Bible Narratives Devotional, Week 46: The Persecution of the Early Church and Spread of the Gospel
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Week 46: The Persecution of the Early Church and Spread of the Gospel
Weekly memory verse:
Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
“The Church’s One Foundation” (download free hymn)
What will be done to the wicked at death?
The wicked will at their death be cast into the torments of hell.
Day 226: The Fellowship of the Early Church
Reading: Acts 4:32–5:16
Acts 4, Verse 32. Everything in common. This was not a forced socialism, but rather a voluntary sharing of goods.
Verse 35. Distributed. The early church recognized the wisdom of having the leadership determine the best way to help those who had material needs within the congregation.
Chapter 5, Verse 4. Lied. This statement, along with the parallel statement in verse 3, both demonstrates the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 11. Church. This is the first occurrence of the Greek word ekklesia in Acts, a word that means “called out assembly” and becomes the most common word to describe assemblies of Christians. The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kuriakos, which means “belonging to the Lord” (1 Cor 11:20, Rev 1:10).
The early Christians shared a deep fellowship with one another, rooted in their common belief in Jesus Christ. This caused them to care for each other’s needs. Yet this was not required, and the hypocritical deceit of Ananias and Saphira revealed that joining this new called out body of believers in Jesus Christ was not something to take lightly.
- What led the early Christians to care for each other’s needs?
- Why were Ananias and Saphira punished?
- What was the purpose of signs and wonders?
Day 227: The Church Chooses Deacons
Reading: Acts 5:17–6:7
Acts 5, Verse 34. Gamaliel. The most prominent Jewish rabbi of the time. His most well-known student was Paul (22:3).
Chapter 6, Verse 1. Hellenists . . . Hebrews. “Hebrews” were native Jews that lived in Palestine, while “Hellenists” were Jews living outside Israel. Hellenists commonly absorbed Greek culture, which made the Palestinian Jews suspicious of them.
Verse 2. Serve. The word translated “serve” here is diakonein, which is why the men chosen in this passage are called “deacons.” Deacons are chosen by the congregation (v. 3) and confirmed by the elders (v. 6), helping to take care of the church’s material matters so that the elders can give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (v. 4).
When the commands of men and God conflicted, the apostles chose to obey God, refusing to stop spreading the gospel message. Even though they were unjustly imprisoned and beaten, they rejoiced that they could suffer for the honor of Jesus’s name. This only led to the church’s increased growth, to the degree that the large numbers of Christians necessitated setting apart deacons to help meet the material needs of the congregation.
- What was the response of the apostles to their imprisonment?
- What was Gamaliel’s advice to the council?
- What is the purpose and role of deacons within the church?
Day 228: Stephen, the First Christian Martyr
Reading: Acts 6:8–8:3
Acts 6, Verse 8. Stephen. One of the men chosen to be a deacon (v. 5).
Verse 9. Synagogue. This verse appears to describe people from three synagogues: (1) the Freedmen, descendants of freed Jewish slaves living in Rome, (2) Cyrenians and Alexandrians, those from two cities in North Africa, and (3) Cilicians and Asians, those from Romans provinces in Asian Minor. Paul likely attended the synagogue in Cilicia.
Persecution against the new Christians reached a climax with the martyrdom of Stephen, one of the first deacons of the church. Stephen proclaimed a clear message to his Jewish audience, arguing through an extended rehearsal of God’s work in the Old Testament that God cannot be contained. This was an indictment against the unbelieving Jews and laid an important theological basis for the evangelization of the whole world.
- Why were the Jews upset with Stephen?
- What was Stephen’s primary message to the people?
- What was the response of the people?
Day 229: The Conversion of Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunich
Reading: Acts 8:4–40
Verse 4. Philip. One of the men chosen to be a deacon (6.5) and the first to be given the title “evangelist” (21:8).
Verse 15. Receive the Holy Spirit. In a manner that was not to become typical, God chose to delay baptizing the new Samaritan converts with the Spirit in order to authenticate that this truly was of God since these were the first non-Jewish converts. They likely spoke in tongues when they received the Spirit (v. 17), just like the Day of Pentecost (2:4) as authentication. Normally, every Christian is baptized with the Spirit into the body of Christ at the moment of salvation (1 Cor 12:13).
Verse 27. Eunuch. Although this Gentile governmental official from Ethiopia was apparently a convert to Judaism, his physical emasculation prevented him from entering the Jewish assembly (Deut 23:1).
Verse 28. Isaiah. He was reading in Isaiah 53.
After Stephen’s martyrdom forced Christians to flee Jerusalem, the gospel began to spread to more than just Jews. Samarians, a mixture of Jewish and Gentile ancestry, believed Philip’s message and were baptized with the Spirit into the same church. Likewise, a cursed Jewish proselyte from Ethiopia was likewise joined to the church when he believed in Christ. All who call upon the name of the Lord, regardless of ethnicity, become part of the church.
- Why would it have been surprising for a Samaritan to join Jews in becoming Christian?
- Why did God delay baptizing the Samaritan converts with the Holy Spirit?
- Why would it have been surprising for an Ethiopian eunuch to become a Christian?
Day 230: The Conversion of Saul
Reading: Acts 9:1–31
Verse 2. Damascus. The ancient capital of Syria, northeast of Jerusalem.
Verse 10. Ananias. The leader of the church in Damascus.
Verse 11. Tarsus. A city in the Roman province of Cilicia in Asian Minor.
Verse 17. Filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the same unique empowering for ministry given to the apostles in Acts 2.
Verse 23. Many days. Saul spent three years in the Arabian desert, where God uniquely prepared him for the ministry to which he was called (Gal 1:17–18).
Verse 30. Caesarea. A city on the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
God supernaturally converted Saul, a man committed to the destruction of Christians, on the road to Damascus. Yet all conversions are supernatural, though they may not happen in as dramatic a fashion. God uniquely called Saul to be his minister to the Gentiles, spreading the gospel and seeing many churches formed.
- Why did Saul want to persecute Christians?
- What are some evidences that Saul was completely transformed?
- To what ministry did God uniquely call Saul?
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.