The enemies of the gospel thought they had won a great victory when they stoned Stephen; but when we assess what happened as a result, it was a victory for the spread of the Gospel. We see this as we take an overview of Acts 8. In the first chapter, Jesus said to his disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem …” (verse 8). But he said much more than that “… and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”.
They had not done this yet. The community in Jerusalem had grown larger and larger – its very size creating difficulties that needed to be solved (6:1-4). In the events of Acts 8 we can see God at work. In one sense the stoning of Stephen was a tragedy, in another, it provoked a flood of activity in starting to carry out the final words of Jesus, for Saul (soon to become Paul), emboldened by the death of Stephen, became the leader of “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (8:1).
Saul “was ravaging the church, entering house after house, he dragged off men and women …” (verse 3). But “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (verse 4). The first area to benefit was Samaria. Philip played a leading role in this, “… when they believed Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ they were baptised …” (verse 12).
Later, under the guidance of the Spirit, Philip joined an Ethiopian who was returning from worshipping at Jerusalem (verse 27) and helps him understand Isaiah’s prophecy (chapter 53) about the Messiah. When they “came to some water” (verse 36) he asked to be baptised, and after confessing his belief “they both went down into the water” (verse 38) and Philip baptised him.
It is clear baptism involved going down into water – and being plunged under the water as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul stresses this in Romans 6:3-5. The Catholic Church invented ‘christening’ centuries later but God’s word knows nothing of this; it is a human invention. The final chapter in the Bible is a warning against “anyone (who) adds to the words of … this book” (verse 22). Let us faithfully follow God’s word – recognizing that a central feature is the teaching of “the kingdom of God”.