Since the beginning of the church, the church has been endured persecution.  The words of Jesus rang true then and ring true now, “If they persecuted me, so will they persecute you.”  Throughout the world followers of Jesus suffer for their faith.  They are forbidden jobs, lose their homes, are forced to live in poverty, are beaten, thrown in prison, and yes even murdered for their steadfast belief in Jesus.

Stephen was the first follower of Jesus to be murdered for his faith.  Acts 6:8-8:8, tell the powerful historical account.  Here is a quick summary.  Those from the synagogue of the freedmen (you are not “free” to disagree with them), could not find anything to accuse Stephen with so they paid false witnesses to lie against him.  In chapter 7, Stephen gives a very strong and powerful message.  Instead of repenting the people become enraged and charge at him, drag him out of the city, and stone him to death. Stephen’s last recorded words were, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”  We see in Stephen the same love and forgiveness Jesus displayed on the cross.

A young man named Saul was present and consented to the stoning of Stephen.  He then made it his life mission to destroy the church.  He created havoc by having men and women thrown into prison.  Through his remarkable conversion, we know him better as the Apostle Paul, the one who wrote a large portion of the New Testament.

A benefit of the persecution is that the spread of the church was hastened.  The believers fled to other cities, and they were not silent. They boldly spoke the Good News about Jesus and how eternal life is found by believing in Him. 

Today we hear and read about the awful persecution of believers in Jesus that take place in China, India, Saudi Arabia and many other places.  I encourage you to visit http://www.persecution.com to read some of the accounts there.  You will read about how after the Olympics the Chinese government has not reformed at all but is focused on persecuting Christians by beating them and putting them in prison and labor camps. You will read about the thousands displaced in India.  And you will read about a young lady in Saudi Arabia her father, who worked for the “Comission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice”, cut out her tongue and burned her to death when he found out about her newfound faith in Jesus.  Do we recognize the reality and what is at stake for our brethren around the world?

So how should this affect those of us who are not persecuted in these ways?

1.  Pray for our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

2.  Pray that those who are doing the persecuting would see their sinfulness and believe in Jesus.

3.  Be courageous to share our faith with the people around us.  (Last time a checked the police weren’t knocking my door down.)

4.  Be focused on the things that really matter.

  • Worshipping God with like-minded/hearted people.
  • Helping my brothers and sister in Christ according to their needs.
  • Sharing the Good News about Jesus even though the risk is great.
  • Growing in faith, love, and hope.  

When the church is persecuted the important issues rise to the top and the petty things go away.  It would be a good exercise for those of us who are not currently being persecuted to compare our priorities with those who are being persecuted.  It will help us to be reminded of the most important things in life and put our focus and energy there.

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