, and joyful worship. Yet the Lord takes it and scatters it, the same as a farmer scatters seed. It wasn’t for judgment, but to save souls in other places. The devil meant it for evil; the Lord for good.

The place highlighted is Samaria (verses 5-25). The Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. The Jews considered them apostate and depraved. The Samaritans were a remnant of the Northern Kingdom intermarried with Syrians and other foreigners. They had established a rival center of worship separate from Jerusalem, with pagan elements.

The Jews avoided even traveling through Samaria, yet we see Philip going into the city and proclaiming Christ to them. The residents there had been bewitched by a sorcerer named Simon for a long time, but they believed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (verse 12). 

It’s a brief account of people under the darkness of the devil finding salvation in Christ. They had great joy (verse 8). Samaritan sinners who are saved have reason to rejoice. They entered the kingdom of the Lord. They were blind but now see, lost but now found. They now knew the substance of the hymn we sing, “Amazing Grace.”

We are also reminded that the Lord knows who are his. The magician Simon professed faith in Christ and appeared genuine. But when Peter and John come down from Jerusalem, he is exposed as having spurious faith. This is the second time Peter recognizes falseness in the church (Acts 5:1-10).

Simon heard the gospel, but he didn’t learn of Christ. He didn’t understand the necessity of salvation; that Christ came to save sinners. He looked at the Holy Spirit as simply a power to be coveted like other powers in the world. God can see through us. Simon was still lost. Holy desires in our faith are necessary.

But there is great encouragement in this passage. The Lord offers grace to all sinners if they turn to Christ Jesus. And the Lord gives the Spirit to his people to enable them to endure persecution and spread his Name to others. He will build his church, and do it by the instruments he appoints. Blessed is he who is an instrument of the Lord for good.

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