Acts 8:1a ESV
“And Saul approved of his execution.”
Saul, later called Paul, was a Pharisee. As a Pharisee, he was convinced that he should do many things to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth, our Messiah and Lord.
So, he falsely imprisoned and persecuted many followers of Jesus Christ, and he cast his vote in favor of them being put to death, too. He said he punished them often and that he tried to get them to blaspheme, and in a raging fury he persecuted them even to foreign cities (See Acts 26:9-11).
But Jesus, in a vision of sorts, met him one day on a road to Damascus, where Saul intended to go to persecute even more followers of Jesus Christ. On the road, Saul audibly heard Jesus speak to him, and he heard him ask him (Saul) why he was persecuting him (Jesus).
And there on that road, Jesus placed his call upon Saul’s (Paul’s) life to be the Lord’s servant and witness to both Jew and Gentile, to open their eyes, “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16-18).
And, his calling is also the essence of the gospel of our salvation, that we are to turn away from our lifestyles of sin, and we are to turn to our Lord to follow after him in his truth and righteousness; that we are to no longer be under the power and influence of sin and Satan, but now we are to be under the power and influence of our Lord God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that we may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:1-23; Eph. 4:17-24; 1 Jn. 1:5-9).
But, at this point in the juncture, Saul was still greatly and severely persecuting the church, the saints of God, who were followers of Jesus Christ.
Yet, the encouragement here, I believe, is that God can even save our persecutors. He can turn the hearts of murderers, adulterers, liars, thieves, blasphemers – and persecutors of the Lord’s servants – away from their sinful practices, to become followers of Jesus Christ. He can change hearts of stone and turn them into pliable hearts, moldable for his purposes. And, those who were once his enemies, as we all were, can now be on fire for his service.
Acts 8:1-3 ESV
“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. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
We all have enemies, Christian or not. Not everyone is going to like everything about you, no matter how likable you might be. Some people may even hate you or be jealous of you because you are well-liked by many. But, you can’t please everyone all the time, because we are all different. And, you aren’t going to meet everyone’s ideas of who they think you ought to be, no matter how hard you may try to get everyone to like you.
Yet, as followers of Jesus Christ, if truly we are living for the Lord, in truth and in righteousness, we have Satan and his hordes as our enemies, and we have human beings who will hate, reject and persecute us, too, because of our walks of faith with Jesus Christ. And, they may even be those who profess to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, too.
And, the closer you are to the Lord, if you live somewhere that is more worldly, or where Christianity is not generally accepted, you may find that more and more people will distance themselves from you, and that your number of friends will greatly decrease because of your walk of faith.
But, God didn’t put us here on this earth so that we would be popular or well-liked by everyone. And, he didn’t put us here so that we could try to do what everyone else thinks we ought to do, or be who they think we ought to be. For, if we are living our lives for the approval of human beings, we are not going to be able to please God. For, pleasing God definitely means we are going to meet with disapproval from humans whose idea of who we should be, and what we should be doing, may be opposed to God’s.
But, not all of us are at that point yet where, because of where we live, we are being dragged out of our houses and placed in prison, but that is coming, and it may be coming sooner than a lot of people imagine, too.
But, just because someone is not suffering physical persecution does not mean he or she is not being persecuted, believe me! For, persecution comes in many different forms. For, the pain of being rejected, ostracized, falsely accused, mocked, called crazy, belittled for what we do for our Lord, criticized strongly, or having evil spoken against us can be just as painful.
Also, persecution can come in the form of censorship or the twisting of one’s words, and via slander and gossip, which turns others against you. And, it can come in the form of being treated as though you are against God and that you are unloving because you tell people that they have to repent of their sins or that their sins are going to send them to hell if they don’t repent of their sins and if they don’t obey their Lord.
For, Jesus’ persecution did not begin the day they falsely arrested him, gave him a mock trial, beat him beyond recognition and hung him on a cross to die. He had the Pharisees doing to him what Saul was doing to the Christians, in that they followed Jesus all over the place trying to trick him and to trip him up with his words so they would have cause to accuse him.
Acts 8:4-8 ESV
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.”
But, the more we are persecuted for our walks of faith in Jesus Christ, the deeper our relationships with the Lord become. And, the more serious we become about, not only walking in holiness, but in getting out the truth of the gospel and dispelling the lies.
And, this is so that many people’s eyes will be opened, so they will turn from the darkness to the light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they will receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:18; Eph. 4:17-24; Rom. 8:1-17; Lu. 9:23-26).
So, being persecuted for our walks of faith with Jesus Christ, although painful, is really for our good, so that we will share in the sufferings of Christ, becoming like him in his death. For, we were called to suffer for the sake of his name, that we might be holy as he is holy, and that we might become like him, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Truly, the greater the persecution, and the more we learn to rely on God and not on ourselves, and the more that we draw nearer to our Lord, and we walk in obedience to his commands, the more serious we are about sharing the gospel with others so that they can come to know Jesus Christ in his fullness, too.
And, a lot of that really is that we aren’t focused on just pleasing other people or on them liking us, but we are focused on pleasing our Lord and in doing what he says, which is for the true welfare of those with whom we share his gospel message.
And, to get to this place, we truly have to die to our former lives, not only to our sinful lifestyles, but to self, to what we want, and to wanting to be liked by and have the approval of others. We have to be willing to have the whole world hate us in order to follow our Lord. And, this is where we are headed, to that time of great persecution on the church where we will have to either stand with Jesus or against him. For, there can be no more middle ground.
So, like that Scripture says, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell…” (Joshua 24:14-15).
Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer
Lyrics by Margaret Becker
Music by Keith Getty
“…Let the treasures of the trial
Form within me as I go –
And at the end of this long passage,
Let me leave them at Your throne.”
May this journey bring a blessing,
May I rise on wings of faith;
And at the end of my heart’s testing,
With Your likeness let me wake…
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