Acts 8:1-2: Out of the salt shaker.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.”NIV

‘’On that day…’’ the salt pot that was the Jerusalem church got turned upside down and shaken over a wider area. The scattering was not a random thing. There was pattern and purpose, as we shall see. Jesus had said to his followers: ‘’But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’’ (1:8). It was now time for the next stage of their mission, but this further ‘outreach’ did not arise from a strategic planning meeting. God was in control, and He took hold of the salt cellar, up-ended it and shook it to great effect (Acts 11:19ff). There are happenings which look bad in our eyes, but God uses them for good. The church is ultimately unstoppable because the Lord Himself is. Stephen was killed, but the church spread; Saul threw his weight about, yet still the church grew. What men mean for evil God means for good. Take heart. God is in control. There is irony in the words: ‘’But Saul began to destroy the church…’’ because, clearly, he wasn’t doing. It was his intention, but the Lord had other intentions to remove him from his high horse. He may have started this enterprise, but he didn’t get to finish it!

There is something profoundly touching about the words of verse 2. The Christian faith gives us a glorious hope in the face of death, but it doesn’t ask us to stifle our grief, or to deny what we really feel. Stephen had gone to be with the Jesus he saw in his dying moments, but he was missed. His place was empty. He was a good and godly man, and a great leader. The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Thessalonica at a later date, says: ‘’Brothers, we do not want you…to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope’’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13). However, he doesn’t say, ‘We don’t want you to grieve.’There is a legitimate place for mourning those who have left us for heaven. But because they have left for that ‘better land’ the mourning is transformed. It’s there, but it’s different. The parting is real and painful, but it is temporary. We will see them ‘in the morning.’

PRAYER: Risen Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that a brilliant light shines out of your empty tomb onto every ‘Good Friday’ experience we face.