Whether the circumstance is a family custom, a club organization or programming, a civic tradition, or a church, any change faces the considerable barriers of tradition, interpretation and pride. Jesus' teachings and actions generated controversy among the Jews, so we should not be surprised that the early church struggled with change, particularly when there was longstanding division between Jews and Gentiles. We can learn from this crisis that became a key turning point for God's people.
The epic story of the gospel spreading across the Roman Empire can be described as powerful, against all odds, romantic, spell-binding ... but more accurately as the working of God's Spirit in the lives of his people. In spite of societal, government, religious and natural obstacles, the hope of Christ spreads, captivating human hearts.
Persecution of the believers accelerated in Jerusalem as the church grew. Luke tells us that the larger number of Christians, not the original apostles, fled to places like Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch of Pisidia in the north (Acts 11:19). These Gentile cities had a larger population of Jews who were established in the business community and even respected by the local government. Antioch would offer greater opportunities to share Christ in an open society where Jews were already accepted.
Herod Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I, ruled Galilee for 42 years, while Judea, in the south, continued to be administered by a string of Roman governors in order to maintain tight control of Jerusalem. Luke describes this king's devotion; he “understood well all the Jewish customs and controversies” (v. 3). Agrippa II was loyal to Rome, which explains his long rule, and – unlike his predecessors – avoided violence as a pattern for control. He is the sole reasonable Herod.
Is there no end to the Herods? Here we are studying the third ruler in the Herodian dynasty. Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great and nephew of Herod Antipas, appears only in Acts 12 in the Bible. But this Herod is different from his royal relatives in that he is the religious king.
How many times have you been impressed by the dramatic testimony of a missionary guest in your church or the biography of a person who survived persecution because of their faith? We thrill to the stories of Peter, John or Paul, as we should. But is it not equally impressive when someone consistently lives a Christian witness against the challenging influences of our everyday world?
Philip is one of my heroes. He is not one of the twelve apostles, or listed as a member of the ruling council of the Jerusalem church, or described as a renowned planter of churches across the Roman Empire or the author of a single New Testament letter. Philip inspires me by his appearance at key places, his concern for others and his willingness to share Christ wherever he went.
Acts is the amazing story of how the good news about Jesus Christ began breaking through all the barriers of religion and culture in the first century. The last word in Acts 28:31 is unhindered. Along with the original apostles and growing number of disciples, Philip was very involved in breaking down the walls that could block the spreading gospel. Philip appears on the scene when there is critical friction within the Jerusalem church. He helped tear down the growing wall of prejudice.
Instead of approaching the book called Acts as the “Acts of the Apostles” we should see it as “The Powerful Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Early Disciples.” Peter is most prominent in Acts 1-12 and Paul in Acts 13-28. But you already know there are many significant individuals in this chronicle of the early church's growth. Philip is one of those significant disciples of Jesus, appearing four times as God's Spirit blesses him in challenging circumstances.