Acts 8:1 ESV
“And Saul approved of his execution.”
Stephen was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit who was chosen to be one of the first of seven deacons in the early church. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. But he was opposed, and his opponents disputed with him. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
So, they instigated men to accuse him falsely of things he did not say, and they stirred up the people against him, and they set up false witnesses against him. Yet, all who sat in the council, when they looked at Stephen, saw that his face was like the face of an angel. And then Stephen was given the opportunity to speak for himself.
So, he shared some of their own history with the people regarding Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the children of Israel in Egypt and in the wilderness, the Israelites’ rebellion against God, and their idolatry, and with regard to Joshua, King David, Solomon, and the temple of God. And then he addressed the people who were opposing him with these words:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).
Then they cast Stephen out of the city and they stoned him to death. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul). And Saul approved of Stephen’s execution (See Acts 7:54-60).
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.”
Wow! I think this is hard for a lot of us who live in America to imagine what this is like, for most all of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ here have not yet had to face such physical persecution. But it is not far off, I believe. Things are stirring in the world and in America – things that have been in the works for a long time and which are now beginning to reach their fulfillment. And Christian persecution is on the rise.
The church, as most people see the church here in America, is not really under persecution, for the most part, because most of the church has gone the way of the world and has united with the world and with the government and with big business. And so they have altered the purpose and the function of the church, as well as they have altered the gospel of our salvation, both in order to attract the world to their gatherings.
But there is a remnant who have not bowed the knee to the world and to the government and to big business, who have remained faithful to the Lord and to the word of God and to the gospel message as Jesus taught it, and as his New Testament apostles taught it. They are in step with Jesus, and they are listening to the Spirit’s voice, and they are following the Lord in obedience to his commands, even though they are not totally perfect people.
And they have not compromised the word of God and the gospel of our salvation in order to be accepted by the worldly church and by the world. They are remaining steadfast in proclaiming the truth of the gospel, they are confronting sin in sinful humans, they are calling people to repentance (to turning away from sin), and they are calling for obedient walks of faith in the Lord in doing what he says to do. And so they are being persecuted. They are being falsely accused and opposed and rejected and turned away.
[Lu 9:23-26; Jn 6:35-58; Jn 15:1-11; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Co 6:9-10, 19-20; 2 Co 5:10, 15; Tit 2:11-14; Jas 1:22-25; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 5:3-6; Gal 6:7-8; Rom 2:6-8; Matt 7:21-23; Heb 10:26-27; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Rom 12:1-2; Eph 2:8-10]
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.”
We live in a time in history where the gospel, the true gospel, is being rejected in favor of a more friendly and less offensive gospel which appeals to human flesh and which does not demand putting the flesh to death nor teach living to God and to his righteousness as part of saving faith. So, at least here in America, people are not flocking to the true gospel but to the fake gospel which is tickling their itching ears and appeasing their flesh.
So, we are not experiencing what the early church was experiencing with thousands of people believing in Jesus with the hearing of the true gospel. Our situation presently is reversed from that in that the thousands upon thousands are mostly listening to a cheapened and an altered gospel message which talks mostly of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, but not of his righteousness, justice, and holiness.
What most are preaching these days is a half-truth (lie) which either does not encourage or actually teaches against repentance, obedience, and submission to Jesus as Lord of our lives. And so they are giving their adherents the false notion that they can say some magic words or that they can accept God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, and now all their sins are forgiven, and they are guaranteed heaven, but it doesn’t really matter how they live from this moment forward, for they say we do nothing.
And thus the remnant who are still holding on the true gospel and who are still proclaiming the truth are in the minority, and they are not widely being accepted nor listened to, and so we are not experiencing the miracles, the genuine salvations, and the type of Holy Spirit power as the early church was experiencing on a massive scale. But what we are facing is much opposition or people just ignoring us and/or treating us with contempt. But we are also finding pockets of true believers with whom to fellowship.
But I believe a time of spiritual revival is coming. I believe as it becomes even more apparent that our nation is not what we thought it was at one time, and as more and more blinded eyes are being opened to the truth, that there will be a revival of the church and that many will turn their hearts to Jesus, for we see this taking place in the book of Revelation and in the book of Isaiah, too. And Jesus will purify his bride to make her ready to meet her husband. And so I wait hopefully for that time to come.
I Will Wait for You (Psalm 130)
By Jordan Kauflin, Keith Getty, Matt Merker, & Stuart Townend
Out of the depths I cry to You
In darkest places I will call
Incline Your ear to me anew
And hear my cry for mercy, Lord
Were You to count my sinful ways
How could I come before Your throne
Yet full forgiveness meets my gaze
I stand redeemed by grace alone
I will wait for You
I will wait for You
On Your word, I will rely
I will wait for You
Surely wait for You
Till my soul is satisfied..
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