Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:4, NIV)
For the first time in living memory, churches across the UK will not be able to meet together this Sunday. We won’t have the joy of seeing each other, hearing God’s Word together, singing together, chatting together. I, for one, will terribly miss seeing everyone. We will be scattered.
But in God’s way of working, what seem like great setbacks can fulfil His purposes. We see this principle in the passage quoted above, from the history of the early church recorded in Acts.
Stephen had just been the first Christian martyr. A great persecution then broke out against the first Christians, who’d been gathered in Jerusalem. All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. A particularly savage persecutor was Saul, later to become Paul, who began to destroy the church. After a time of great growth, suddenly the Jerusalem church was decimated. It must have seemed like a disaster.
Except for one thing: those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. The persecution did not stop these early Christians living for Jesus, and speaking for Him. And the result? The spread of the gospel to Samaria, Phoenicia, Antioch and even the island of Cyprus. From this, we learn (Acts 8-11), many became Christians.
Such is the wisdom of our God! I love the fact that Paul, who became the great missionary apostle to the Easter Mediterranean, was also personally responsible for the a great spread of the gospel before his conversion!
Our situation with coronavirus is not an exact parallel. Christians are not being persecuted. We can stay in touch with each other in a way those early Christians couldn’t. But I’ve still found myself pondering whether our same sovereign God and Father might similarly use our present scattering for His gospel purposes.
Many of us will find ourselves stuck at home with family members who are not Christians. While family life in such close proximity for an extended period may have its ups and downs, we may have time for conversations we haven’t previously. We may also find that as we offer much-needed practical care, we get to know our neighbours in a new way.
We are also living through this epidemic with the Christian message on our minds and lips. We will be surrounded by people who might be asking big questions; who’ve had the foundations of life shaken, and who may be very afraid of death. With the Bible in our hands we can interpret the present situation, and explain - perhaps for the first time - how Christ is the answer.
Of course we needn’t be totally scattered. At StAG, as with many other local churches, we plan to live-stream our services from this Sunday on, at 10.00am and 5.00pm. We hope our small groups will be able to continue to meet via teleconferencing. Please do stay in touch this way. More on that here.
Let’s pray it won’t be long before we do have the joy of meeting again physically - with others to join us!