There are many valuable lessons to be learned from Acts 8. Here are two that stood out to me:
1. Go forward in a spirit of boldness, not one of fear and timidity. If you know me well, you know I LOVE the movie The Princess Bride. (Yes, I realize this movie is now a classic!) Spoiler alerts ahead! If you have ever seen the movie, you will recall the scene where Wesley is leading Buttercup into the Fire Swamp and Buttercup fearfully exclaims to Wesley, “We’ll never survive” and Wesley replies to her, “Nonsense. You’re only saying never because no one ever has.” True to Buttercup’s fears, they encounter the widely known dangers of the Fire Swamp: fire, quicksand and R.O.U.S.’s (Rodents of Unusual Size). In reading Acts 8, especially on the heels of Stephen’s stoning that we read about in chapter 7, one might imagine an atmosphere of fear and timidity could have easily festered in the Christian community. In Acts 8:1 we read about a great persecution that began against the church. We read of Saul who was waging war against the Christ followers, going from house to house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. One might think Christians might have chosen to go underground and keep a low profile. As we continue reading the chapter, we find just the opposite to be true. Christians were scattered about because of this persecution, but we read in verse 4 that they continued to preach the word. In verse 5 we read how Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed Christ. This wasn’t a clandestine type of preaching, his bold proclamation of the gospel was also accompanied by miraculous wonders such as healings and driving out of demons.
In John 15:20 Jesus tells us, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” We are not promised a trouble-free life. Jesus assures us this life will bring us trouble and persecution if we follow him. What should our response be to persecution? Do we shrink back and try to keep a low profile? Or do we move forward with boldness like Wesley and Buttercup in spite of our fears? 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Jesus assures us we will have trouble in this life, but we are never ever alone. He reminds us of this in John 16:33 when he tells us, “I have told you these things, to that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
2. Be sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Your Christian life is unscripted. In many ways, it is a wild adventure. We have the most excellent advantage of knowing how the story ends and that the good guys do win after all, but there will be many plot twists in between. In verses 25-40, we read about how an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip sees an Ethiopian eunuch and we read in verse 29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’.” We continue reading that Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch and the eunuch declares his belief that Jesus is the son of God and gets baptized by Philip. We later read that Philip gets snatched away by the Spirit to Azotus and preaches the gospel in all the cities on his way to Caesarea. Following the lead of the Holy Spirit means we will lead life unscripted and we will often be pushed out of our comfort zones. What is the Holy Spirit stirring you to do? Be sensitive, be open and be bold. A grand adventure awaits…