The April ministry newsletter was published this week. Take time to read it this weekend for a blessing.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Acts 7: 59-60; 8:1-3
Christians throughout the world today are being persecuted and murdered for their faith. The Church was been under persecution since the beginning. Stephen was the first Christian martyr recorded in Scripture. Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen and approved of his murder. Scripture tells us that Saul then began working to destroy the Church, seeking Christians in their homes, imprisoning all whom he found. These imprisoned Christians ultimately too died for their faith.
Saul was a fervent Jew. Under the Mosaic Law, blasphemy was punishable by death. Saul believed he was doing the right thing in rounding up Christians. In Saul’s time, there were many different sects of the Jewish faith: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots. Christianity was viewed as another sect of Judaism, though a heretical sect in the minds of orthodox believers like Saul. Mosaic Law was given by God to protect the purity of the faith from outside influences that would weaken and dilute it. Saul was acting as a faithful Jew in being a staunch defender of the Jewish faith. And what did God do with Saul? God relentlessly pursued Saul. Love came after Saul and he was never the same after the encounter.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:1-6
Saul was conquered by love. God changed Saul’s name to Paul after his personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Throughout Scripture, when a person’s name is changed by God, he is given a very special mission. Paul was God’s “chosen instrument to proclaim [His] name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Love pursued Saul and got him. Love pursued you and got you. And Love even pursued me and got me. My Brother, Love is pursuing your wife. God will never stop pursuing her until she accepts His love. Life is never the same when a person encounters the merciful and forgiving love of God. Do not fear, my Brother. God is hot on the heels of your spouse, loving her in spite of any wrongdoing or failure on her part to live out the universal call to holiness. God never gives up. He is always seeking, always loving, always ready to forgive. Do not lose heart, my Brother. God can change a hardened heart. Trust God and walk in obedience to His call to stand for your marriage. Love conquers all, my Brother. Love wins out.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
May the love and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ fill you with great hope and peace. God bless you, my dear Brother in faith.
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quoted are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.