8:1 And Saul approved of his execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1-3 (ESV)
Devout men buried Stephen and made a great lamentation over him. This was a protest over the manner in which he was stoned. There was no legal trial, this wasn’t a lawful execution. It was a lynching. And though many were opposed, men like Saul approved and the church began to be persecuted. Saul led the charge entering house after house and dragging the Christian men and women off to prison. Because of this many were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.
The apostles stayed in Jerusalem. There isn’t really any reasoning given for this. Perhaps the Apostles were protected enough by the people who respected them. Perhaps they stayed in hiding and were staying to support those who had no family outside the city. Throughout the book of Acts the apostle’s are headquartered in Jerusalem. However God uses the persecution of the church to accomplish his purposes also. It is through the persecution of the church that people are sent to other regions of the world.
It could not have been easy for the Christians to abandon their homes, and to flee into the country side, and to live as refugees. And those who have the means to do it, left. But they left other friends behind. I’m sure many of them felt like they were being self-serving in making the decisions they made. In later generations of the church Christians would actually volunteer to be executed. They wanted to be counted among the martyrs. But these people fled. They had crosses to bear, yet. Families to support, and the gospel to proclaim. They would not think of just themselves, but also of those they loved. So they fled. And then God used them to spread his gospel.
These are the things that God uses. And ultimately he is in control. It isn’t always easy. And often we don’t understand what it is that God is doing. At times we may even think that our decisions show weakness and cowardice, at other times that what we are doing is unwise. These were the things people think of the cross itself, that Jesus was foolish and weak saving the world through his death. But because of his death it is no longer us we live for, or our own glory. But we realize that we live for those around us, we live for Christ. The responsibilities God has given us in our life, our work, our families, our loves that cause us to make decisions such as running rather than staying, these are the things through which God accomplishes his purposes in this world.