Sunday, February 1, 2015
“It Planted Miracles Like Forts Among Them”
Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him.
That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Acts 8:4 Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.
And thus begins the persecution of the Church. Not much time had passed from her birth on Pentecost to this day, a day in which the full force of the religious zeal of those offended by the Gospel was unleashed upon the unprotected believers. But were they really left without protection? Stephen was a very devout man who was willing to give up his life in service to Jesus Christ. The result of his death had a profound influence on a young man named Saul who would go on to become the greatest missionary the world had ever seen. The persecutions did not stamp out Christianity, but rather fanned the flames of Christianity into something greater than they could have imagined. God did protect the Church.
The missionary work of the Church began on the day of Stephen’s stoning. It wasn’t a deliberate part of the Apostles’ strategic plan, but the persecution led to the scattering of Christ’s followers who preached the word everywhere they went. As the persecution gained strength, Christ’s followers went out into the world and miracles were witnessed in the very midst of community after community. People who were possessed were being delivered and, according to Chrystostom, the persecution resulted in the planting of miracles “like forts among them.” What the world would see as horrendous became seeds of faith that would transform the world.
Saul, later to become Paul, was one of those miracles, like a fort among them. His zeal in persecution was great. In verse three we read that he ravaged the church. The word translated “ravaged” is “lymaino,” which means to outrage, harm or violently maltreat. Barnes tells us that the word is “commonly applied to wild beasts, to lions, wolves, etc., and denotes the devastations which they commit.” The miracle was that the wild beast was tamed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, thus being planted like a fort among the people.
Persecutions should never drive us away from the work of the Lord, but they may drive us to a new location. Faithfully serving the Lord is not about a particular location, but about wholehearted commitment to God, no matter where we may find ourselves. Wherever we may be driven in life, we carry with us the good news of Jesus Christ and as we reflect him, he is made known. The result is that persecution tends to promote the very thing that it seeks to destroy.
This is why we should not be discouraged by the barriers that may appear in our lives. Yes, there may be closed doors and there may be times that we feel as if we are being persecuted. Then move on, and take the Gospel with you. The real focus of our lives should be to make Christ known everywhere we go. Our conversations and lifestyles should be compelling witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ so that our lives too, may become miracles which are planted like forts in our world. Don’t worry about where you are, be concerned with how you will respond.
Lord, may I be a faithful witness to your working in my life no matter where I may be. Amen.