“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4, AV)
Many times, I have been guilty of kicking the stones because of something that did not go my way in life. I lost a job in Chicago, Illinois. It was not an easy time, though I knew that God was somehow in control and that it would work out for the good. I had no idea, at that time, that I would wind up in Savannah, Georgia, taking a cut in pay in order to find work. Yet, there was something greater at work in Savannah than I previously realized. It was there that the Lord called me to the pastoral ministry.
Here in this passage, we see that severe persecution broke out against the church. As we look at religious persecution, we cannot understand how it can be good. But then, we look at things like trials, struggles and hardships through a very narrow perspective. We see these things as hindrances to our lives and often cannot understand how God could allow them to happen. We see persecution of the church as something that would hinder the work of the church. Why does God allow persecution?
After the martyrdom of Stephen, great persecution broke out in Jerusalem. Believers in Jesus were being arrested and thrown in prison if they did not renounce their faith in Jesus. Many fled from Jerusalem to escape the persecution. Amazingly, in the midst of this turmoil, those that fled “went everywhere preaching.” Those that engaged in the persecution of the believers had in mind to halt the message of Christ. What they did not realize was that God was to use this in His great redemptive plan to grow the church.
The Jerusalem church needed to be stirred a bit. It is interesting that the Apostles did not flee Jerusalem, but rather various members from the church. These went forth to cities outside of Jerusalem and, as they went, they proclaimed the gospel message to those they met. I kind of wonder about this dynamic. They might not have gone with the intention of spreading the word, but just to escape. Yet, God opened doors for them to tell others of the hope that they had.
Can you imagine how the conversation may have gone? Fleeing exiles from Jerusalem end up in a city of Samaria. The people of that city are curious. “Why are you here?” Those fleeing might have responded, “We are fleeing from the persecution against believers in Jesus.” The people of the city might have then asked, “Tell me more about why they are persecuting you.” Then, they could clearly proclaim the truth of Jesus. I’m not sure exactly how the conversations started, but they obviously did.
In His sovereignty, God had a purpose for the persecution. He used believers to be His ambassadors in cities outside of Jerusalem. Apart from the persecution, the number of witnesses going out to these other regions would not have been so large. God used the persecution to multiply the number of messengers and magnify the name of Jesus in the cities outside of Jerusalem.
Today, God is still working providentially to move this life changing message to the multitudes who do not have hope. He may move you through hardships such as a job change, a relocation, an injury that requires rehabilitation, or even some form of religious persecution. One of my parishioners in New Hampshire while going through treatments for cancer witnessed to many while sitting at the infusion center. God is in control and He will use us for a greater purpose as we negotiate life. Do not kick the stones, but join God in what He is doing.