Persecution and Gospel Seed

Stephen, master apologist, had spoken the truth in a convicting and powerful way, and the Jewish leaders knew they had lost the case. And as if it weren’t enough to have called them out to the point that they were enraged and grinding their teeth at him, Stephen throws gasoline onto the fire: “I see heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God!” What Stephen sees is that at the same time his trial is going in Jerusalem, his case is also being tried in heaven. But to the Jewish leaders, this was blasphemy. They slam their hands over their ears and rush him outside the city, and proceed to stone him to death.

But as the life is being jolted out of him, Stephen calls out “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!” Jesus, on the cross, committed His Spirit to God, and Stephen does something radically different, but radically the same: He affirms the deity of Jesus by committing himself to Jesus. Either Stephen is offering false worship to a false god, or Jesus is God. There are only two choices: blasphemy or Trinity. And as Stephen’s body crumbles to the ground, he imitates Jesus again by interceding for those who are destroying him. In the face of blind rage, Stephen shows mercy. There is no human explanation for this kind of love!

Stephen is known as the first Christian martyr, and because of this he deserves great honor. And while this murder was a great evil, God wrought great good from it, both for Stephen and the world. When Saul and the Jewish leaders killed Stephen, they thought that they had won. Stephen is placed in the ground, and covered with dirt. But the Jewish leaders keep making the same mistake: if you want to get rid of this “weed” called Christianity, don’t bury Christian-seeds in the ground and cover them with dirt – that’s how they grow!

And it gets worse for the Jewish leaders – what does Saul proceed to do? He rounds up Christian men and women and throws them in jail, which in many cases amounted to the same thing as a death sentence. More seeds planted! The other effect of his actions is to scatter Christian-seeds throughout Judea and Samaria. All the while muttering about how much he hates Christians, Saul keeps reaching into the bag and throwing handfuls of seed over the ground, even into neighboring fields. That’ll stop Christianity from spreading! Instead, Saul’s persecution inaugurates the next phase in the redemption of the world.

Acts 8:4 shows us what turns regular old seed into gospel seed. Persecution that simply relocates people doesn’t do anything. But wherever the church goes, she takes the gospel with her through the preaching of the Word. Persecution might be able to scatter the church, but it cannot silence the gospel. While the apostles stayed to face the battle in Jerusalem, many ordinary Christians took the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ all over Judea and Samaria.

As we learn from Stephen’s example, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this will soon be our situation: people who believe that Jesus saves from homosexual sin, people who believe in a God who forgives abortions, people who believe that God can rescue sinners are already losing elections, jobs, and reputations. This is but the beginning of further persecution coming from a people who have shut their ears and gnashed their teeth at God. This means that if we are to become sons of Stephen, followers of Jesus, we need to gaze into heaven, so that we might see Jesus, and have our fears replaced with courage by that wonderful sight. If you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has forgiven all of your sins and accepts you as His friend based on the work of Christ, and that Jesus Himself stands in heaven interceding for you, there is nothing in all the world that can make you afraid. And so when persecution scatters us, may we fill the world with the preaching of this gospel!

Posted on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 by CJ Bowen