Hunkered Down Devotion

Acts 8:1-4 (Voice)
8 1-2 Some devout men buried Stephen and mourned his passing with loud cries of grief. But Saul, this young man who seemed to be supervising the whole violent event, was pleased by Stephen’s death. That very day, the whole church in Jerusalem began experiencing severe persecution. All of the followers of Jesus—except for the emissaries[a] themselves—fled to the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 3 Young Saul went on a rampage—hunting the church, house after house, dragging both men and women to prison.
4 All those who had been scattered by the persecution moved from place to place; and wherever they went, they weren’t afraid or silent. Instead, they spread the message of Jesus.

Many of you reading this will know at least something about Saul (who became Paul) and his history of persecuting Christians.  Our scripture reading today picks up right after Stephen becomes the first martyr of the Christian faith – choosing to die rather than denounce Jesus Christ.  

There are two things that I think we can learn today from this short passage.  The first is about Saul/Paul and it is a point that has often been made – you have probably heard it before – but it is important enough that it bears repeating.  

Saul/Paul is responsible for writing most of the New Testament and is certainly the human most responsible for the rapid spread of Christianity across the Roman world in those first few decades after Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension.

He was the person chosen by God to bring the good news of the gospel to the ‘gentiles’ (anyone outside of the Jewish ethnic/religious group).   God didn’t make a mistake.  Saul/Paul didn’t lie on his resume.  The Lord knew exactly who Saul/Paul was, exactly what he had done, and he still choose him to carry the gospel out into the world.

Simply put, if Saul/Paul wasn’t too far gone, too damaged, too tainted by his past sins to be used loved, accepted, and then empowered to be part of God’s mission in this world, you and I aren’t either.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, God still loves you, you can still be a part of God’s plan, you are still a beloved child of God.

The other thing I think we need to recognize and learn from in this passage comes from verse four.  Can you imagine what must have been going through those first Christian’s minds?  They have just watched Stephen be stoned to death because of his faith in Jesus.  All of a sudden, believing in Jesus wasn’t an idea or something just ‘spiritual’, it was a literal matter of life and death.

The natural – and completely understandable – response to this drastic change of events would be to go underground, try to fade into the background, stop making noise and upsetting the status quo or, at the very least, be quiet.  Many of us don’t talk about religion in certain quarters, simply to avoid uncomfortable conversations, after all.

But how did these faithful followers respond?  ‘All those who had been scattered by the persecution moved from place to place; and wherever they went, they weren’t afraid or silent. Instead, they spread the message of Jesus.’  What a witness of bold, courageous faith.  What a challenge to all of us to be willing, excited even, at the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus’ love with all those around them.  

Sharing God’s Love,

Prayer: Mighty God, remind us that you have room for us in your kingdom no matter our past, and fill us with courage and wisdom to share your love boldly in all we do.  Amen.

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