“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Acts 8.1-3
The First Church of Christianity was in Jerusalem. This was the founding church, where the message of the Cross was first proclaimed, and where, of course, Jesus suffered, was crucified and rose again. It was the hub of the Gospel. Although the good news quickly spread through the power of the Holy Spirit, which began at Pentecost, the birthplace of the faith was the city itself.
This is where Saul, a Pharisee zealous in maintaining the Law of Moses lived and dwelled. This is where he had power over anyone who would stray from the way of the Law. And when many Jewish priests were coming to faith, and the Lord was adding daily those who were being saved, Saul was ramping up his crusade against this rouge group.
It was on the day of Stephens death that ”great persecution” broke out against the church. Everyone, the Scripture says, except the apostles, ”were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Sounds like God’s strategy to spread the gospel through opposition. Sometimes this is required to get us to move from our secure groups of support to reach others with his love and grace.)
Stephen was buried, by godly men, and they ”mourned deeply for him.” But Saul, who we will know from now until eternity ”began to destroy the church.” By destroying the church, he wasn’t knocking down walls or ripping up carpet or defacing altars. He was putting in prison both godly men and women who followed Jesus. The church, the body of Christ, was made up of people rather than buildings.
Saul’s assent was to ransack the word of God. He thought he was doing a work for God, but in truth, he was blinded by his hatred, lust and pride for anything except following the exact letter and not the Spirit of the Law. (Saul/Paul will talk about how zealous he was later in some of his letters to the churches.)
Stephen’s martyrdom propelled the work of God even though it seemed otherwise. The persecution of the early church actually brought forth the results God wanted in spreading the Gospel and making known the name of Christ.
I wonder if God is doing a work in your life which seems contrary to that of peace, love and unity? I wonder if God is allowing circumstances to occur which have you baffled, daze and confused? Could the Spirit be at work in and among you to establish his authority in your life and in the world?
Look for God’s hand in this activity. Seek his face in the smallest of details knowing that He cares for you and for his name to be renown in all the earth.
“O Lord God, we are walking by faith and not by sight. I pray that you might utilize the work I am doing for the glory of God and the growth of the Kingdom. Help me so proclaim your grace that the world might know. Even in my small part of the world, when things seem out of my control, help me give control back to you. I know you have something good in mind for all of us and that your plan and purpose is perfect. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen