Acts: Day 11

The Early Church Grows

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Today's Text: Acts 7:54-60, Acts 8:1-40, 2 Kings 2:11, Isaiah 56:3-5

Text: Acts 7:54-60, Acts 8:1-40, 2 Kings 2:11, Isaiah 56:3-5

At this point in the book of Acts, God’s Spirit is moving and empowering the members of the early Church to emulate the gospel-bellowing boldness of Peter. They’re fleshing out the declarative promise of Jesus at the beginning of this New Testament story:

“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.”
-Acts 1:8 ESV (emphasis mine)

Although not everyone they witnessed to was so receptive. In his final sermon before the Sanhedrin, Stephen rebuked their stubbornness before God, and he condemned their murdering of Jesus, the Promised Messiah. Being confronted with these truths, the leaders became infuriated, ultimately murdering him as well (Acts 7:51-60).

Stephen, likely a relatively new Christ-follower, was also was one of seven men the apostles had chosen to manage and allocate charitable giving, because there’d been some fussing about how some of the needy folks were getting more financial assistance than others. So they chose a few good men (which many congregations now refer to as deacons) to sort it all out (Acts 6:1-4).

Therefore, it stands to reason that Stephen, being a chosen member of the very first deaconate, was a wise, honorable, well-liked kind of guy. And we know for sure that he was passionate about the gospel because Luke literally describes him as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).

So it’s not hard to imagine the collective shock and grief that rippled through that neophyte church community when he was stoned to death by a militant, anti-Christian mob, simply because of one straightforward sermon about their generational stubborn streak and desperate need for Jesus.

Humanly speaking, it would’ve made sense for the early Church to recoil and then retreat after the tragedy of their dear friend’s gruesome murder. It would make sense if they’d chosen to circle their proverbial wagons and focus on consoling the core group of their fellowship—maybe hire a grief counselor, a crisis manager, and some administrative help to wade through all the insurance and liability issues.

But they didn’t shrink back in fear. They didn’t go underground and become a secret, self-protective, cultish kind of crew. They didn’t allow a horrific homicide to curb their cause. Nope. They did the exact opposite.

On that day the church of Jerusalem began to be persecuted, and all the believers, except the apostles, were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. And some religious people buried Stephen and cried loudly for him. Saul was also trying to destroy the church, going from house to house, dragging out men and women and putting them in jail. And wherever they were scattered, they told people the Good News.
-Acts 7:51-8:4 NCV (emphasis mine)

Their commitment to love others for the sake of Christ didn’t get buried with Stephen—it rose up and got bigger! The enemy’s knock-out punch didn’t send them reeling to the canvas; it propelled them out to share the gospel in every corner of the world.

Here’s the ironic thing about hardship: it tends to have the reverse effect on those of us who’ve put our hope in Jesus rather than in our circumstances. Instead of staying down when we’re walloped, God’s people tend to bounce back with more oomph. In fact, church history proves that opposition often works like Miracle Gro on the Body of Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit enables us to have Rocky-like comebacks, pointing to the undefeatable, redemptive power of the Gospel. We may be down, but we’re never out.

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Lisa Harper is a master storyteller with a masters of Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary. She’s lauded as an engaging, hilarious communicator as well as an authentic and substantive Bible teacher. She’s been in vocational ministry for 30 years and has written 15 books and Bible study curriculums but says her greatest accomplishment by far is that of becoming Missy’s (her adopted daughter from Haiti) mama! They live on a hilly farmette south of Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy eating copious amounts of chips, queso, and guacamole.

  • Patricia correa

    20But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

  • It is a brave feat to be a Christian today in an era of persecution and heresy. Rise up to the truth!

  • Pray for our world and that we are granted strength to act courageously to His Word.

  • Pray for our country and strength that we are bold in His Word.

  • Wow! Tonight I heard about another attack in Paris. A truck barrelled its way into a crowd of people killing many. The enemy is prowling and we are under attack. It’s time for Christians to “come back”. We need Jesus and HIs word more than ever. I pray I will be bold and always be ready to testify, just as these early church members were.

  • I think this is such a timely message when you think of all the terrible events that continue to happen around the world. From Florida to Istanbul… there is pain and “knock-out punches” happening all around us. As children of God, no matter how many times we are pushed down and scattered, we have a HOPE and a peace that propels us forward to spread the light of Jesus.
    http://www.thegirlontheverge.com

  • This is very much in line with a message I listened to from Fresh Life Church from Levi Lusko…Where there’s a will and Born For This. Great messages !

  • Veronica

    I am following this study a few days behind but I feel grateful because I can read the thoughts of my sisters. The comment section is so enriching and very encouraging! I find myself a little more thoughtful when I take the time to read through them.

    It is my sincere prayer that we grow more like Stephen- unashamed and unafraid, exuding forgiveness even for those who wish us the worst, who do us harm. May our enemies become ‘Pauls’, people who once shouted and were delighted for our struggle, but will turn to see the goodness of our Lord and become world changers.

  • I am so encouraged by today’s reading! In this time of persecution of Christians and rejection by our culture, my prayer is that we will rise up stronger with truth, and not shrink back and allow the lies about the Christian faith to prevail. I don’t think things are going to get easier – they are only going to get harder as the time of Jesus’ return draws near – but We can stay strong and optimistic, because when we leave this Earth, we will be united with our God and Savior! Praise the Lord!

    • Nancy

      Great points Bethany! We Can, & Must stay strong & optimistic–despite circumstances!!!

  • After reading through all of today’s comments a new connection was made for me with these scriptures. We all have our struggles, some much bigger than others. God puts them in our lives for a reason and is forging us into the mold of Christ. But I find so much peace in God taking Elijah to heaven and putting Stephen to sleep because He is sparing us pain. The Lord took physical pain away at the point they would not be able to bear it. Wow.
    My prayer tonight is that I not forget how much Christ loves us, that He gave us the Holy Spirit, and that He will keep us from great harm. Amen.

  • I literally just had a tough night with my mom. We don’t have the best relationship, I resent her for a lot of things. I was feeling bitter and angry. I hate harboring those feelings, especially when I know I shouldn’t have them. So it makes me resent her more. I prayed about it and then what do I see when I start my study? “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. FOR I SEE YOU ARE POISONED BY BITTERNESS AND BOUND BY INIQUITY.” God is so good at showing me what I need to see! It amazes me that of all the verses we would read, it would be the one that tells me to fix my bitter heart. I’m still working on it, but God is good, and I know he’ll work WITH me ❤️

    • Marie

      I appreciate your desire to adjust your bitter heart. I struggle with bitterness towards my son… May the Lord change our hearts so they reflect HIS heart.

  • This is so true of the persecuted church today. Just look at the Christians in Syria or Iraq (open doors has excellent articles on them). They are being pursued by ISIS. Possessions taken, driven out of homes and away from towns, families are being killed…. and what do they do? Shrink back? No! Just like the early church they are more bold and empowered to live a godly life and share Jesus with others!!! One man even saying ISIS is a gift :-O

    • Katie

      Wow. Great post, thanks for your thoughts. I will pray for those Christians in ISIS controlled territories.

  • This was so uplifting to me this evening. Glad to be reminded how resilient we are as God’s people.

  • “Here’s the ironic thing about hardship: it tends to have the reverse effect on those of us who’ve put our hope in Jesus rather than in our circumstances. Instead of staying down when we’re walloped, God’s people tend to bounce back with more oomph. In fact, church history proves that opposition often works like Miracle Gro on the Body of Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit enables us to have Rocky-like comebacks, pointing to the undefeatable, redemptive power of the Gospel. We may be down, but we’re never out.”

    Wow. This paragraph just spoke to me and what the Orlando community has been doing, along with many incredible communities throughout the world. We may be down, but we’re never out.

    • Sarah D.

      Amen!

    • Jenn

      I feel the same way. It’s amazing how God works to not only be our comfort but also our strength in the midst of terrible things. It’s never over with God and his church because the Truth always wins.

  • This is the part where the gospel begins to reach the whole world (because if persecution) and eventually us. We are the eunuch and the foreigners of that last passage. Not being Jews we would have been left out of the good news except that God’s plan was that the whole world would be saved. I love that one of the first people to hear and understand is a eunuch. A person who was different to most, someone who was single, who couldn’t have children, who was known for the state of his body, who was made that way by others, a servant all his life. The fact that God saw him and sent someone to him particularly is very encouraging and illustrative of His love and care for each one of us, regardless of where we are and who we are. He sees us and the God news are for us too.

  • Caroline

    As the church receives persecution and rejection, I pray that we will emerge bolder and even more passionate. Secular society has a marred view of the church, so now is our time to reach out and spread His love more than ever. Phillip’s interaction with the eunuch is so beautiful to me- God put both of them in the right place at the right time. I pray that He will do that today!

    • cianne

      I totally agree Caroline! I am reminded of Jesus saying “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” John 15:18

  • Two things stood out to me today: 1) “Then Simon believed” – When the Truth of God is preached, people know it. 2) vs 26-30 Sometimes God will take us off the regular road and put us on the “desert” road so we can minister to others.

  • “In fact, church history proves that opposition often works like Miracle Gro on the Body of Christ.” I have experienced this first hand in the school district where I teach. I teach in a tiny town in Texas that is tightly woven together through our faith. Two years ago a coalition provided photographs to the news media of crosses on teachers’ classroom walls (many are gifts from students), as well as quotes from the Bible in our halls and cafeteria. (We have quotes from everyone from Dr. Seuss, to Theodore Roosevelt, to Jesus that apply to learning, character, and how we treat others.) We felt violated that someone had been inside our classrooms! The coalition threatened a lawsuit against our district if these things were not removed… Miracle Grow! They were stating a clause in our constitution that anyone paid with government funds could not express their beliefs at work. Our community’s response was that we became stronger. Students were outraged. The local t-shirt shop had to work double time as students and staff ordered and wore shirts with Romans 1:16 …I am not ashamed… On them. There were prayer vigils… Students in surrounding school districts rallied in our support…I could go on. With the advice of our attorneys, we were not asked to remove anything. A year later, we were back on the news as the coalition was upset that nothing had been done by our district. And now two years later, no lawsuit has been filed. (Professionally, we are not preaching the gospel at school and are supportive and respectful of students from all religions.)I watched our community stand strong, become more bold, and through all the media and community response, I’m sure that there were many who did not know Him that came to believe. I feel so fortunate to live and teach in this community.

  • Philip listening and obeying really spoke to me today! My prayer for myself is that I will listen and obey.

    • She Reads Truth

      Love this, Susan! Praying this for both of us today!

      xoxo-Kaitlin

  • Until today I had not thought about the fact that the Eunuch from Ethiopia was reading from Isaiah 53, become saved through the instruction of Phillip, baptized and then left to go on his way…except as he picked up the Scriptures and read further…as you know he must have…he came upon Isaiah 56: 3-5! What joy it must have been for him to read those words!!! What they must have meant to him!!! This realization of God’s great love for us all brought tears to my eyes today.

    • Susie

      Me too!!! I have tead this story countless times….but for some reason today, the impact of his need to understand, and then his desire to follow through made a rejoicing feeling in my heart.

      • Katie

        Question: Was Isaiah compiled/available by that point? Was Isaiah part of the Jewish Old Testament that was available for someone like him to read?

  • Debbie McKnight

    7 times I may fall down but 8 times I get up

  • ” We may be down, but we’re never out.” I love this! May we remember that when the enemy has us on the ropes, that God will help us deliver that final punch.

  • I love the bravery and courage of the church back then and I pray we can find that same resolve in today’s world to continue to share God’s message.

  • I love how in Acts 8 Philip encounters the Ethiopian man and helps him through the passage of Isaiah. There wasn’t a crazy miracle going on here, nothing that seemed supernatural in the moment. Simply, Philip used his words to tell the Good News to a man who needed a little guidance in comprehending it. I love how this hasn’t changed over a few thousand years- we still help others and get help from others in this same way. The Spirit is powerful enough that we don’t need the big, fancy miracles to prove who God is. All that was required from Philip was the boldness to share the Gospel with this man. And…. the Spirit did take over because the man’s life was forever changed. This was all because of the simplicity of the moment, that Philip guided him through the passage and Gospel. This is such an encouragement for us now to share the Gospel by telling others. We can do it, we’ve got to trust that the Spirit will do the internal work.

    • brenda

      Shelbs, this is so so true!! Thank you for bringing it to light ;) All the Lord asks of us is to have a willing heart and He will do the rest. Amen!!

    • Christa

      This verse also made me think of how instrumental we are in each other’s lives. As I read each day, there are often things that are unclear. Through our discussions, God uses all of you to help me clarify. We get so much more out of His word when we come together as a community of believers. Thanks to all my SRT sisters for being my teachers, helping me to have a greater understanding.

  • caroline

    I feel so out right now. Thank you for this reminder. “We may be down, but we’re never out.”

    http://www.in-due-time.com

  • Keri Underwood

    Oh, that today’s church would have this much passion and bravery when face with opposition. I can’t say that I would have been as brave as the early church! Such a humbling thing to think about how they didn’t back down, they persisted for what they believed.

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

  • Amen! This is so encouraging to hear. In six days I’ll have finished my junior year of highschool after having been out of school on homebound instruction due to dizziness from a concussion. God has taught me so much of trusting in him and turning a bad situation into a good one.

    • Sarah D.

      Sarah D.

      • Sarah D.

        Even though it feels overwhelming, even though I missed a lot of things this year that I wanted to participate in, my relationship with God was strengthened. So thankful for that!!

        • SusieT

          Sarah, did you know that one of the Wright brothers, when a teenager, had to stay home for an extended period to recuperate from an awful injury…and during that time, he read and learned a lot. Years later, he and his brother successfully built an airplane! His biographers believe the months he spent sequestered and reading contributed to their success! …You never know how greatly – and in how many ways — God will use YOUR recuperation time! :)

          • Sarah D.

            Oh my gosh, thank you for that! That is so cool to know. I’ve shared my story here before and I also heard that Lauren Daigle had an illness that kept her out of school. So cool, I can’t wait to find out where God will lead me.

  • I’m having a hard time understanding the significance of the other verses, does anyone have any insight?

    • Christa

      Same here.

    • Pam B

      I’m not sure about the 2 Kings passage, but in the Isaiah passage God is saying that eunuchs can have salvation and be a part of God’s family which is what happened with the eunuch at the end of the Acts passage.

    • Lizzieb85

      In the Kings passage, Elijah did not die, God took him from this earth up into heaven. Acts 7:60 says that Stephen “fell asleep”. I believe the connection is that God had mercy on Stephen; he fell asleep instead of dying from & feeling the horrific stoning.

      • Bea

        In the Bible death is compared to a sleep. When Lazarus died, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” Now the disciples thought he was actually talking about sleeping, like we do, but then Jesus clarified “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14). Also Paul in 1 Tess. 4:13 and on, compares death with sleep many times. So based on this, I understand that here when it says that Stephen fell asleep, actually means that he died as this is the way death is understood in the Bible, because that is what it looks like to God as he has the power to “wake” anyone (Luke 20:38).

      • Bek

        Actually I don’t think that passage is referring to Stephen, but Philip. Some might wonder how it happened that Philip was taken in the spirit away so quickly and moved to a different geographical location. That passage is reminding readers how Elijah also was taken by the Holy Spirit miraculously.

    • Claire

      God removed Elijah still alive and put Stephen to sleep so he wouldn’t feel the stoning. Basically because of their witness of him to others.

  • Ellington

    Amen! Rejoice.

  • churchmouse

    An angel of the Lord gave Philip simple instructions : “Get up and go…” “So he got up and went…” May I hear Your simple instructions and not stop to question and over analyze but just simply obey! Amen

  • Stephanie

    Can anyone explain what it meant or means to be baptized but not receive the Holy Spirit?

    • Katie

      Hi Stephanie, the baptism referred to is a baptism of repentance. The people of Samaria believed the Good News of the death & resurrection of Jesus as forgiveness of their sins. (This would be the same baptism John the Baptist was preaching about while Jesus was still alive :: repent and believe)
      Verse 14 of Acts 8 says they, the people of Samaria, accepted the word of God. After arriving, Peter and John prayed for them to receive the power of the Holy Spirit as given at Pentecost to the early church and still available to all believers today.

    • Maggie

      this can be a touchy subject sometimes in the church at large. my understanding is that at certain times in acts, people believed and instantly were filled with the Holy Spirit. other times, they weren’t and they were later prayed over to receive the Holy Spirit. some traditions believe we can pray for a baptism of the Holy Spirit separately while others see it all happening at the moment of belief and surrendering our life to Christ. hope that clarifies. if I’m inacurate, someone please clarify further.

    • Christa

      I’m not sure if my belief is theologically correct, but what I have been taught is that baptism is a public, symbolic declaration of repentance and acceptance that Jesus died for us. It is also the symbolic opening of the door of our heart to let the Holy Spirit come in and live there. It is through our personal relationship with Him that we are filled with His spirit.

      • Susan

        I agree with you Christa that baptism is an outward sign of the changes that are being made in our hearts as we hear the Word of God and believe the good news of Christ dying as a sacrifice for our sins. Mark 16:16: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. This is exactly what we see in the eighth chapter of Acts. The eunuch heard the good news about Jesus and saw his need for baptism, so down into the water he went! And then, praise be to God, he went on his way rejoicing!

    • Pam B

      The Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Christ’s ascension : when He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. My notes in my Bible say this about Acts 8:16: “Since the day of Pentecost, those who “belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9) also have the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit had not yet been made manifest to the Christians in Samaria by the usual signs. This deficiency was now graciously supplied (vs17).”
      So whether or not
      believers had the Holy Spirit depends on their position to Christ. Before Christ came and even while Christ was on earth, believers did not have the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, when you accept Christ you have the Spirit living in you.

    • Elisabeth

      In my commentary, the author explained that it was due to the special circumstances that the people of Samaria did not receive the Holy Spirit right away. He said that Peter and the early Church still doubted if the gospel was meant for other people than the Jews as well and therefore God wanted them to see how He was working in the people of Samaria. He also wanted that the newly converted Christians stayed connected to the Church of Jerusalem – He used the prayer of Peter to do just that.

  • The verse that I wrote down was …. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” “How can I,” he said, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31)God appoints times and places for his people. Even though Stephen was stoned for the truths he imparted he was where God wanted him at the time and spoke bold truths that struck their hearts. Same with Philip who spoke to an Ethiopian man. He was reading Gods Word but it wasn’t clear to him until he understood the meaning through His Spirit. He needed a teacher and Philip pointed him in the right direction. Philip spent time with him. Two separate stories of how God was moving the Gospel, and the flame was fanned even brighter because of what happened to Stephen. We can’t lay down in hard times. We need to stand up and speak truth to those around us that need to hear and then we let God take care of the rest. They may hear and feel convicted and fight against it or they may hear and receive it fully in their hearts. Not our job to judge who, where and why… It’s our job to simply share the reason for the Hope we have. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”
    ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭KJV‬‬

    • Catie

      Thanks for these words, Gina. I feel I know exactly what you’re saying here these days, because I’m having surgery for endometriosis in two weeks, after two years of trying unsuccessfully to start a family. It has been such a privilege this week to share with a few key co-workers whom God has placed in my path, and tell them about how much God is providing for my husband and I, and showing his care for us in some very unmistakable ways in this season. My boss even asked me yesterday if my faith was the reason I seem so calm as I prepare to be out of work and have this surgery. I loved being able to say, “Yes, exactly!” And now to let God take care of the rest. Thank you, LORD!

      • SusieT

        Beautiful!! Thank you for sharing, Gina & Catie!
        Isn’t it something that — when life for us is going well, those around us automatically assume that our joy and happiness stem from our circumstances — but when we face difficult times and others are aware of our situation, they watch with quiet curiosity to see that while we may be struggling with the difficulty, we yet have peace and even joy. And this is so confounding to many who don’t know the Lord. …How beautiful that you are so discerning and ready to testify as to our Lord’s goodness — even in the face of difficulty! “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….” [1 Peter 3:15,16a, NIV]. You are living that out well, dear Sisters! …Catie, praying that your upcoming surgery exceeds all expectations and that the Great Physician will touch you with His mighty healing hand!

    • Katie

      Wow! Thank you for this response! Amazing :)

  • After watching Risen, a movie about the post-resurrection response of the disciples and soldiers, I better understand the mentality of the early church. No authority could quench the hope they had in Christ’s resurrection. Death lost its sting. Fear had no grip on them. I think their loyalty ran deep after the crucifixion, and their hope in eternal life after death made them fearless. I so easily forget both my loyalty and my reason to hope. I allow circumstances to dictate my emotions. If I go back to the cross and back to the empty tomb, I can find that Rocky-like courage to jump back into the ring.

  • Bad things still happen to good people but the struggle is the Master refiners fire and we are being made into the image of Christ. May I beat the struggles well knowing God is in control and I can rest in Him.

  • Even through hardships, we should still be rejoicing the word of God. Easier said than done at times for me, but I pray to see how He is using struggle for good in my life. Great read today!

  • Woooow!

  • Can relate so much to struggles giving me more resilience, and more resistance to defeat than ever before. Strengthened by this this morning!

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