Rev. Miersma is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, currently serving in Ghana, West Africa.

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

Acts 8:3, 4

They preached Christ everywhere!

In these first four verses we are told why this took place. A fierce persecution against the Jews had arisen, with the result that the Jews were scattered. This was a fulfillment of what Jesus had said before He ascended, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

This shows that the persecution that followed upon the martyrdom of Stephen was futile on the part of the enemy. It did not destroy the church, nor did it thwart the spread of the gospel. Rather, it was a means in the Lord’s hand to fulfill His own word of Acts 1:8. In this way the text plainly forms an integral part in the narrative of “the things which Jesus continued to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1).

The intense persecution at this time was led by Saul, who later was to be the apostle Paul. He had just participated in Stephen’s stoning. Although he took no active part in the prosecution, he no doubt concerned himself vitally with the proceedings of the trial. He undoubtedly came to some conclusions at this time that led to his open opposition against the cause that Stephen represented. At the stoning itself, even though he picked up not a stone, yet he participated in that he was there and in that the witnesses laid their clothes at his feet. In Acts 7:58 we read, “and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” We furthermore read that he consented unto Stephen’s death. This he confesses himself in Acts 22:20, “And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.”

After that day when he stood by, he became the leader of those persecuting the church. Believing that he was doing this for God’s sake, he was very zealous in this work. He was born a Jew, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers (Acts 22:3). He even had the support and the backing of the council.

He imprisoned many because of their faith. “Haling men and women” means that he went into the homes of the Christians, dragged them out, and brought them to prison. This was of such a nature that Saul “made havock of the church” in that he ravaged the church as a wild beast pounces on his prey. Many of these who were placed in prison also suffered death. “Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:10). Later, as the apostle Paul, he grieved deeply because of this involvement.

However, as a result of this persecution many were forced to flee Jerusalem. And rightly so. Many people who are fainthearted flee at the slightest rumor of persecution. But the saints at Jerusalem fled because they saw that the fury of the ungodly could not be brought to an end in any other way. Their flight brought them to all parts of the known world.

One sees the wonderful work of the providence of God here. This was not out of God’s control. As Jerusalem for the Old Testament saints was a magnet to which they were drawn, so now in the New Testament the saints are propelled from Jerusalem as if by some great centrifugal force. Nothing happens apart from the providential care of our Father.

God uses even the activity of sinful men to serve His purpose. An example of this is Joseph and his brethren. Joseph says in Genesis 50:20, “ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.” The ultimate example is that of Christ Himself. Christ was crucified by sinful hands, but that was the means of cleansing His own by His precious blood. The middle wall of partition was broken down so that both Jews and Gentiles could be incorporated into the kingdom of God. Then, prior to His ascension, the Lord commanded His disciples, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations…” (Matt. 28:20).

However, up to the time of our text, the apostles had no clear indication as to when they were to venture outside of Jerusalem. But this persecution was the Lord’s answer and direction at the same time. Thus, we have an illustration of the providential law according to which what appears to be an irretrievable calamity is not only overruled, but designed from the beginning to promote the very cause that it seemed to have threatened with disaster and defeat.

Thus, they preached!

Just exactly what was involved in their preaching? The word used here is not the word that means “to herald.” To herald is to preach officially. This can be done only by those whom Christ officially calls through the church to be ministers of the Word. It is this kind of preaching that is not open to everyone.

Rather, the reference is to the speaking of the gospel to others. This is a joyful and spontaneous diffusion of the truth, which is permitted and required of all believers, whether lay or clerical, ordained or not ordained. This is the ready answer of I Peter 3:15: “and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” This includes our whole life, which must be a living testimony to all those about us that we belong to Jesus Christ. This we confess in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 32, Q & A 86. “Since then we are delivered from our misery merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works? Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image; that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof; and that by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.”

We could ask ourselves a couple of questions in this regard. How can I in my life speak the gospel to others? Do I do this when God gives me the opportunity? It basically comes down to this, Am I living and manifesting the life of Christ in me in such a way that I am a living witness of my risen Lord?

God uses means to bring to others the knowledge of salvation. God has the ability to save anyone directly, without the use of means. But He has chosen to use means, means that we, therefore, must use. The first and primary means is the official preaching of the Word by men ordained for this purpose. Of such the text is not speaking. The means spoken of in the text is the testimony of God’s people, which gets its strength and power from the primary means. The testimony of God’s people will be in direct proportion to the Word preached faithfully and purely from the pulpit. Where the Word is preached in all its fullness, God’s people will be filled to overflowing with the good news of the gospel, which they will not be able to keep to themselves.

Yes, they preached the Word!

The persecuted ones did not complain about the abuse of “rights.” Today when people are displaced, the last thing they think about proclaiming is the good news of the gospel. Rather they complain how their rights have been infringed upon and violated. Nor did these scattered Jews complain about all the social ills that plagued them. No, they presented Christ crucified. In this way they would simply tell what they had heard from the preacher. At the center of every sermon there must be Jesus Christ crucified. There simply is no other gospel. Just take note of the sermons recorded in the Scriptures.

Having presented Christ they would then present the wonder of grace whereby God has saved His people. A wonder because of sin. A wonder because of the incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. All of salvation is indeed a wonder because it is purely of God’s sovereign grace and no way attributable to us.

This Christ, this wonder of God’s grace, they preached everywhere.

There was a mass migration to many different places. They traveled to various areas of the known world. In each place they spoke the Word of God. They were not firstinterested in establishing a new home. Instead they took the opportunity to speak to many people.

In this way the gospel finally went over the whole earth. Churches were established in many places. God’s people were gathered from every place. Each spoke the Word where they were.

We have that same calling today. Wherever the Lord places us by whatever means and for whatever reason, He calls us to preach the Word both officially and by personal testimony. God blesses this faithfulness in the gathering and preservation of His church.