Today’s world is mobile. I’ve moved an average of one move every 2.5 years of my life. However, this is not the case for everyone. Our children had school friends who had never been out of the city where we happened to be living. My parents moved six times in their whole lives and most of those were from retirement to nursing care to hospital.
I’ve wondered if people moved often during the time of the New Testament. I cannot find that information yet surmise that because people depended on foot travel or animals, they likely didn’t move very far. That begs the question: how would these words of Jesus come true?
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.” (Acts 1:8)
How would the new Christians witness to the ends of the earth? It seems obvious they needed more than an easy way of travel — they also needed motivation to go from where they lived and worked to the ‘ends of the earth.’ What would influence them to do that? The book of Acts tells how God helped them, not in a way that they would have chosen on their own . . .
And Saul approved of (Stephen’s) execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1–3)
The Jewish religious leaders felt threatened by this ‘new’ religion and began persecuting them. It began very soon and continued, yet the narrative in Acts shows God’s plan. As His people fled for safety they fulfilled those prophetic words of their Savior:
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19–21)
Today if this happened in my part of the world, Christians might think it was a horrible thing to be uprooted and scattered because of persecution. We might not suspect that God had something greater in mind than our comfort and security. I’m marveling at what God was doing back then, but would I marvel if it happened to me?
The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:22–26)
In parts of our world, persecuted Christians are still fleeing in fear for their lives. Our church has supported newlyweds from Syria who lived in bombed-out buildings for several months until they could escape to safety. We also are supporting families who fled from their homeland to another country only to find themselves in refugee camps, also unwelcome and persecuted. I’ve moved many times but cannot relate to what these people are experiencing. Relocating by choice or necessity is one thing but moving to escape death is quite another.
Lord Jesus, I compare the attitude of these early Christians with mine and marvel at their faithfulness and steadfast purpose. They turned to You in faith and that faith carried them, even as they were threatened. I must admit that a forced move would challenge me. Would I share the Gospel as I fled or if I wound up in a foreign land? I know that many people are suspicious of immigrants here because of persecution. I pray that You will use them to share the Gospel even as you did in the early church. Sadly, our land is ‘free’ yet many of our citizens still need to hear the Gospel because many of Your people are too comfortable rather than being focused and faithful to that purpose.