Column: How God began world missions

“So far, so good,” may well have been words God said to the apostles in Jerusalem, for they had fulfilled the first stage of the church’s expansion.


“But, brothers and sisters, what are you going to do to be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth?”

What followed this imaginary dialogue God had with his disciples is another example of how God uses tragic events to bring to pass wonderful results. In this case it was the stoning of Stephen.

Stephen was one of the chosen and ordained deacons appointed to oversee food distribution and who also happened to be a gifted preacher. A group of Greek-speaking Jews felt threatened by Stephen’s new way of interpreting their old traditions. They accused this deacon of blasphemy and with changing the laws given by God to Moses.

In defense, Stephen preached a long sermon, most of which Luke recorded for us in Acts 6-7.

Stephen repeated the history of Israel from memory, relating it to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As long as “the Way” remained merely a Jewish sect, the Sanhedrin had no heartburn.

But Stephen advocated a radical revision of the Old Testament tradition based on the light of God’s new revelation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah sent by God. Such radical changes enraged the Jews who heard it and led to his being stoned to death.

The unfortunate death of Stephen began a wave of persecution against the followers of Jesus, forcing the disciples to flee from Jerusalem and thereby begin to spread the good news of the Gospel into the surrounding areas.

By so doing, they fulfilled stage two of the great commission (“and into all Judea and Samaria” – see Acts 1:8 and Acts 8:25).

God did not actively will the untimely death of Stephen, but God did permit the stoning. By so permitting this bad event to happen to a truly good person, God was able to accomplish the spreading of the Gospel message to many more people.

So it is for you and me when God allows bad events to occur in our lives. I am thinking about the establishment of the Amber Alert System, the mothers against drunken driving program and all the new research being done to help people with breast cancer. On and on we could list all the “good things” that have come to pass as a result of a tragic event.

But you are probably thinking, what about the “to the end of the earth” part of the expanding church?

Well, that is another story we can consider later, but you can read about it in Acts 8, which tells of the mission work of Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch.