They Were All Scattered
While they were stoning Stephen, they laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul who approved of his execution. That’s an important line in the Book of Acts, for it is this Saul, later known as the Apostle Paul, who dominates the Book from chapter thirteen following. But at this point, he is a Pharisee blinded by zeal, who, “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Meanwhile, “Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.” I say this only to remind us that the expression of grief over the death of loved ones, especially the righteous, is no sin. In a way, it is an expression of a longing for heaven, away from this world of sin and brokenness, a longing to be reunited with loved ones in a world where righteousness dwells under the dominion of our Lord. As Christians, we do not grieve because “it’s healthy”; we grieve because we long for a better city, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:13-16).
But most important in this passage is what happened after Stephen’s death. We are told that a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem such that the church was scattered. That sounds bad. And so it would have been had all they did was run away. But they did more than run, for “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” Please note: It is no sin to flee persecution; indeed, it should become a means of spreading the gospel. Anyway, Philip, whom we met along with Stephen in Acts 6, went down (north) to the city of Samaria. You will remember from John 4 and our Lord’s interview with the “woman at the well,” that “Jews [had] no dealings with Samaritans.” These were Jews but of mixed blood over the centuries from the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. To the Jews in Judea, they were impure both spiritually and genealogically. So Jews and Samaritans hated each other with a pure hatred.
But Philip, a Jew, doesn’t care about this. He is aware that Christ “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Samaritan, and soon the church would discover between even Jew and Gentile. So Philip preaches Christ in Samaria, and “the crowds with one accord paid attention” both to his words and his signs. Samaritans responded to the gospel in faith, just as many of the Jews had done, and embraced Christ as Savior and Lord. And here is one major purpose of persecution: that the church may scatter and spread the seed of the gospel and thereby defeat her enemies by sharing the faith.