Persecution May Have Evil Intent But God's Intent Wins
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. — Acts 8:1-3
I can, to some degree, see both sides of this situation. I can see that Saul believes his actions are devout. As a young promising Pharisee, he is educated in the law and growing through the religious ranks. He really believes he is doing the right thing. In fact, years later, he tells us that he believed he was doing the right thing. Listen to his comments in Philippians 3:4-6.
"If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless." — Philippians 3:4-6
This is a man who genuinely believed he was doing the right thing by persecuting Christians. He believed that the message of Christ as the Messiah was blasphemy against God. Thus he approves of the execution of Stephen. And because of this, the church in Jerusalem was persecuted even more. Stephen's indictment ending up setting off a fury of firestorms all over the city.
But notice what happened. This persecution by the religious authorities resulted in a massive overnight expansion of the Gospel. It served to scatter the message and move new disciples from the epicenter of Jerusalem back to their homes all over the countryside. Yes, the situation was intense, but persecution advanced the Gospel. Thus the message moved from the city, to the region, and across the world, which was precisely in line with Jesus's plan. Just turn back to his last words. Jesus said this in Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. — Acts 1:8
Friends, I don't think we have to fear the coming persecution. God can use any season of Christian persecution to accomplish His divine purposes. Now the opposition may intend it to harm us. But no one can spin evil purposes to accomplish a divine mission better than God. He can use persecution to drive discipleship deeper and spread the Gospel further. So be patient in the heat of our persecution. God is about to unfold a plan that will blow your mind. So be faithful, and let's press on together.
ASK THIS: How do you feel we are being persecuted in the present time?
DO THIS: What do you need to do to remain faithful in this present persecution? (Share this below)
PRAY THIS: God, drive discipleship deeper and your message further through me today. Give me the zeal of Stephen against the zealousness of the Sauls in the world. Unfold your plan through me. I am ready to suffer for your name.
PLAY THIS: While I Wait — Lincoln Brewster.
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