The Party is Over
1And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.
3But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
I’ve often wondered if the Apostles were shocked and surprised by the brutal death of Stephen. They had witnessed the terrible death of Jesus but then after the arrival of the Holy Spirit things seemed to be going very well for the burgeoning Church. They learned how to live communally and share with everyone. Of course there was that Ananias and Sapphira event, and then a complaint about the widows not receiving food, there had been a flogging for sharing the story of Jesus, and now finally there has been a death for the name of Jesus. Maybe things weren’t going as well as they had hoped! The learning curve as to how to grow this Church had become rather sharp.
But God’s purposes were being fulfilled. Jesus last words to the Apostles had been “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) It was time to move away from Jerusalem and the death of Stephen serves the purpose of pushing the disciples of Jesus to go out and spread His story just as He had instructed. And we are introduced to Saul who is making it his business to destroy this new religion. Men, women, and children alike fall victim to his hatred of these Christ followers. We will learn a great deal about Saul as we pass through the rest of Acts. For now, suffice it to say, he is not a believer.
One thing that has been true throughout the last 2,000 years is that hardship makes the Church grow. And in fact hardship can cause the individual to grow as well. Back in 1982 when Jane Fonda started her exercise empire she was known for saying “No pain, no gain.” She actually didn’t originate that thought. It goes back to Hebrew Rabbi Ben Hei who first said, "According to the pain is the gain." While it may be true for exercise it is also true for spiritual growth. We tend to quickly become complacent when life is easy. For the early Church it took the death of one of their leaders for the group to move out and continue to follow the path Jesus had set them upon when He ascended into heaven. I guess the question for us today is what does it take to move us off of dead center? Does it have to be painful? I don’t think so. Growth can happen explosively when we’re under pressure or it can happen daily as we place ourselves into God’s hands through prayer and Bible study.