What does it say?
Stephen, arrested for charges of blasphemy, preaches a powerful sermon in the presence of the Jewish council (Acts 7). The sermon he preaches is a condensed version of the same chronological/missional view of the scriptures that we have been following. Beginning with the call of Abraham, Stephen traces the thread of God’s story and mission from that time until the time of Messiah. For this he becomes the first Christian martyr.
Acts 8 informs us that a leading Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus supervises Stephen’s martyrdom, and that a wave of severe persecution comes upon the believers in Jerusalem and they are scattered everywhere except that the apostles remain in Jerusalem. Another of the seven deacons, Philip, preaches the Gospel in Samaria and a great awakening is the result. From there, the Spirit transports him to the desert to more fully explain the Gospel to an Ethiopian official returning home from an unsuccessful journey to Jerusalem to find God.
What does it mean?
The commission Jesus gave his followers is clear. In Acts 1:8 they are to be witness in Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria and to the most remote places on earth. In the early days of the church, however, they stay huddled in Jerusalem. While the results are nothing short of spectacular, it takes this wave of persecution to forcibly send them off to engage in the mission. The mission is also to all nations, but to this point the believers are totally Jewish. Many of the pilgrims converted at Pentecost speak other languages, but they had come to Jerusalem because they were Jewish. Now, the Gospel reaches Samaritans that could be considered only part Jewish. But with the Ethiopian, we have a non-Jewish person coming to faith. This is a landmark, because as a eunuch he was not even permitted to enter the temple in Jerusalem, but here he is baptized for his faith in Jesus the Messiah.
Jesus also promises opposition, persecution and even that some will follow him into physical death for the sake of the kingdom. The martyrdom of Stephen is a reality check.
How will I respond?
Do I truly have a worldwide vision? What will it take for God to increase my vision? Wouldn’t it be easier for me to simply engage in that mission willingly, completely and presently? What one way can I express an increased world vision this week?