Acts 8

Murderers and sorcerers and eunuchs, oh my! Acts 8 is an interesting chapter to stumble upon as the new body of Christ, the church, continues to grow.

It begins with the murderer, Saul, who not only oversaw the stoning of Stephen, but was so convicted of his cause and defending how he and the other Jewish leaders interpreted the Scriptures that he was willing to throw men and women into prison to silence this new movement of Jesus followers.

I’m guessing most of us have that one person we used to know in high school that became something we never saw coming; a doctor or dentist, a kindergarten teacher, a pastor. It’s usually that last one that shocks people the most (I still second guess myself every time I tell other people I am pastor).

We know Saul’s past, his convictions and anger, and we know an encounter is coming soon on the road to Damascus that will forever change his life. In this moment, however, it’s important to remember how God can redeem and use anyone in His service, even those you view as unworthy and unredeemable.

But the death of Stephen leads to the first great “wave of persecution” in the church. For those of us living in the United States, we often struggle to truly empathize with the idea of being persecuted for our faith. Oh sure, maybe someone teased us for going to church, or maybe someone lumped us into a fanatical group based largely on their assumptions. I imagine something that may hit closer to home are those that have been ridiculed, or even lost their job, for not wanting to work on Sabbath. Whatever the case, most of us don’t know what it's like to have our life literally threatened for what we believe, and yet these followers of Jesus held onto their faith and the persecution actually brought them closer together in purpose and relationship. It had the opposite effect of what the Jewish leaders had hoped for.
Then we meet the sorcerer, which I can’t help but say today without thinking of Marvel comic book’s character, Dr. Strange, otherwise known as the “Sorcerer Supreme.” Whatever “magic” Simon the Sorcerer was into, he quickly recognize that the power of God was a greater power than anything he ever had access to in the past. His mistake came in thinking God’s power could be bought like a commodity, or like a box of tricks in a magic store.

I often view the story of Simon the Sorcerer in a similar light as the conversation Jesus had with the rich young ruler. There were good intentions, but those good intentions were so clouded with someone holding on to something of their past. Both the rich young ruler and Simon the Sorcerer had to learn to fully take hold of God we must let go of the former things of life. We must learn this as well.

Finally, we have Philip’s incredible encounter with the Eunuch. This is one of my favorite short stories in the book of Acts. Someone from another background has gotten a hold of the Scriptures, but because he doesn’t understand them or have any context for them, those Scriptures haven’t been able to fully get ahold of him. God sends Philip in miraculous fashion to help the Eunuch see that the Scriptures, all of the Scriptures, point to Jesus (John 5: 39).
When the Holy Spirit, through Philip, finally helps the Eunuch connect the dots, his response is the one we hope for everyone to say in response to Jesus, “Look! there’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?”

Whoever we have been, a murder, a sorcerer or a Eunuch, a liar, a thief, or a greedy soul, may we all come to encounter the risen Lord every day. And whether we commit our lives to him for the first time in the waters of baptism, or recommit our lives to him as I have to do every day, may our encounter change us into an instrument for the continued spreading of His transformative, powerful, life-giving gospel.

By Paddy McCoy

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