The history and development of baptism

Where did baptism come from?  Who was the first to practice it?  The answer to this question is a bit elusive.  It’s likely that many ancient religions practiced something like baptism, though it wouldn’t be until the days of the early church that we see the word “baptism” emerge as a uniquely Christian practice.  So what are its origins?  How did it develop?

BAPTISM IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

While other ancient cultures had their own ceremonial rites, Israel’s worship was unique in every way.  You might already remember that Israel’s religion was expressed in a series of laws governing the categories of “clean” and “unclean,” symbolically reflecting the purity of God’s character.  Something of this might be in view when Ezekiel describes the formation of God’s relationship with Israel:

8 “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. 9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. (Ezekiel 16:8-9)

Some point to various sorts of “precursors” to baptism in the Old Testament—even the apostle Peter would draw some loose connection between baptism and Noah’s flood.  In another setting, Elisha instructs a leper to wash himself by dipping his body into the Jordan river seven times—purifying him of this disease (2 Kings 5:1-14).  So we might find some “hints” of what baptism might look like in the future.

But the clearest examples of regular purification rituals comes from the system of Levite priests.  The book of Leviticus even specifies purification routines centered around the great “Day of Atonement:”

He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. (Leviticus 16:4)

23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. (Leviticus 16:23-24)

Priests were often “sequestered” for a week prior to this event in order to minimize the risk of any sort of contamination.

JOHN THE BAPTIST

Jesus was famously baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

What’s going on here?  John the Baptist was a born a preacher’s kid, but it’s speculated that when his father passed away John would end up spending his time with a group of desert people called the “Essenes.”  These folks were the hippies of the ancient world, dwelling in caves in the wilderness as a form of separation from the Roman establishment.  Yet when John returns from the wilderness, he doesn’t seem to have adopted their practices as much as reinvented them.  So John is introducing a new form of baptism, which in some way involves a new form of repentance.  Given John’s role as the “forerunner” for Jesus, it’s as if his baptism is a way of saying, “Come and be baptized as we enter into the age of the Messiah.”  So it seems as if John’s baptism had a lot more to do with identification with Jesus’ initial movement.  And we should notice that John would say that his baptism was very different from the actual ministry of Jesus, saying:

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

John seems to have envisioned Jesus as having a unique ministry in the future, and it’s this ministry that helps us clarify baptism today.

IN THE AGE OF THE CHURCH

After the resurrection, Jesus gathered his closest followers to issue the “marching orders” of the Church.  The purpose of all God’s people is worship, but the Church is now commanded to gather others together that we might all worship God in spirit and in truth.  So when Jesus tells his followers to share the good news, he includes instructions to perform baptisms:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Baptism is not optional.  This practice is commanded by Jesus himself.  In the pages of the book of Acts, we find Jesus’ followers obeying this command.  We can draw three conclusions based on their practice:

  • Baptism symbolizes salvation

Whenever we see baptism performed, we see it performed as a symbol of a declaration of faith.  To be clear, baptism is never described apart from a personal, faith commitment.  Salvation therefore doesn’t come from baptism, but baptism is a sign of obedience.  But what we also see in the New Testament is that baptism immediately followed conversion.  For example, in Acts 2 Peter’s sermon brought thousands to Christ:

41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

Some English translations say “those who believed.”  Baptism comes only after a faith commitment.  Likewise, in Philip’s ministry:

12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  (Acts 8:12)

Again, baptism comes only after a faith commitment.  And in the most famous of Philip’s stories, he shares the good news with a spiritual outsider.  A high-ranking eunuch is riding a chariot and reading a portion of the Bible.  Now, in those days people would often read out loud, so Philip—having been guided by the Lord—overheard him.  After a brief conversation, it became clear that the eunuch was spiritually curious, but didn’t understand that the scriptures he was reading were about Jesus:

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”  38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  (Acts 8:35-36, 38)

Once more, it’s hard to imagine this scene as anything other than a public profession of personal faith.  And apparently the early church agreed, because some later manuscripts would include the addition: “And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (included in some Bibles as Acts 8:37).  Granted, this verses is an addition, and not original to the Bible, but it shows that many in the early church did agree that baptism was merely an outward symbol.

  • Baptism is therefore reserved for believers

This conclusion follows from the previous principle.  If baptism symbolizes salvation, then of course the only ones being baptized would be believers.

But this wouldn’t necessarily only be adult believers.  While we can find no explicit reference to a child being baptized, we do find the Bible describing baptism applied to whole households:

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:30-34)

Admittedly this seems confusing to us since we see faith as something so deeply personal.  What should probably see here is that the entire household placed their faith in Jesus, and the whole household was baptized as a way of expressing that.  This, I think, helps us make sense of this passage in light of the others.  What I don’t think we should see, however, is evidence suggesting infant baptism.  So while children may believe in the gospel, baptism might not be for the very young.  The normative expression in the New Testament seems to be the baptism of believers.

  • Baptism is usually performed by immersion

Even the Greek verb baptizo means “to immerse” or “to submerge” or even “to drown.”  In the New Testament baptism was performed by being placed under the water.  It wasn’t until later when the early church put together a collection of documents known as the Didache, or the “Teaching(s).”  This resource clarified that if water was scarce, it was acceptable to pour water on the convert’s head and this would be sufficient for baptism.  Again, baptism usually came so quickly after conversion that they just wouldn’t wait until they found a body of water.

I know many conservative folks who would object to this, since baptism is meant to be immersion.  I don’t know that I’d join them in their objection.  If baptism is a symbol, then I’d say that while immersion would be the ideal, if someone came up on Sunday morning and wanted to be baptized right there on the spot, that a Styrofoam cup full of water would be insufficient to make that happen.  It sounds silly, but the public declaration is what matters more than the ritual itself.

But this also highlights the deeper meaning behind baptism, which we will return to tomorrow.  For now, I’d simply challenge those of you who claim to follow Christ yet haven’t been baptized to think about what it is you’re waiting for.  This isn’t a salvation issue, but it is a matter of obedience.  If you want to sign up for baptism, contact myself or one of us on the Church staff, and we’d love to be a part of that declaration of faith.

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“And now you know the rest of the story.” (Acts 8:26-40)

Those of you out there who are perhaps a bit older than a bit younger will remember the famous radio broadcasts of Paul Harvey with his distinctive voice. His daily program would present some story with little-known facts or some isolated piece of interesting information, and the key element of the story would often not be revealed until the very end. And Harvey would sign of with the final line, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

The very first believers were folks with a strong Hebrew Jewish background. Soon we see that there are Hellenistic Jews in the early company of Christians – these being ethnically Jewish people who had adopted the Greek culture and language of the Roman world. Today’s passage will give the story of a proselyte coming to Christ – this being a Gentile who had fully adopted the Jewish faith and God as the one true God. In the soon-coming story in Acts, Cornelius comes to faith, he being a “God fearer” – one who believed in the one true God, but who had not become Jewish. And finally we will see the Gospel extending to fully Gentile peoples. So … Hebrew Jews >> Hellenistic Jews >> Proselytes >> God Fearers >> Full Gentiles.

We today read about an Ethiopian official of some high office who had travelled many miles to Jerusalem to worship and was now on his way home. This was quite a long journey, and it certainly indicates a person very serious about faith and knowing God. Such is also evident by his study of Scripture, as in this passage he is laboring over the meaning of Isaiah 53:7,8 – about the prophecy of Christ as the Lamb of God.

This man knew that he had a part of the story, and that it pointed to something yet to come that he did not understand. Philip is divinely placed in the path of this man to explain this passage in the preaching of the Gospel and the completed work of Christ. The Ethiopian gladly receives the truth and publically proclaims his faith through baptism.

We who live toward the end of time have the great resource of God’s complete written revelation of the whole story of God’s redemptive work. We have the rest of the story.

Notice the vast heart of God in this expansion of the Gospel. This was not simply a message for the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham … it was growing to be universal for all lost peoples. God always had a heart for the nations of the world. His desire was that Israel be a missionary nation to the countries around them, but they blew that assignment over and over. But this new message of Christ’s forever payment for the sin of all people presents a great new era of a message of God’s abounding grace. And Luke is recording the growing network of believers – this new program of God called “the church.”

We are the Church, and we have all that we need. The Bible makes us sufficient, along with the work of the Spirit in us, to live and serve well as God’s people.

Philip and the Ethiopian – Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]   38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

If you are a really careful reader, you may have noted that verse 37 was omitted. In some manuscripts it is contained and says: Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  This would appear, from the evidence of manuscripts containing it, that this is likely a later addition and was not in the original writing of Luke.

For those who heard the sermon this past Sunday where I showed a page from a Greek New Testament, this is an illustration of what I meant about those relatively few passages where some ancient manuscripts say one thing, while others may say something else, or as in this case completely omit it. In any event, you can see that there is no theological controversy attached to these simple words.

God’s Networking Plan – Acts 8:26-40

The expansion of the early church could be somewhat likened to the modern growth of online social or professional networks. I almost daily get invites and updates from a professional network called “LinkedIn” – though I’ve not been very active with it personally. But with such tools, people connect with other people and so on … until before long, there are even millions networked one to another.

Of course, God’s “salvation network” is the Gospel message, that when received in faith networks the new believer to the body of Christ – the Church. And the book of Acts details how this network grew – both in numbers and ethnically.

The very first believers were folks with a strong Hebrew Jewish background. We soon see that there are Hellenistic Jews in the early company of Christians – these being ethnically Jewish people who had adopted the Greek culture and language of the Roman world. Today’s passage will give the story of a proselyte coming to Christ – this being a Gentile who had fully adopted the Jewish faith and God as the one true God. In the soon-coming story of Cornelius there will be the inclusion of a “God fearer” – one who believed in the one true God, but who had not become Jewish. And finally we will see the Gospel extending to fully Gentile peoples. So … Hebrew Jews >> Hellenistic Jews >> Proselytes >> God Fearers >> Full Gentiles. Cool stuff!

We today read about an Ethiopian official of some high office who had travelled many miles to Jerusalem to worship and was now on his way home. This was quite a long journey, and it certainly indicates a person very serious about faith and knowing God. Such is also evident by his study of Scripture, as in this passage he is laboring over the meaning of Isaiah 53:7,8 – about the prophecy of Christ as the Lamb of God. Philip is divinely placed in the path of this man to explain this passage in the preaching of the Gospel and the completed work of Christ. The Ethiopian gladly receives the truth and publically proclaims his faith through baptism.

I would make two observations today about the heart of God – each of which should encourage us personally, as well as in the work we share of the spread of the Gospel.

1.  Notice the vast heart of God in this expansion of the Gospel. This was not simply a message for the Jewish people, the descendents of Abraham … it was growing to be universal for all lost peoples. God always had a heart for the nations of the world. His desire was that Israel be a missionary nation to the countries around them, but they blew that assignment over and over. But this new message of Christ’s forever payment for the sin of all people presents a great new era of a message of God’s abounding grace. And Luke is recording the growing network of believers – this new program of God called “the church.”

2.  Notice the warm heart of God for the individual. Here was a man with a passion for truth and for knowing God. Though he lived remotely from the center of what God was doing, the Lord did not lose him in the crowds of humanity, but rather orchestrated divine circumstances that this one man may know the plan and work of God.

How great it is to know the God who cares both about the masses of people in the world, yet also is the God of the individual worshipper … and that should certainly encourage us today.

Philip and the Ethiopian – Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]   38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

If you are a really careful reader, you may have noted that verse 37 was omitted. In some manuscripts it is contained and says: Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  This would appear, from the evidence of manuscripts containing it, that this is likely a later addition and was not in the original writing of Luke. In any event, you can see that there is no theological controversy attached to these simple words.

Better than Dropping Bombs on the Heads of People (Acts 8:9-25)

My closest friend in pastoral ministry (and thousands of miles of marathon training and running) is a fellow from a family with whom my extended family has been friends for many, many decades. We together grew up in the same small New Jersey country church, later migrating together to a different ministry where we each followed dissimilar roads toward pastoring two congregations in our home town. Being older than me, he served in Vietnam along with his brother and brother-in-law. My friend was a marine platoon leader with incredibly intense front-line war experiences, while his brother served as a pilot dropping tons of bombs upon the Viet Cong. Later in life, his brother would become the president of World Vision, and all of them have been involved with returning to Vietnam – bringing relief work and the preaching of the Gospel to the very people who had been enemies some decades before. That is the sort of change that the Gospel can bring about!A

Today’s reading tells the story of the Gospel spreading through Philip, the first real missionary, to the area of Samaria. You will recall that these people were a sort of mixed race crowd from a Jewish background and the infusion of conquering Gentile nations. The Samaritans were also despised and looked down upon by the Jews. Remember the surprise of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman in John chapter four – along with explanations about how the Jews had nothing to do with these people? But now, the message of Jesus had come to them and many had believed and expressed their faith publically through baptism.

Among those making this profession was a fellow named Simon – a guy with the “humble” sobriquet of “The Great Power of God!”  He had ability in the magic arts, perhaps even empowered by demonic spirits? But he was amazed at the ability of Philip to perform signs and wonders – these being gifts particular to this age of the establishment of the church prior to the completion of the written Word of God.

At first glance, this appears to be a fabulous conversion story. But when John and Peter come from Jerusalem to affirm these new believers, the Spirit’s power is even more profoundly evident through them – especially through their God-given ability to lay hands on people that the Spirit may come upon them in new power. The heart of Simon is revealed when he offers money to Peter and John to receive this sort of amazing power for himself and his carnival act. As is evident in the reading, Peter REALLY condemns him for this.

Even in the early church, it is interesting to see that not every last person was one of genuine faith. It has always been true that some embrace the accoutrements of the faith for a measure of personal or public gain that comes with it, rather than for actual repentance from the lost condition of sin that separates one from God. It is sobering.

But as we leave this reading, note the final verse 25 – After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. This is the last we will see of John in the book of Acts; but compare this ministry here with a story also written by Luke in his Gospel account, chapter 9: 51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.

What a change the Gospel brought about! Here is John, no longer wanting to drop bombs on them, but rather ministering and serving with the wonderful new message of the work of Jesus. The Gospel enables us to see people beyond them being the “Viet Cong” or the “Samaritans” of our worlds – seeing people as simply lost and in need of a Savior whom we know.

Simon the Sorcerer – Acts 8:9-25

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Kill The Preacher! (Acts 7:54—8:8)

Anyone who preaches long enough is going to have some experiences where his words are not appreciated for some reason – fair or not. I have had a couple of those experiences. Years ago in New Jersey I had a Mother’s Day sermon go awry. I forget the point of application, but it was not a warm and fuzzy one like what was expected, and there was an outcry of insensitivity among the women of the church! Maybe I deserved it. I remember another occasion where I had a group of people up front patting me on the back for a passionate and pointed sermon on some other topic I’ve since forgotten, while a different group in the foyer was gathering a posse to get elder authority to run me out of town. It happens, but I have never had one with quite the reaction that Stephen received … “Let’s just kill him now!” His message hit them so heard and with such accusation that their rage was immediate and deadly.

So Stephen becomes the first martyr of the Christian Church, though certainly not the last. We tend to be oblivious in the West that this happens regularly to our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world. An example currently is in Egypt, involving the persecution and deaths of Christians in that country. It is a horrible thing for sure, yet today’s passage demonstrates the glories of heaven that await those who pass from this life to the next – to real life with Christ.

A literary devise that Luke uses in writing Acts is to give prominent characters (who appear later on in the account) an opportunity for a brief “walk-on” role. And so, he notes that a young fellow named Saul was there and in hearty agreement with all that was happening. As well, the brief mention of Saul’s energetic engagement in going house to house to drag off Christians sets the later stage for why Saul/Paul would not find a warm welcome in Jerusalem … hence his growth and discipleship and evangelism would occur far beyond – in places like Antioch, Corinth, Athens, Ephesus, and even Rome.

The final words of Christ during his ascension announced the great commission of the Gospel to be spread by witnesses from Jerusalem – to Judea, Samaria, and far beyond. A positive outcome of the persecution against all the Christian community on this day was the expansive widening of the message of the Gospel, as the people were forced to scatter in every direction of the ancient world. The picture could be of a boot coming down upon a fire, only to see the sparks fly in every direction and set multiple other fires in surrounding dry timber.

Tertullian – the 2nd Century church father – famously said that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”  This has been a truism throughout all the years since. Millions have given their lives for the faith, and wherever this has happened, the faith has grown, not shrunk. We could look to the Republic of China for the modern era illustration. The house church movement with millions of adherents testifies to the power of the Gospel over what Martin Luther famously penned as “this world with devils filled.”

We have lived in a unique time where our faith has been accepted by the surrounding culture. And though we see the very clear and troubling erosion of this undergirding cultural foundation, we are still freer of persecution and hatred than the average Christian has experienced over the past two millennia. Will it take persecution in our town squares and upon our doorsteps to live as the witnesses we are called to be by our faith in Christ? Or will we be faithful to use even times of peace to be “Matthews” who bring our friends to meet the Savior?

The Stoning of Stephen – Acts 7:54—8:8

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him.

The Church Persecuted and Scattered

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Philip in Samaria

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.