A Journey Thru Acts 27: Persecution In Purpose & Purpose In Persecution 1
By the undeserved grace of God we continue to dig into the Biblical book of Acts for the 27th post…
54When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55But 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.”
[oh for faith in Christ like Stephen, who in the middle of intense suffering was neither in denial of his suffering nor focused on it–he was full of the Holy Spirit and focused on the glory of God, the unchanging character of the Lord Jesus Christ! Oh how we miss seeing the glory of God because we never look up to Him, we glance & rarely gaze, by faith & thru the Bible, upon the beauty of the LORD!]
57At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
[It is profound to notice the response of the Sanhedrin–not one of them paused to even try to see what Stephen saw, not one of them said, “Wait, before we kill him, what does he see that we don’t? Maybe there’s Truth to what he has been saying…”
This reveals the core state of the hearts of all humans apart from repentance & faith in the Lord Jesus Christ–it’s not that we just need Jesus to show Himself to us & then we’ll believe; we don’t WANT to believe, we don’t want to see Jesus standing at the right hand of God in His glory as Master & Judge & King & Savior.
The Sanhedrin didn’t WANT to see the Truth…they were furious at Stephen’s declaration of the true identity of Christ and they were angry at the idea of the presence of God, and so they wanted to shut Stephen up, not hear him out. The core issue for all humans is not lack of information but lack of submission, our problem isn’t with our eyes but with our heart–we are rebels who insist, in a million different ways, of being the god of our own lives…]
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
[By the undeserved grace of God, Stephen could forgive those stoning him because Stephen knew were he was going once he died, Stephen knew by faith that the end of his earthly life was not the end of his life…The Lord Jesus, who had already received the punishment that Stephen deserved for Stephen’s sins, that same Lord Jesus, no longer crucified but risen and standing at the right hand of God the Father, would now receive Stephen’s forgiven, justified, and about to be glorified spirit…oh for faith in Christ like that…]
And Saul approved of their killing him.
[We don’t have to actually do a sin to be guilty;
we can merely stand, watch and approve of sin
to be just as equally guilty and responsible…]
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem , and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2Godly men buried Stephen & mourned deeply for him. 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
[Such persecution and suffering was not limited to Stephen…certain people began to target almost all Christians with violence and threats. They were scattered from their houses, neighborhoods, cities, local churches and possibly even families. Oh how painful this must have been…and yet look below at how they responded to such a trial:]
4 Those who had been scattered preached [“gossipped’—conversation] the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed [sermon] the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
[The early church didn’t use their persecution and suffering as an excuse to be distracted from the mission that the Lord Jesus gave them, they didn’t spend their time complaining about their situation or working to bring to justice those who mistreated them. What did they focus their time & energy on? Preaching & proclaiming the Gospel with their words, both in conversation and in sermons/speeches! But oh how I and so many other American Christians use our pain (or prosperity!) as a reason to be distracted from Christ’s mission for us, rarely if ever proclaiming the Gospel with our words…]
Oh loved ones, so much gold to gather, not enough room in our pockets to carry it all!!!
From this powerful passage, the main lesson we will focus on this post is that the LORD will lead His people into suffering—persecution in particular & suffering in general. In acts 7 & 8, persecution came to the early Church not because of their sinfulness but because it was a necessary part of God fulfilling His mission thru His people.
What was & is the mission? Acts 1: Be His witnesses to the ends of the earth! Sometimes…OFTENtimes…we need an explosion to get us out of the rut & routine of how we follow Christ. Persecution then&now in particular—&suffering in general—are 2 of the main explosions that God uses to get us out of our comfort zones&into the path He has marked out for us.
We must know that God intentionally leads His people into suffering/trials/persecution, we must notice that throughout the Bible, must not run from that, must not be led astray by those who teach that Jesus just wants to lead you into more & more ease/comfort on earth.
That’s heaven—we’ll be there before we know it by the grace of God—
but that’s not earth.
- The only way to learn how to start a fire in the rain…is for it to rain, & then to try to start a fire. You cant learn to start a fire in the rain when it’s sunny (or only reading about it). If you’re going to camp, you have to learn to do this.
- The only way to learn to drive thru fog…is for it to be foggy & then to start driving. You cannot learn how to drive in fog when it is sunny. If you’re going to drive a car you have to learn to drive in difficult weather conditions.
The illustrations could go on forever…as Christians the only way we mature in Christ is to go thru trials & difficulties, not every once in a while but consistently in life.
- This is why sports teams practice difficult situations, they try to simulate the intense situations of the game while they’re in practice—this is the only way to learn, the only way to grow, the only way to avoid unnecessary injury and suffering on the field during the game!
So we must reject the teaching
that God uses easy times
to teach us difficult lessons,
we must reject the idea that muscles grow large from small/Styrofoam weights (or watching others exercise!). “Calm seas do not make good sailors.” We need the actual conditions of the difficult lessons themselves…We don’t need to create difficult situations—just follow the Lord Jesus while carrying a cross each day & He will LEAD us into difficult situations.
Why? Why would a loving God do this?
We must understand the evil in all human hearts—we worship comfort, safety, ease.
If we even want what God desires, we often want it without the cost.
- We want God’s lessons uploaded painlessly while we sleep,
not learned painfully while we are awake,
- We want Jesus but not the Lord Jesus Christ Master & King & Judge,
with no mention of the bloody cross or our vile sinfulness,
- we want spiritual growth without spiritual push-ups/sit-ups,
- we want casual friendship with God without serious discipleship,
- we want easy/light forgiveness without hard/humble repentance,
- we want safe belief without sacrificing faith,
- we want all the taste and none of the calories,
- We love loopholes and cutting corners,
- We crave microwaves not crock pots, fast food not meals from scratch,
- we want the prosperity of our parents decades before they had it and without the hard work they put in (saving, living frugally, saying no, etc.) to get there.
This is the human heart—our “default setting”—this is the printer we print to naturally, & we need new hardware/software from Christ and we need the Holy Spirit to daily switch us from our default settings—how we’ve always lived—to our new settings in Christ—new attitude, goals, beliefs, actions, new purpose. We manually go back to our default settings daily, often without realizing it…
We want life easy so we often give up on relationships
when there’s betrayal/pain/discomfort/lack of feeling.
Think of close friends you have today: in how many of those active friendships have you & the friend deeply wounded each other? How many of our current friendships have survived times when we’ve deeply let each other down? Not many, I’m guessing. Why?
We live by the cultural code—don’t surround yourself with toxic people. But that’s not what the Bible says. Yes we need to choose our friends wisely in terms of not being led into sin, but we don’t usually choose friends who specifically help us mature inChrist (challenge us, correct us, hold us accountable, etc.). We usually choose people who help us feel good about staying as we are (as long as we let them stay as they are—quid pro quo), friends who are easy to love.
Maybe that’s why we often don’t know our neighbors & why true Biblical fellowship is rare in local churches—deep down we realize that everyone is toxic or capable of brutal toxic-ness (ourselves included!), so we never get really close.
We often give up on a local church when “the Line” has been crossed (something we disagree with) or when we are not getting out of it what we want/need. (Yes there are times when the LORD leads us to leave a local church; but often we leave for bad reasons)…
That’s the human heart, and one of the main purposes of trials, one of the reasons why it’s loving for the LORD to put us thru them over&over, is because we need trials to grow/mature/change our sinful hearts—like the 2,000 degree heat of a furnace turns clay pots into fine china.
Loved ones, I bring this up to show that our current beliefs/actions
in the Church
are often so different from the early Church in Acts.
- The early church was married to poverty, prisons & persecutions.
Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality & popularity—
YES you can pick isolated Bible verses to believe that God’s desire is for all His people to be financial millionaires&have perfect physical health if only we just had enough faith—but that is not what the Bible actually teaches, that is not what you see patterned in the lives of God’s people from Genesis to Revelation, that is not the experience of millions of faithful Christians around the world this morning, & for those who have followed the Lord Jesus for any length of time, that is not often our own personal experience.
The reason such teaching is so popular—and it is exploding around the world, unfortunately—is because deep down it’s what we want to hear, it lines up with our sinful desires for personal ease & comfort & no risk & no cost—it helps us feel good going back to our “default settings.” It’s exactly what our “itching ears want to hear,” (2 Timothy 4), and there are no shortage of teachers who will tell us what we want to hear, because they can often get rich & famous telling us such things.
But it is not the Gospel, it’s not Biblical, it’s not from the LORD.
HEAVEN will be amazing—for ETERNITY!—
earth will be hard—temporarily.
HEAVEN is the wedding feast/banquet of the Lamb!
Earth is the oven in which the LORD prepares His people for the feast.
The best tasting & smelling loaf of bread
is fresh from a hot oven (not a cool refrigerator);
same with our faith in Christ Jesus & suffering.
Comfortable/easy belief is dough, not bread (faith).
Consider 2 Timothy 3:10-15: You [Timothy], however, know all about my [Paul’s] teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.
Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.
12In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
[Ahh but do we want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus,
or just a comfortable existence hanging around jesus…?]
13while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation thru faith in Christ Jesus.
[When you suffer, continue in what you have learned...because your sinfulness will want to reach out for any port in the storm, any type of false teaching that promises a quick (in 5 simple steps!) end to your suffering! You will be tempted to sin not just in your actions but in your beliefs (which always lead to sinning in our actions eventually…). Remember, watch your life and doctrine closely, especially in your suffering…hang on to the Truth, it and only it will set you free and keep you free…]
Please also consider Acts 14:21-23: They [Paul & Barnabas] preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.”
[Why don’t we see that verse as a pretty Facebook meme!!!???
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul talked about the sufferings he endured in Antioch, Lystra & Iconium, & in Acts 14 we learn that Paul & Barnabas returned to those cities, to the places of their sufferings, because they had a mission from the Lord Jesus to declare His Gospel there, whether it was safe or not. Their mission from the Lord was not to have as comfortable/easy a life as possible.
More on this in the next post, loved ones, if the LORD is willing;
specifically, how do we survive & thrive in our suffering?
Thankfully the LORD has MUCH to say on this through His Word! 🙂
Celebrating The Lord’s Supper
And suffering is a perfect time to remember the Cross, to “consider him [the Lord Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12).
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for going lower than anyone has ever gone (Philippians 2:6-8)
to bring us higher than anyone could ever go (John 3:13).
That is what we must do everyday, and that is what we do as a local church
as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
As we reflect on the Cross & empty tomb, please consider this passage below:
“But I will encamp at my temple
to guard it against marauding forces.
Never again will an oppressor overrun my people,
for now I am keeping watch.
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
[Fulfilled by the Lord Jesus on Palm Sunday!!!]
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River[b] to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
In a real pit of suffering
we can live in the more real fortress
of hope in Christ.
When we focus on the Lord Jesus’ death in our place & His resurrection,
we return to our fortress, we glorious prisoners of hope!
Have you “fled to take hold of the hope offered you” in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 6),
Have you grabbed Him alone by faith alone thru grace alone,
- The way a person with broken legs trapped in a burning building
tightly grabs onto the Firefighter sent to rescue them,
- the way a person stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean w/sharks circling tightly grabs onto the Lifeboat sent to rescue them,
Have you grabbed onto King Jesus, Who rode on a donkey & hung on a cross on earth but now sits on the Throne of heaven, have you grabbed Him by repentance & faith?
Reflect on this now, loved ones…before, after and during your suffering…