What a strange time it must have been in Jerusalem in those months after the Holy Spirit settled above the heads of the disciples and Peter preached his first sermon (Acts 2). The church grew exponentially—both Greek-culture Jews and Hebraic Jews came to faith. Everyone shared everything, Luke says (Acts 2:44). I get the impression they thought Jesus was coming back really soon, like within the year.
But as time wore on, people found things to complain about. “That’s not fair,” “What about me,” and other phrases floated around. The original apostles couldn’t deal with it all. I wonder which one of them said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). Sounds sarcastic. It was probably Peter.
As a result, they chose seven Greek-culture Jews to ensure everyone was getting his or her fair share of the food distribution. (They all had Greek names.)
We don’t know how much time passed between Acts 6:1-6 and Acts 6:8ff. Verse seven feels like a bridge, covering possibly even three years. (The timelines I found show different amounts of time here.) My study notes call it a “progress report.”
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. –Acts 6:7
The 7 deacons must have
spent lots of time with
the 12 disciples.
In leadership of the Jerusalem church, we have the twelve disciples, and we have these seven chosen men, often considered the first deacons, who were already “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). The disciples focused on prayer and preaching. The deacons focused on serving the believers. But you have to think they spent a lot of time together. I imagine the deacons heard the disciples’ speeches in public and had long conversations with them in private. Remember, we’re looking at approximately three years here.
In the end, maybe all seven deacons had stories like Stephen’s and Philip’s—stories of profound sacrifice and service—but we only know these two. Stephen was arrested after he “performed great wonders and signs among the people” and spoke with incredible, Spirit-given wisdom against those who argued with him (Acts 6:8-10). In his “last words,” Stephen tells everyone who will listen that the Jews have rejected yet another prophet sent by God. In response, they stone him to death (Acts 7).
Saul witnesses the stoning and is inspired to persecute Jews throughout Jerusalem and Judea. (See last week’s post for more about Saul/Paul).
Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. –Acts 8:3
Philip started telling
people about Jesus as
soon as he got to Samaria.
Philip, one of the seven deacons along with Stephen, ends up in Samaria, Samaria. (Yes, like New York, New York.) We don’t know why he went there. Maybe family ties, maybe Spirit-led, maybe seeming coincidence. But he started telling people about Jesus as soon as he got there. He also healed the physically and spiritually disabled.
As I read this story recently, the next verse stopped me in my tracks. It indirectly influenced my recent post, Some People Aren’t Gonna Like You, and it’s made me adjust my perspective on my neighbors.
So there was great joy in that city. –Acts 8:8
A Christian went in (before they were even called by that name), and there was “great joy.” The people were happy to see him! Sure, he healed people, but it has to be more than that. This impostor named Simon was already going around impressing people and gathering a following (Acts 8:9-11). But with Philip, they believed and were baptized “as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). They wanted him there, and they wanted to be with him.
Interesting parallel: In Jerusalem, “both men and women” were being imprisoned (8:3), but in Samaria, “both men and women” were believing and being baptized (8:12). Clearly, Samaria was the better place to be right then!
Here’s the difficult question, the challenge brought by the text today: When I go into a place, are the people happy to see me? Is there “great joy” because I’m there?
We are good-news bearers,
but do we act like it?
There should be. Like the angels who appeared to the shepherds, we bear “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Of course, there will be conflict and problems we must work out. Look at Simon the Sorcerer there in Samaria: He tried to buy spiritual power and had to be corrected (Acts 8:18-24)! Still, the people were glad Philip had come.
Don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying we will be the life of the party. I’m an introvert, and I only like to be the center of attention when I’m talking about Jesus and the Bible. On the other hand, my daughter used to have this friend about whom we would say, “She brings the party in with her.” Every birthday party, every pool party, every sleepover was better once Lyla arrived. I’m not like that.
Instead, people may be glad to see me (or you) because our presence brings peace or because we work to make a situation better or right a wrong. I’m asking myself questions like these:
- Is my home…my street…my city…better because I’m here?
- Are people glad I answer, “present,” when the role is called?
- Do people want me in the room?
- Am I contributing to the solution or exacerbating the problem?
- Do people want to accept my invitations?
As we move in our circles this week, let’s examine how people react to our presence. As a Christ-bringer, a peacemaker, a social healer, they should be happy to see us. (If they’re not, check the section “Unlikeable Christians” in Some People Aren’t Gonna Like You.)
With rare exceptions, we can’t heal people like Philip did. How can we ensure that we’re wanted in any room? Should we even think about this? How have you demonstrated the Good News in your circles? What characteristics of Christ-followers influence how we are welcomed? Clearly, I have more questions than answers today. Drop your thoughts in the comments below.