Stephen’s death begins a period of hardship for the Christians. “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”(Acts 8:1). The text implies that most of the disciples run for their lives, leaving only the apostles in the city. “Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him”(Acts 8:2). Like John the Baptist’s disciples—or the women who followed Jesus—these men are left to deal with the formalities after a horrific injustice.
A great enemy emerges in these verses. Saul holds the clothes of those who stone Stephen (Acts 7:58). Luke spells out what that implies: “Saul approved of his execution”(Acts 8:1). He is so passionate about snuffing out the Christian movement that he becomes a leader in seeking them out. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison”(Acts 8:3). Instead of Christians going from house to house, now their enemies are invading their spaces and imprisoning them for their faith.
God sometimes allows things to happen that don’t make sense to us. Surely the first Christians are shell-shocked that God would allow Stephen to die and Saul to grow strong. But the point in this text is that these victories for Satan are short-lived and he will act (in both natural and supernatural ways) to defeat Satan’s efforts. We need this perspective when we are puzzled by the things God allows to occur around us.
One thing to think about: Do I have a hard time thinking of evil people (like Saul) as people? Do I have compassion on those who do evil?
One thing to pray for: The perspective to see God at work even when evil seems to succeed
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