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. [acts 8:2-3]
persecution and the threat of violence had certainly been a potential reality given that Jesus was killed for his gospel, but stephen’s stoning marks a turning point in the acceleration of violence, and a fulfillment of Jesus’ statements–
beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the gentiles. when they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. but the one who endures to the end will be saved. [matthew 10:17-22]
stephen endured–and in being murdered for his endurance, there was great sadness among his brothers and sisters. we need to be reminded that his stoning, or christians who are being dragged off and committed to prison are not isolated incidents or something for a time and culture a long way off.
according to world watch list, 5,898 of our brothers and sisters in Christ were killed for their faith in 2022, another 6,175 were “dragged off to prison” without a legal trial. these brothers and sisters have more in common with you than your neighbor who does not believe that Jesus is king. let us pray for the persecuted church around the world, that those who would ravage the church would come to Jesus and be powerful witnesses to God’s grace and mercy on them like saul/paul!
spend time today in the presence of the God of hope–praying that through the death and imprisonment of Christians, all tribes and nations would be delivered from their sin and praise the name of Jesus. if we must face persecution, let us do it as we are commanded:
count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. [james 1:2-4]
pray that Jesus would return to deliver us from the pain and death that is in our world. let us lament greatly for our brothers and sisters, but let our lamentation turn to joy, knowing that there is only joy at the end.
he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” [revelation 21:4]