Monday, December 26, 2016
As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Acts 7:59 – 8:8(NLT)
Stephen was chosen with six other believers in response to the need for more servants in the early church. He was not only serving within the body as the first selected to be a deacon, Stephen was stoned to death because he was God’s messenger to his city, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they responded by shooting the messenger.
That was in Jerusalem, and it kicked off a persecution frenzy. Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul, was throwing people in jail left and right, most to suffer the same fate as Stephen. The believers had to scatter in a hurry, running for their lives; that night it was all heels and elbows exiting the city of God.
But that persecution started a revival up the road in Samaria, place of the hated half-Jews. As the believers fled religious persecution in Jerusalem, they migrated in every direction; some, including Philip, made it north to Samaria. The people there heard the Good News of that Jewish rabbi having being born in a stable, raised the son of a carpenter, crucified for our sins, resurrected on the third day, and coming again to reign as Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords…and they not only rejoiced, evil spirits had to retreat, and the lame and paralyzed were healed.
Did you notice the stark differences? Great unbelief and violence in Jerusalem, the city of God; great faith and rejoicing in Samaria, the city of ungodly pagans. Hmmmmm. What do we make of that?
Particularly, what do we say when asked to measure our day against that?
America by many standards has always been considered “Christian”. But continuing to characterize North America as a Christian stronghold is becoming more and more impossible to justify with a straight face. Secular hedonism, practical atheism and trashing of two thousand years of Christian dogma (doctrine) in the name of cultural tolerance shows that, stacked-up against the likes of Stephen’s willingness to do what Jesus did – namely, forgive those who stoned him – we are anything but Christian.
I have great confidence that God is sovereign and will move to accomplish his great will for his creation, and will do so with or without humankind’s cooperation. But I fear for any nation that rejects God’s ways as culturally, legally and unashamedly as has ours. We are headed down the broad way of destruction.
Stephen, Peter and all the disciples told that to their generation.
Noah preached it to his generation.
The prophets all preached it to their generations.
The messengers were shot; the message and warning continue.
God still needs more messengers to this generation…are you in?