GOD HAS HIS WAYS!
"The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them...Saul was right there, congratulating the killers.
"That set off a terrific persecution of the church in Jerusalem. The believers were all scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. All, that is, but the apostles. Good and brave men buried Stephen, giving him a solemn funeral -- not many dry eyes that day!" Acts 8:1-2 (The Message).
God has His ways of getting the job done and His instructions carried out. In the early history of the world, He instructed the first pair, Adam and Eve, to multiply and fill the earth. They multiplied alright but, instead of moving out across the earth, they congregated in one place and began to build a tower and set up a false religion in rebellion against God.
At that stage they spoke only one language. God is smart! He knew how to get them to move - confuse their languages, which is just what He did. When they could no longer understand one another, they separated and moved away from each other. Those that remained called their city Babel -- the place of confusion -- which became the city of Babylon, symbolic of the anti-God world system which will be destroyed when Jesus returns.
Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. But they stayed in Jerusalem. They were comfortable in their circle until this moment when all hell broke loose against them and they were forced to flee from Jerusalem.
But instead of persecution destroying the church and silencing the believers, it only served to spread the message beyond Jerusalem, which was exactly what God wanted. Wherever the believers went, they carried with them the precious story of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit who was in them. Their love, their unity, their unshakeable conviction that Jesus was alive, and even their courage in the face of persecution was so compelling that more and more people joined their ranks in spite of the personal danger of associating with the church.
We see, repeatedly, how God orchestrates the lives and circumstances of His people, which often times seems unfair and even cruel, to serve both His kingdom and His people. No matter how bad things seem to be, the outcome proves that God knows what He is doing. What we think is irreversible disaster turns out to be the best thing that could ever have happened. On hindsight we would not have wanted it any other way!
Look at the scenario. The Jerusalem church was growing, consolidating and flourishing. The people had great favour in the city and then...Peter and John went and healed a crippled beggar! That got the attention of the religious authorities. This was not just a co-incidence. This Jesus, whom they thought they had exterminated, was rearing up His head again. His followers were not only claiming He was alive, they were proving it by doing what He did. They had to be stopped. So they jailed and threatened them.
But it didn't stop there. Stephen was not even an apostle yet he was also doing what the apostles were doing -- and accusing the Sanhedrin of more than murdering Jesus. He accused them of perpetuating the murderous behaviour of their forefathers who killed the prophets for foretelling the coming of Messiah.
This aroused the bitter hatred of a fanatical young Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. The incident with Stephen released a flood of persecution led by Saul, which sent the believers scattering -- just what God wanted!
Does this not give us huge encouragement? The story of the church in the book of Acts is the story of global war -- God's kingdom and the dominion of darkness, but is was and is a one-sided conflict. "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31 (NIV).
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