Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Remaining True to the Lord

"So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.  The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.  Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.
And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.
And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch," (Acts 11:19--26).

 With the death of Stephen came increased persecution of believers, compelling them to flee for safer regions.  This would seem to have spelled defeat for the faith...but God cannot be defeated!  He used the scattering to draw to Himself "...a large number..." (v. 21), and "...considerable numbers..." (v. 24).  In other words, the murder of Stephen was used by the living God to usher not only Jews but Gentiles into His kingdom... by the droves! 

Now, expectedly, Satan was not going to take all this lying down.  And, sly adversary that he is, he came up with a simple and effective way to try and squash the movement's momentum:  a label.  

By inciting unbelievers to tag the faithful with a negative term, "little Christ," several consequences ensued: (1)  believers experienced a higher profile, whether wanted or not; (2)  a label (like a symbol) quite often increases the solidarity of a group, thereby making the "us vs. them" perspective acceptable; and (3)  believers were forced to remain true to the Lord (by owning up to the name), or deny Him, when asked, "Are you a Christian?"  The very fact of having a label resulted in being forced to declare loyalty. 

When pondering passages such as this, II Timothy 3:12 comes to mind: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  As time hastens us toward the moment when the Lord Jesus returns for His own, Satan's opposition through persecution will increase.  We who are His must remain true to Him, if we would reign with Him, regardless of the enemy's opposition.   

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