God often has to prod us to do His will. During such times we may be in a state of rebellion, or we may simply be deceiving ourselves by thinking that we will get around to it someday. James says: “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” (James 4:17 NLT)
Shortly after the church was established, God had to step in and prod His people to action. The Bible says:
Acts 8:1 …And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Acts chapter 7 closes with the death of Stephen. This young disciple’s martyrdom had a tremendous impact upon the church in several ways:
1) It Touched the Church Very Deeply
Acts 8:2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
Stephen was a beloved leader in the church and therefore his sudden death deeply affected his spiritual brothers and sisters.
2) It Ignited a Time of Great Persecution
Acts 8:1 …And at that time there was a great persecution against the church…
Much of this persecution was led by a young Jewish Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus. The Bible says:
Acts 7:58 And cast him (Stephen) out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. Acts 8: 3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
We will study Saul’s life in greater detail later, but for now we may say that he was a Jew who was deeply devoted to the traditional teachings of the Temple and who therefore hated Christianity with a passion. The Bible says that he made ‘havoc’ in the church. The word used here means that he did all that he could to destroy them. Saul persecuted the church by dragging Christians into court and prison. He even had some of them put to death. (see Acts 22:4)
3) It Began a Movement of Taking the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth
The Bible says that with the persecution, the Christians were ‘scattered abroad.’ The word ‘persecution’ means to pursue after someone so brutally and intensely that they are forced to flee. The persecution led by Saul caused the Christians to flee from Jerusalem and to travel to other parts of the Roman Empire. But as they did so, something very important happened. The Bible says: “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4) Those who hated Christianity thought that they would destroy the church by attacking them. Yet what they did not realize was that the hand of God was behind all that was happening. The phrase ‘scattered abroad’ refers to a sower sowing his seed. Like a farmer who broadcasts his seed across the open fields, so God was sowing the seed of salvation through the entire world.