Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin and accused them of keeping up a grand tradition of rejecting and murdering God’s messengers, all of it stemming from resisting the Holy Spirit who sent them. These alleged men of God literally stuck their fingers in their ears and yelled at the top of their lungs to drown out the voice of the Spirit who was pleading with them. Then they decided to silence the Voice by killing his representative. And thus we have the first martyr of the church.
But today I’d like to focus on what happened after that. The death of Stephen was a catalyst for a wave of persecution that blanketed Jerusalem. The church was largely driven out of the City of David, and the followers of Jesus were spread all over the known world. Here’s an intriguing question for us to consider: Was this from Satan or God?
“How can you ask something like that, Keith? Of course it was Satan who did all this!” Well, I believe that the Enemy was the one who directly instigated this hatred of the Message, but I actually think it was the Lord who was manipulating events above it all in order to carry out his ultimate purposes.
Let’s remember a few facts. The Lord Jesus told us in Acts 1:8 that the church was to be his witness in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world. Well, we had a lot of work going on in Jerusalem, but we seemed to be hung up on that part and forgot the rest of the marching orders. Jerusalem was the point of origin of the Christian faith. Probably most of the believers counted it as home. They were comfortable there.
Can I go out on a limb here? I think the early church, quite frankly, was being disobedient to our Lord’s instructions. He wanted them to start going out to the ends of the earth, and they were stuck in their Comfort Zone.
And what happens when we disobediently stay in our Comfort Zone? Well, we saw it before at the beginnings of Israel. The descendants of Abraham had it great in Egypt: Joseph was in charge, they had their own land, and there was little danger of assimilation. They needed some time to grow in population. But Egypt was not the Promised Land. So when the time came, the Lord made their Comfort Zone less comfortable. Don’t believe me? Read Psalms 105:23-25: “The Lord made his people very fruitful; he made them too numerous for their foes, whose hearts he turned to hate his people, to conspire against his servants.” That’s right. The Lord himself moved the hearts of the Egyptians and made them hate the Hebrews.
What am I saying here? It’s like the Lord is saying “OK, beloved. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” My friend, if you don’t see Acts 1:8, you’ll likely see Acts 8:1 instead.
So what happened? The Good News spread, and the second phase of Acts 1:8 actually started. Philip shared the Message with Samaritans (which to be fair, was a huge step for a Jew to take), and they received it with joy. You start doing things God’s way, and things turn out better. What a concept!
So which way is it going to be for you?
Lord Jesus, doing things your way is not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing. Let’s do it.
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