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February 16, 2014
Contrast: They “Went About Preaching the Word”
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him [Stephen] to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:1-4)
The backgroundof the eighth chapter of Acts is one of contrast—acceptance and rejection. The apostles, as recorded in the second chapter, began to preach Jesus to the very people who had rejected Him. That day, some, about 3,000 with more added later, accepted the message and were responsive to it. These people continued with the apostles in the things taught. The word spread throughout Jerusalem to the point that the faithful were accused of having “filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28). It is easy to see the sharpness of the contrast. The message had been accepted by many and favor was gained among the people (Acts 2:41). However, not all accepted. many of the Jewish leaders were “greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
Stephen, one of the faithful, a man “full of grace and power,” was preaching the message and confirming it with “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). The contrast continues. Some Jew from the Synagogue of the Freedmen rejected the message, but “were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). Whereas, Stephen was speaking with grace and power, they resorted to different means. “They secretly induced men” (Acts 6:11), “they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes” (Acts 6:12), and “they put forward false witnesses” (Acts 6:13).
God, in the seventh chapter of Acts, has recorded for us perhaps the most powerful sermon that has come to man’s eyes and ears. Stephen preached the word because he cared about them; he wanted them to know God cared about them. Look at the contrasting reaction: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him … they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:54-58).
That, in simple terms, is the background of the eighth chapter of Acts. The message had been proclaimed and many accepted it, but also, severe persecution had become entrenched because of those who rejected. The message had had some success. Did the faithful stop now? Is this study in contrasts over? Far from it. Notice the failure of those who tried to stop the message. Notice the success of the message.
“They”went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:1). Who are “they”? It was the people who had been added to God’s family while in Jerusalem who did this. Remember, there were devout men of every nation who had gathered there (Acts 2:5). These were people who heard the word as preached by the apostles, had been persuaded to believe it, and had repented, and had been baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:14-38). They were people then described as saved (Acts 2:40). What began with the apostles had grown. There were others willing to proclaim the same message. There were talented speakers filled with grace and power such as Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:10; Acts 8:5). However, this preaching was not limited to these. All who were scattered went. We should all learn that if we are Christians we should all share the message of salvation wherever we go. Think of what Paul told Timothy: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2Timothy 2:2).
They“went” everywhere preaching the word. This is a word which indicates “action.” Isn’t this the very commission of Jesus? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Remember, these people were from “every nation” and seem to have been returning, not as we think of a missionary tour, but as they went they shared the good news of salvation.
They went“everywhere” preaching the word. We know where some of them went. Some went to Samaria, some to Cypress, and some to Antioch (Acts 8:5; 11:19). If only all Christians could see the importance of telling others about Jesus as these did, what a difference it would make!
They went everywhere“preaching” the word. To preach is to herald, to publish, and/or to proclaim. This was undoubtedly, done with the tongue, even though it can be done with the pen or other methods of communication. These Christians didn’t stop teaching; they didn’t stop proclaiming.
They went everywhere preaching“the word.” It was “the” word of God—His message—not the word of something else. This is called the truth (John 17:17). This is called the gospel (1Peter 1:25). This message is composed of His utterances (1Peter 4:11). This is Scripture (2Timothy 3:16). This is preaching Christ. (Acts 8:35; Acts 10:34-36).
They went everywhere preaching the word—with success. (Acts 8:6-13; Acts 11:19-21). One of the reasons for this must have been their diligence. Remember again, what Paul told Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2Timothy 4:2).
What lessons should we learn from this study in contrasts? Will you accept or reject? Will you have failure or success? Will you stand condemned or rewarded
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.