"Preaching the Word"
"Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Stephen was dead, Saul was on a rampage, the apostles were left alone in Jerusalem, and persecuted Christians were preaching the word. What a remarkable story! Hearts were saddened at the loss of Stephen, that young man, "...full of grace and power," who had, "...wrought great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8). Yes, we can read his sermon on the pages of inspiration; but wouldn't you like to have been there, to have heard his eloquence, and to have seen the convicting power of God's word? Surely the Christians left behind mourned the loss of this man of great faith. Surely they were encouraged at his last words: "...Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:59-60).
Then, there was another young man, Saul of Tarsus. How could a young man be so full of hatred for those dreaded Christians? Later evidence suggests a thorough education in Judaism (Acts 22:3). Most will admit being influenced in at least some way(s) by their teachers; Saul more so than perhaps most. His zeal for the Law of Moses and for the traditions of the fathers produced a rabid, zealous disciple of what he believed to be absolutely right. He was willing to openly declare his allegiance to Judaism. But the change that came over Saul on the Damascus road is a watershed, too. So ferocious was Saul's opposition to Christ, that his conversion the one he had been persecuting is more remarkable and glaring. Some of the Christians wondered if the change was real. But it was, as the life of the Apostle Paul bears out.
What about the apostles who remained in Jerusalem? The Lord had commanded them to wait in the city for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4), but how long after this they were to remain is unclear. Undoubtedly, by this time there were Christians in prison; and they would need comforting and assistance. Luke does not tell us if Peter and John and James and the others became the immediate target for more opposition. They had already suffered much, with more to come (Acts 5, 12). Did Peter ever forget his denial of the Lord? Did John ever forget the great love he had for his Savior, and the Savior for him? Each man had his own story to tell. The statement made by Paul sums up the reality of each apostle: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Phil. 3:10).
And then, there were those persecuted Christians who were scattered throughout the region of Judea. They did their work well. Again from Paul: "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews" (1 Thess. 2:14). There was something lasting about the work these people did. Their emphasis was God's word. They were happy to announce the good news of salvation to lost men and women. "The people doing this evangelizing were not elders, deacons, and preachers. They were disciples, great hosts of them, seeking a place of refuge from the destruction of Saul. As they found places to sleep or stay for a few days, they would have to explain the purpose of this plight and flight. In so doing, they went everywhere telling the bad news of their persecution and the good news of salvation in Christ" (Reese, New Testament History: Acts, 317).
These early Christians preached the word in spite of losing loved ones and friends. These early Christians were sometimes isolated and alone, but they still preached the gospel. These early Christians were forced to leave home and hearth behind, but they still preached the word. They faced enemies. If they preached the word in the midst of their circumstances, can't we preached the word in the midst of our circumstances?
By Randy Harshbarger
From Expository Files 7.2; February 2000