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Hatred Unleashed

Acts 8:1-3
And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (NIVUK)

Until the Sanhedrin unleashed their hatred of Jesus onto Stephen, by stoning him to death, Jerusalem was quiet. There may have been a real sense of guilt about the public condemnation of Jesus (Acts 2:36-37), and the new church was popular with the Jews (Acts 2:47). Miracles done by the apostles enhanced that reputation making the Sanhedrin Council afraid of being hostile to the Christians (Acts 5:26).

But, like with Jesus, public adoration turned to hatred so quickly. When the religious leaders were personally involved in stoning a Greek-speaking Jew who became a follower of Jesus, the underlying resentment against Jesus and His disciples boiled over. All restraint disappeared. There was such persecution, probably from family, neighbours and work colleagues as well as officials, that many new believers hurriedly moved out of Jerusalem. They went south into Judea and north into Samaria – where Jesus had already planned that they would be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).

Saul was on the move too. He wanted to rid Jerusalem of the believers, and even pursued them to the towns they thought would be safe havens. The example of his spiritual superiors in stoning Stephen, gave him permission to excel in destroying the Christians' faith. He put believers in prison and persecuted some to death (Acts 22:4) while also advancing his own reputation as a zealous and holy man. Later, he accepted that he was wrong (Acts 26:9-11): he became a Christian with a new name, Paul.

Today's world is not much different. The attitude of community officials towards believers will generally influence the way the community treats the church. That is one of the reasons why Paul says that we should pray for them – 'so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness … because God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth' (1 Timothy 2:1-7). The peaceful times are not for the believers to indulge themselves but to evangelise. The times of persecution will scatter God's people and refine the church. Both are under the Lord's command, as was the crucifixion of Jesus and the stoning of Stephen. He works in all things so that the gospel's message of the love and grace of Christ may be known and received by many people.

Father God. Thank You that You arrange everything so that the grace of Jesus will be known by many people. Forgive me for not understanding, and even working against Your purposes in good times and bad. Please help me to see and use every opportunity to live and speak about Jesus; and please help my community and national leaders to restrain evil and to protect Your people so that we may fulfil Your great commission. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams