The circle widens and the plot thickens ~
It has been quite a week as I moved residences (locally) in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Nonetheless, I am thrilled it is behind me, and I apologize for these delayed Morning Briefings.
We last looked at the value of being part of a growing faith community, meeting together to learn the Scriptures, worship God, pray and 'do life' together. https://conta.cc/3RtfzSn. And yes, I love the start of the last podcast!
The community of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem grew as God did the miraculous in their midst. Word, of course, got out--which was a great thing on the one hand, as more curious folks came and joined the Christ followers; however, this also attracted the attention of the Jewish leaders and local officials. Writer Luke describes the impact a man named Stephen made, saying he was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, of God’s grace and power. . . [dang, wouldn't you like to be true of you?] Because God enabled him to do the miraculous, because his teaching led to the conversion of local priests, he became the target of derision. Undaunted, he stood before the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), and launched into the history of the people of God...what a sermon! Enraged, they dragged him out and stoned him to death. Acts 7.
Stay with me here, please.
Saul was one of the witnesses (of the stoning), 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.
Introducing one Saul of Tarsus who was present at Stephen's stoning -- hmmm, is it possible it was done at his bidding? And wait, is his name 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, the Romanized version.
**for those traveling to Greece and Rome with me in April, please pay particular attention here! Paul was born 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." Concerning the spread of the gospel into Europe and parts of Asia, it is Paul who will be the dominant figure.
With Stephen being martyred, we turn the page to a new chapter in the church--one of great persecution and trial. Reading through Acts chapters one through eight, one can palpably feel the shift, the painful change that is taking place--things will never be the same... but then, they aren't mean to be.
Stephen was not even in the grave yet and the young Christians in Jerusalem were in danger: men and women dragged out of their homes, beaten and imprisoned, their property confiscated.
We remember Jesus' commissioning: 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. Acts 1.8. Look at what Luke writes of the fulfillment of these words in Acts 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. And then 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 wrong and doing great harm. None of this catches God off-guard, as He turns what the devil meant for evil, (the church suffering at the hand of Saul), into good. While most of the apostles stay in Jerusalem, the new converts disperse--but they do not go alone. They are armed with the Holy Spirit; their hearts and minds are full of the events they have experienced firsthand. Those fully convinced individuals are ready to tell the story, ready to be His witnesses. And so the Gospel spreads as they share the love of Jesus Christ.
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. China?? People will die before renouncing Jesus Christ because they know that in him is truth and He alone is their hope forever.
Hey Christian, pay attention because this movie is coming to a theatre near you!
"God, fill us with your grace and power, help us to be bold in speaking of you. Come and do the miraculous as your people trust and follow you." Amen
That little light of yours, let it shine! Get your socks blessed off by this jewel of a song by Odetta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2kDsqGeoLU
Let. it. shine.