Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Blessed are those who are persecuted....

The writings of Luke in Acts of the Apostles bring excitement to the Christian reader as story after story describes the successful beginning and spread of early Christianity.  The verses of Acts 2 take us from the work of the Holy Spirit in Peter's life as he preached the church's first sermon, to the role of the family of Christians loving and sharing their new lives in Jesus.

There are some other things which need to be considered, which fit into the story.  There were obviously many struggles these people faced. The rapid growth of the church naturally brought in people with different backgrounds.  One such example of a problem was between some Christians which were Jews from Palestine, and some Jews from the Greek communities, known as Hellenists. 

These Hellenists were protesting because they felt like there was some discrimination against them when it came to funds and help being distributed to the needy. The problem was taken to the apostles, who suggested they come up with seven men to be in charge of dispensing these relief funds. The Bible said these men were to be "men of good report, filled with the Spirit and of wisdom." 

One man they selected was Stephen.  Those who are familiar with Stephen and know his story, understand how well he fit the requirements of this position.  As the church grew even more, there were more problems arising as well.  In Acts 6:7 we learn, " Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people."  The next verse indicates there were some who opposed Stephen.  If we keep reading, we are made aware the growing problems are not making him a popular person.  Verse 9, "But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke."
The opposition Stephen faced, including a man named Saul, grew to the point where some were hired to Stephen spoke a lengthy message in his defense.  The council was not moved by his message and Stephen could see the handwriting on the wall.  Acts 7:55-56, "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  Stephen was then taken outside the city, where they began to stone him.  The Bible says the coats of these men were laid at the feet of a young man named Saul.  Stephen's final words were, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

That's persecution like we will probably never see.  That is also an example of dedication which is rare.  Do we think Stephen died in vain?  Persecution continued and even grew stronger after his death, but the stories of that persecution allow us to see how God used it for good.  The scattering Christians were instrumental in the expansion of Christianity and the spread of the gospel.

Do you think you will ever be persecuted for your faith?  That could happen.  Remember it was Jesus who said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Matthew 5:10.  This weekend, give some thought to what you would do if persecution became a reality in your Christian experience. 


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