It’s hard to see what God is doing sometimes isn’t it? Particularly when we are surrounded with disappointments and setbacks, it is easy for us to focus our attention on these and forget to think about where God is and what He’s up to.
This was the early church. Having already experienced persecution in the shape of arrests (Acts 4:1-3) and beatings (Acts 5:40), Stephen’s Martyrdom in Acts 7 now marks a new level of persecution in chapter 8.
For the followers of Jesus, a price is put on their heads as they are forced and hunted into the surrounding countryside, dragged out of their homes and taken to prison. The Greek conveys a brutal, sadistic cruelty here. At the forefront of this persecution is a young man called Saul. A man dedicated to eradicating the false teaching that he believes the Apostles are teaching. “Jesus is the Messiah” they preach. “He rose from the dead. Come, follow Him!”
But to Saul this is nonsense. He stood at the front of the company that stoned Stephen and now here he is again, attempting to destroy the church. But will he succeed? Or will God once again have the final say?
We see throughout the Book of Acts that setbacks are not final for the people of God. God has already and will continue to use setbacks to advance His Kingdom. The apostles hold a special responsibility to the flock in Jerusalem and as a result remain there under intense persecution. Many other followers of Christ are scattered into Judea & Samaria. In the scattering, the commission by Jesus in Acts 1:8 is being fulfilled. Don’t just stay in Jerusalem, go into Judea and Samaria too (and eventually all nations). This is evidence that God is still in control and the movement of the Gospel cannot be thwarted. The commission is fulfilled as a result of persecution.
It is often so difficult to see the silver lining. But God knows exactly what He is doing. The scattering of the early church resulted in the scattering of the Gospel seeds. The devil’s plan of smothering the Gospel had the opposite intended effect. An intention to smother only led to more spreading.
In China, 1949, the communists defeated the National party of China to obtain power. China Inland Mission (CIM) had many missionaries in China at this point. 637 of them were sent out of China. A distaster, right? To us, most certainly. But the events that unfolded after this were nothing short of wonderful. Within four years 286 of them had been redeployed in South-East Asia and Japan. In China, even under intense persecution, the Chinese church of Christ continued to multiply. It is estimated that the Church in China has grown today by 45%.
Folks, we know and serve a God that is sovereign in power, rich in wisdom & abundantly just. Trust Him. He knows, He sees & He will do what is right.
Father, help us to trust you even when everything around us seems to be breaking. You are in control. We believe that and we hold to that truth today. In Jesus’ name.