As a direct result of Stephen’s death and a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, some Christians began to leave Jerusalem. They dispersed throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). As they scattered, they continued to preach the word (8:4). God used the difficult circumstance of persecution to take the gospel to all nations. As some Christians fled the persecution, they took the gospel to their new homes in other regions.
In Acts 8, Phillip preached the gospel in Samaria (v. 5). Following the Spirit’s guidance, Phillip also shared Christ with an Ethiopian eunuch (8:26–40). And so the gospel made its way to the horn of Africa (Shelley 2013). The gospel was on the move and the church continued to grow.
We are first introduced to Saul at Stephen’s stoning, where he approved the execution (Acts 7:58; 8:1). Saul was a Jew who had Roman citizenship. He studied under a famous Jewish Rabbi, Gamaliel (Acts 22:1–3). Saul was an extremely devout Jew who did not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah. He was repulsed by Christians and set out to ravage the church by entering their homes and throwing them in jail (8:3).
Read Acts 9:1–22.
As Saul was on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, Jesus met him along the way and his life was changed forever. As a heavenly light shone on Saul, he fell to the ground and heard Jesus ask him, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul could only respond with, “Who are you, Lord?” (9:5). Saul, who extremely opposed Jesus and His followers, referred to Jesus as Lord. Why would he do this? He encountered Jesus. An encounter with Jesus changes us forever. Saul’s life would never be the same.
Saul was struck blind. After three days, God sent a man named Ananias to help Saul regain his sight. Ananias was cautious of Saul due to Saul’s reputation of persecuting Christians. But God told Ananias to go, for Saul had been chosen by God to bring the gospel to “the Gentiles and kings and children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Saul regained his sight, was filled by the Holy Spirit, and was baptized. Upon his conversion, Saul immediately began to preach Jesus in the synagogues. Everyone was in awe because just days before Saul had been persecuting Christians.
Despite Saul’s background of murdering and imprisoning Christians, God chose him to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. What a testament to the power of God and His redemptive work! This gives us hope, friends! God can use anyone for His purposes.
Eventually, God sent Saul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, where he would be better known by his Roman name, Paul. He became one of the greatest figures in the history of the early church, spreading the gospel to all nations and writing most of the New Testament.
“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31). This is our third update on the newly founded church. The church was spreading throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. They experienced peace, encouragement, and comfort. God was multiplying His church!
Up until this point in early church history, the gospel had mainly been preached to the Jews. In Acts 10, God sent Peter to a man named Cornelius who was a Gentile centurion. Peter shared the good news of Christ with Cornelius and his family, and they believed and were baptized. In this moment, the gospel was intentionally preached to Gentiles for the first time! Jesus is for anyone, in any nation, who fears and believes in Him (Acts 10:35). God does not show partiality; He has broken down the wall of hostility and made us one (Acts 10:34, Ephesians 2:14). On this day and forevermore, the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out onto the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). How wonderful it is to serve a God who is not stingy with His love, mercy, and grace but rather offers it freely to all who believe.