Before the light can come on a person has to realize they can’t see. I mean if you aren’t having any difficulty seeing there wouldn’t be any need of light, right? To be taught one has to be teachable and if we already think we know everything there is no room for further enlightenment.
We’ve been studying Acts in our jail Bible study and we have just completed chapters 6-8. Chapter 6 introduces us to Stephen, a deacon who becomes the first Christian martyr. There was much conflict within the church over food distribution for widows so Stephen was one of seven men chosen to remedy the problem. Stephen was full of grace and power and God was working mighty wonders and signs through him. Of course when God is doing a work in someone’s life there always seems to be opposition and it wasn’t any different for Stephen. An argument ensued with some nonbelievers, but Stephen’s challengers couldn’t handle the wisdom and Spirit in him. This ultimately led to Stephen being stoned to death but not before he preached quite an amazing sermon telling of Israel’s full history and relation to God. He shared the whole story from Abraham all the way up to the present day in order to prove Jesus is in fact the promised messiah.
Stephen capped off his sermon by telling the accusing men they were just like their forefathers. He said, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? He said they killed the prophets that predicted the coming Righteous one and now you have killed him!
Rather than listen and be open and honest about what Stephen was telling them they decided to silence him forever. There is one thing about the truth though. No matter how much you try and squash it, or cover it up, it will never go away. In fact as we look at the book of Acts it seems the more the accuser attempts to silence the truth the more it multiplies. At the end of chapter 7 we read where Stephen is martyred and a man named Saul is there approvingly holding the robes of the perpetrators.
As chapter 8 begins we see Saul persecuting the church, and the more he scatters it the more it seems to grow. Sometimes it takes a little bit of pain or discomfort to move us from our comfortable routine. As Saul was kicking in doors and dragging believers off to prison others were sharing the gospel with anyone that would receive it.
Phillip preached the Word in Samaria and quite the revival broke out. The city came alive with rejoicing and even Simon a magician became interested. He followed Phillip around in amazement watching the miracles taking place. He didn’t really understand though because he attempted to buy the Holy Spirit and Phillip didn’t hesitate to rebuke him saying “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.” This story always reminds me of some of those T.V. evangelists that tell you to send in so much money and God’s blessing will be on your life. Please don’t be taken in by those that are saying you can buy God’s favor.
At the close of chapter 8 Phillip finds himself speaking to an Ethiopian eunuch. This isn’t just any Ethiopian though; he is a court official for Candace the queen of the Ethiopians. He was sitting in a chariot reading the prophet Isaiah but he couldn’t understand what he was reading. Phillip engaged him and shared the message of Jesus Christ with him. The eunuch believed and immediately wanted to be baptized. Phillip baptized him and went on his way preaching the gospel everywhere he went.
The book of Acts is a fast paced rendering of the early church. There is fierce opposition to the message of Jesus Christ and yet it seems the opposition is what God uses to grow it. It’s as if the more the enemy fans the flames trying to put it out the more the fire roars and jumps to new places.
What I took away from this portion of Acts is how we really aren’t fighting flesh and blood. The conflict between God and the enemy rages on and on even as the story introduces new characters. This is not to say we are unimportant it’s just that we are involved in a conflict that’s as old as time itself.
Even as Stephen recited the whole history of God’s dealings with his people his accusers were stiff-necked and hard headed. They simply did not want to hear it so they killed the messenger. As Stephen died he said something remarkable. He cried out to God “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Doesn’t this sound familiar? Jesus cried out in similar manner from the cross saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” So you see it is the same Spirit in Stephen that was in Jesus, and the same spirit in the accusers in both instances. While it may seem it is a battle between people, and groups of people, it really is the same old war from long ago. The spirit of error is still stiff-necked and raging against the Spirit of Truth.
The beautiful part about this is even though there will be hard-headed opposition to the message there is also going to be some like the Ethiopian that is willing and wanting to receive it. In the end the one that is willing is worth suffering through the many that aren’t.
Written by Louie