The sovereignty of God is an amazing thing.
In Acts 7, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, has just been brutally killed for standing up for Christ. The church is fearful, scared, terrified. However, this was the plan of God for the expansion of the gospel the entire time. As we begin to read Acts 8, the looming question over the church is: What is going to happen? Are they going to quit and shrink back in fear, or continue to march forward in mission despite Stephen’s death? Will the gospel of Jesus begin and end in Jerusalem?
In Acts 1:8 the disciples are told by Jesus, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This command to be witnesses means they are not going to stay in Jerusalem; instead they are going to go to Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth!
Being witnesses to Samaria is going to happen in Acts 8, precisely because Stephen has been killed.
Again, the sovereignty of God is an amazing thing. The impetus for the expansion of the gospel and the fulfillment of Acts 1:8 is Stephen’s death.
In the second century when Christians were facing persecution, Tertullian wrote, “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is proof that we are innocent. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of the Christians is seed.”
Christian history has proven over and over again that expansion of Christianity occurs during persecution.
In Acts 8, because of the persecution and fear of their life being taken, there is a dispersion of Christians from Jerusalem into Samaria. This dispersion of Christians – regular, average, unknown Christians –provides 5 Missiological Teaching Tools for Today’s Church.
(1.) God is sovereign, and brings about gospel expansion through unexpected means. (v. 1-8, 1:8)
If Christians want the gospel to expand, we must realize that God is free to cause it to expand with unexpected means. Here, the unexpected means is persecution. While we would likely not plan for the expanding of missionaries to happen through persecution, God does. Our chosen means would be the “traditional” method of missionaries being called, prayed for, and sent. But God had other plans. Notice the progression – verse 1 there was persecution, then verse 1 says there was a scattering, then in verse 4 those scattered were preaching the gospel.
John Stott comments on this section of Scripture writing, “Instead of smothering the gospel, persecution succeeded only in spreading it!” What an amazing thought that God would choose to save sinners through persecution of His saints!
Therefore, we need to be open to God using us in unexpected means to spread the gospel. He likely is calling you to do something difficult and challenging for people to hear the gospel of Jesus.
(2.) God uses everyone for gospel work, not just the leadership! (v. 1b)
In Acts 8:1, when the persecution is being mentioned, Luke also mentions a very interesting detail. Luke writes that everyone was scattered – except the apostles. This is quite unexpected. We would think that if Christianity were to expand, it would certainly need the leadership! But, that is not the case in this instance. The fact that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem shows us that everyone is needed for gospel work, not just the leadership.
This is a tremendously important missiological teaching tool. Far too long have the people in the church thought they are either not equipped to share the gospel, or that the main work of ministry should be done by the leadership of the church. This is just simply not the case. Ephesians 4:11-12 clearly teaches that the leaders are to equip the church to do the work of ministry. The only way North America will be reached in post-modernity is if the congregants of the church join in the gospel work.
(3.) There is an implicit understanding/teaching of Scripture that Christians are to preach Christ wherever they go in life. (v. 4)
Why is it that some Christians never share the gospel? The first century Christian would seemingly be baffled by this phenomenon. The underlying assumption of Scripture is that Christians should be talking about Jesus frequently. Knowing who we as a new creation in Christ, will increase our participation in the mission of God.
In Acts 8:4 Luke writes, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” This is stunning. After being persecuted and moving to another city as refugees, it doesn’t make them quiet. Instead, it makes them more likely to preach the gospel! I believe this is happening because they understood who they were as the church. They intuitively understood that being the church means they must share their faith. Christians talk about Jesus. It’s who they are.
In the mind of the New Testament believer, it was just not commonplace for Christians to be silent day-to-day and never talk about Jesus with unbelievers as they go through life. This seems to be the dominant way Christians today live. Over-entertained by Netflix and college football and the like, Christians will find themselves going weeks without having talked about Jesus. This should not be!
Historian Kenneth Latourette states, “The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession … but men and women who carried on their livelihood in some purely secular manner (this doesn’t mean pagan, just not a Christian vocation) and spoke of their faith to those they met in this natural fashion.”
This means that the indispensable people in evangelism are the “regular layman” in the church. The pastors and the church members are to live intentional evangelistic lives.
The question we should ask ourselves is: “Am I engaging in this kind of evangelism on a daily basis?”
 Tertullian, Apologia, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, trans. Rev. S. Thelwall, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3 (Peabody, Hendrickson, 2004), 50.