God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we learned how obedience to God is a requirement to receive His Holy Spirit. If you’re interested you can read more here: Is This God’s Requirement to Receive His Holy Spirit? : Acts 8:1-3.
Today we’ll see how, what we might view as bad in our lives might be what God views as necessary.
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.Acts 8:4
The Blood of Christians
Things were going so well. People were coming to Christ by the thousands and they were all dwelling together in love and unity. They were generous with each other in spirit and they were generous with each other materially too. What’s described in the early chapters of Acts sounds amazing and wonderful and heavenly. It was all so good.
And then, we saw in our more recent posts on the book of Acts how the leaders in the Sanhedrin killed Stephen, and, with the help of Saul, began to imprison anyone following Jesus. Acts 8:1 reads, “And there arose on that day [the day Stephen was stoned to death] a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
It seems that what we see here in today’s passage is what we read from the North African theologian Tertullian who wrote in the late second century: “the blood of Christians is the seed” of the church’s growth. (Keener)
Blessed as they were, all together there in Jerusalem, the early Jesus followers were inclined to stay there, together, in Jerusalem. But, earlier, Jesus told his followers 1) they would receive the Holy Spirit and 2) he said to them, “. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
How was that going to happen if they all remained in Jerusalem?
So, what most Bible commentators say is the persecution was necessary for Jesus’ followers to share the gospel the way Jesus told them they would. We see this coming true in today’s verse: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
It’s interesting too the way Jesus said what he said in Acts chapter 1. He could have just told them they would be his witnesses to the end of the earth. But instead he told them they would be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In the beginning of Acts chapter 8 we see that the apostles remained in Jerusalem and the rest were “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” In the very next verse after Acts 8:4 we’ll see Philip proclaiming Christ in the city of Samaria.
The end of the earth would come over the next several thousand years but today it looks like the process is very nearly complete.
The Problem with Persecution
Today it’s easy to see how the spread of Christianity occurred as a result of the scattering of those early disciples of Jesus. But what if you were one of those disciples of antiquity, living with your brothers and sisters in unity. Listening together to the teachings of the apostles. Overcome by the Holy Spirit. Loving your neighbor. Generous to all those around you and receiving generosity too.
When the persecution came, you might be tempted to complain. You might feel confused because why would God allow such a wonderful group of people to be persecuted and scattered the way He did? The thing is, He had a reason, a good reason, a world changing reason, even if it was a reason those early disciples may not have recognized.
Persecution and Thanksgiving
My son Nate and his beautiful wife Anastasia were down from Seattle to visit over Thanksgiving. I dropped them off at the train station in downtown Portland just before I began writing this blog post. Before they left Nate, Anastasia, Kathy, and I were talking about the new Covid 19 variant called Omicron. We were all wondering if there might be another big wave, and we were all wondering if there might be another lockdown, and we were wondering what that lockdown might look like, and we were wondering if this thing is ever going to end.
But today’s passage has me thinking. I wonder if God has a reason for allowing this pandemic. I mean, we’re not like a new disciple in Jerusalem who just saw his brother Stephen murdered and who faces imprisonment for his belief in Jesus. But something we might have in common with that new disciple is we don’t know what God’s reason might be for allowing life to be disrupted so.
There’s this one part of the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, where it says, “Love bears all things . . .” I used to wonder what that had to do with love. The same with another part of the same verse: “Love . . . endures all things.” But after living through this pandemic I think it could mean: Love bears all things well in God’s sight, and, Love endures all things well in a way that pleases God. When we read the gospels we see Jesus’ life disrupted again and again, and he always handles it with amazing grace. He even seems to look at those disruptions as opportunities. As a believer you and I can communicate the love of Jesus much more effectively if we bear disruptions the way Jesus did. As a Jesus follower you and I can communicate the love of Christ much more effectively if we endure this pandemic well in God’s sight. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Yesterday, at the time of this writing, was Thanksgiving. And today, in the context of our discussion here in this blog post, I’m reminded of what Paul said about Thanksgiving. He said, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)
I hope you’ll join me in pursuing the Spirit of Jesus to help me bear the pandemic — and all that goes with it — well in God’s sight.
“Father, be merciful to me and to all who read this because we’re sinners. Send us Your Holy Spirit to help us bear every problem that comes to us in ways that please You and in ways that bless You. Help us to bear all things well in Your sight. Help us to endure this pandemic in ways that make You smile down upon us. Help us to love You well when our lives are going well and to also love You well when we’re bearing burdens and enduring trials.
“In Jesus’ name we ask this of You.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,
InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 343
Image of Christian Martyrs Entering the Amphitheatre via Lawrence OP — Creative Commons
Love Like Jesus by Kurt Bennett, now available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.