Although He was a Son, He learned Obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
[B]ut you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. Acts 1:8
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Acts 8:1
It is easy to profess our faith in Scripture as the inspired word of God and to go on living as if our intellectual understanding of the word has nothing to do with our way of life. I, like many other Christians, am guilty of studying the Bible, even memorizing many texts, but not surrendering to those teachings in my daily life.
Why is it that the obedience to the inspired Divine word is so difficult?
Could it be because it conflicts with our fleshly desires and with our worldly outlook of life? Could it be because the temptations abound and our flesh and our ego long for more power, more pleasure, more possessions, more recognition, more money, more fame, and more satisfaction? But ironically the more we have of this world, though quite satisfying in the short term, the more parched and longing our souls become in the long term. And this is no surprise to our God! After all He created us and He knows what can fill the void in our lives.
God has promised us redemption from worldly sorrows, sins and guilt through the life of His Son. He has promised to fill us with the Life which fully satisfies our deepest longings. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” (John 8:51). What a promise! And yet we fail to keep His word.
I know in my case that my confession of faith has not truly penetrated every fiber of my being. I am not renewed all over. I am still very much a work in progress. So, how would a loving God accelerate that change in me against my rebellious soul which loves her life without the limitations imposed by the teachings of Scripture? Persecution!
The flesh has to die, the self has to be humbled, the vanity of idols must be made known, and the knees must be bent before the majesty and glory of God as the One and only One who can save.
That is the teaching of our text today: the disciples were happy in Jerusalem, trying to minister among themselves, and though Jesus had commanded them to go and be His witnesses throughout Judea, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth, they were not rushing into spreading the Gospel outside of Jerusalem. After all, the challenges were tremendous even to establish the church within Jerusalem, and to deal with all the questions raised by their new community. They had very good reasons to focus on at home rather than going to other territories. Surely, they assumed, Jesus wanted them to put the house in order in Jerusalem before attempting to evangelize in the “remotest parts of the earth”! Or did He?
We see in Acts 8:1, that the persecution of the church and the murder of Stephen, finally scattered the church “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” This was a very difficult time for the church. They lost Stephen, one of their heroes, in a brutal way. Their faith was under attack. They could not congregate and support each other without being accused of blasphemy by some opposition leaders. They had to leave their homes and possibly their families and their belongings to take refuge in different areas.
But God’s bigger plan was at work.
Filled with the Holy Spirit and strong in their faith in Christ they sowed the seeds of Christianity throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. “Therefore those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
At times, persecution has a glorious target, to lead us to become who God has invited us to be, His fellow workers, to build His church. At times, the sanctifying fire of persecution is the only means to penetrate into every part of our beings, to burn that which should go: pride, self-centeredness, idolatry, worldly desires, greed, and ungodliness, and to force us to step out of our comfort zones, and to be stretched beyond what we thought was possible in any aspect of life. And that is when we can taste true satisfaction and experience the Life of God in ways that were beyond our comprehension.
As Stephen was being stoned, “full of the Holy Spirit, He gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Sometimes, it takes persecution to open our eyes to the divine glory and majesty. Let’s remember that the next time persecution knocks at the door, for knock it will.