Growing up, my dad reminded me of E.F. Hutton; when he spoke, you listened. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. His basic premise was, “This is what I expect you to do: you can do it the easy way, or you can do it the hard way.” Unfortunately, I often chose the hard way. However, either way, eventually I carried out my father’s will.
In Acts chapter 8, we witness a similar situation. Jesus had commanded his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every nation. He specifically told them to take the message forth in concentric circles: Jerusalem first, then Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
But they did not do it. For whatever reason, in the excitement of Pentecost and the success of the growing church at Jerusalem, the followers of Jesus were not following his command. They stayed put in Jerusalem to experience great things. They received the power of the Spirit, preaching and seeing the sick healed, appointing leaders to take care of the practical needs of widows and seeing their church grow in numbers and power.
Of course, these are all crucial things in the kingdom of God, but they did not cooperate with God’s plan. So, God moved upon the political and religious authorities in Jerusalem to cause a very uncomfortable situation to unsettle them. Persecution was God’s ‘ways and means committee’ to move the church out of the familiar into the much bigger purpose of God. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8:1).
You see, God had made a covenant promise to Abraham to bless not only his family but bless every nation through him. We see the same purpose carried out throughout the Old Testament, especially in the message of the prophets. For example, when the people of God returned from exile to build the temple again in Jerusalem, they began remeasuring the walls to rebuild them just as they were before the exile. But God intervened and stopped the measuring, indicating that the old boundaries were obsolete and that He would be the walls (see Zechariah 2).
God desired Israel to spread out and bring the knowledge of Him to other nations. Again, this is God’s purpose for His church. Notice the outward movement in this chapter:
“now those who were scattered went about preaching the word…”
“preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans…”
“rise and go toward the south…”
“the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away…”
“he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”
Through the difficult circumstances that came with opposition and persecution, God ushered the church into His will. God loves his church and longs to work in and through us for His purposes. And, like my dad, God will achieve His purposes, whether the easy or the hard way. I say let’s obey His call to take this message out. The safest place in the world is in the center of God’s will.