The circle widens and the plot thickens ~ Acts, #27
Let me open by setting the stage with the words of God:
immediately following the stoning of Stephen . . .
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. 2 (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) 3 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.
4 But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. 5 Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah.6 Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. 7 Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8.1-8
Ah, so we see Saul is at the scene of Stephen's stoning -- is it possible it was done at his bidding? Is it Saul or Paul? Well, Saul is his Hebrew name, but it seems that after the events recorded in the next chapter of Acts, he goes by the name of Paul.
Paul was born Saul, in the Roman colony of Tarsus, and was educated under Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. Both his Roman citizenry and Pharisaical education under this highly-respected rabbi gave Saul reason to boast. As he said of himself, he was a "Hebrew of the Hebrews." For the rest of Acts, it is Paul who will be the predominate figure. [You do not have to have read Morning Briefings very long to know how I love Paul!]
With Stephen being martyred, we turn the page to a new chapter in the church--one of great persecution and trial. Just reading these accounts in my Bible, I can palpably feel the shift inside myself, the painful change that is taking place--things will never be the same... but then, they weren't mean to be. [In a lesser way, our lives were changed after 9/11, they were radically changed after the year 2020 as well.]
Stephen is not even in the grave yet and the young Christians in Jerusalem are in danger. Men and women are dragged out of their homes, beaten and imprisoned, which meant their property also would have been confiscated.
The book of Acts can practically be broken down like this:
Chapters 1-7 record Jesus' work by the Holy Spirit through the apostles in Jerusalem.
Chapters 8 - 11 cover the believers going out to Judea and Samaria. . . Picture the concentric rings of the circle expanding from the center. . . the Gospel is going out from its original site in Jerusalem. . . Isn't it strange that Jesus' edict in Acts 1.8 is now taking place as a result of Acts 8.1? 1.8: And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you wlll be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the outermost parts of the earth.
8.1: 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. At which I remember, God's ways are not our ways. His ways will always be higher.
The plot thickens as Saul's position, personality and behavior loom large. He is intent in destroying the Christian church, convinced that the followers of Jesus are in the wrong. None of this catches God off-guard though--He uses what the devil meant for evil, (the church suffering at the hand of Saul), for good. While most of the apostles stay in Jerusalem, the new converts go out from there--but they do not go alone. They are armed with the Holy Spirit, their hearts and minds full of the events they have seen and participated in; they are ready to tell the story, ready to be His witnesses. And thus, the Gospel spreads as they share the Word.
This has happened the world over since then. When nation states have outlawed Christianity, the Church goes underground and under the heavy-hand of a persecuting government, the Gospel spreads. People will die before renouncing Jesus Christ because they know He alone is their hope, he alone is Glory forever. And because 'this little light of mine cannot be hidden under a bushel...no!'
"God, fill us with your grace and power, help us to be bold in our witness for you, and come and do the miraculous as your people pray." Amen
Let. it. shine.