To this point, the fledgling church had come into conflict with the Jewish authorities for sure, but nothing too disruptive. Now the heat is turned up and they begin to suffer real persecution for their faith.
Stephen, one of the seven men chosen to oversee the distribution of food for widows, is singled out as a particular threat to Synagogue teaching. Stoned to death, he becomes the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:59–60).
What follows is a full-scale assault on the church in Jerusalem. Everyone bar the apostles is ‘scattered’ (Acts 8:4) or ‘dragged’ (8:3) to prison. These are both words with profoundly negative connotations in this context and yet God uses the circumstances for good.
Philip, another of the seven, ends up in Samaria. Samaria was a hilly area between Judaea in the south and Galilee in the north. Samaritans had stayed behind when most Israelites were exiled to Babylon and had intermarried with other nations with several aspects of their faith changing along the way. Jews had viewed them with hostility and
suspicion ever since and there had been several instances of violent conflict between them. It would have been understandable if Philip had decided to keep a low profile and move on quickly and quietly as soon as he could. Instead he ‘proclaimed the Messiah there’ (Acts 8:5), cast out evil spirits, performed dramatic healings and was the source of great joy in the city.
We might live our whole lives in the same small town, or we might float from place to place like a dandelion seed on the breeze, but either way the challenge is the same: how can we serve the communities and neighbourhoods we find ourselves in right now? Will we bloom where we are planted?