August 15, 2014

Then and Now . . . a huge contrast

The book of Acts shows how the church began and how it was powerful to change lives. From what it says, there was no difference between the laity and the clergy . . .
·       They both served God and others
·       They used their gifts as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
·       The religious establishment didn’t like any of them
·       Persecution happened to everyone who told the truth about sin and about Jesus Christ.
·       Persecution didn’t stop them from sharing the Gospel.

When a problem arose over the care of widows, the Apostles told the other Christians to “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” This pleased all of them, so they selected the seven, including “Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”

After this, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.”

But the religious people didn’t like it. They opposed Stephen, but “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” So they stirred up the people and their religious leaders, seized Stephen and brought him before the council, setting up false witnesses. He was a layman who “served tables” yet was persecuted. However, he was also godly and those in the council “saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:3–15)

Stephen was sentenced to death by stoning, but that did not stop him from proclaiming the truth. He told his persecutors, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Of course they were enraged, but Steven gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this, they cried out loudly, plugged their ears and rushed together at him. They took him out of the city and stoned him, laying their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and loudly cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:51–60)

The Bible says Stephen then “fell asleep” and devout men buried him, making great lamentation over him. (Acts 8:2) This began a persecution that reached Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, yet God used this young man’s death in an unexpected way; the followers of Christ kept sharing the gospel with the Jews. (Acts 11:19)

God did something else that was unexpected. That young man who witnessed the blood of Stephen being shed, the one who stood by approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him, became the Apostle Paul. He began sharing with the Jews, but eventually God said to him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:20–21)

The world was changed by the power of God using this man and other godly people who could face any threat without fear. They knew Jesus Christ. They knew that they were freely justified and had eternal life. They were set free from the bondage of sin and fear. They wanted others to know the same thing, willingly sharing the good news, even if it meant persecution or death.

I’m not sure about the entire world, but the church in North America has lost both that zeal and that powerful influence. We and the world around us need a revival from God.

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