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. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. (Acts 8:1–5)
Just before the Ascension Jesus spoke his disciples, telling them “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”.
At Pentecost we see the first half of Jesus’ words fulfilled. The Spirit fell upon the disciples, and Peter took to the streets to preach. Some three thousand responded to the sermon and were baptised. I’m sure at that moment there was a sense of astonishment in the fledgling church, and a sense of great things to come. One sermon! Three thousand! How they would have anticipated the events which would happen “in all Judea and Samaria”.
Well the message of Christianity did get to those two regions, but I am sure not in the way which the apostles would have planned. Rather than some missionaries being sent, the persecution which followed Stephen’s death meant that the church was “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria”. Philip, as an example, went to Samaria and began preaching there. Others would simply have “gossiped the Gospel”.
So it was that the second half of Jesus’ words were fulfilled, but in a fundamentally different manner. Often the paths of God lead through suffering.
In today’s church there is a desire for project managers, budgets and projections. It is good to be reminded that what might look like unexpected consequences to us are, in fact, the very plans of God. We might be surprised - he isn’t.
Photo of Valle di Betania (Judea and Samaria District)