We conclude our current series in Acts with one final verse, that kind of belongs to chapter 7 anyway. (Yes, we’ve gone from 54 verses in yesterday’s post to one in today’s. We need a bit of a rest after yesterday.) And it’s a very significant verse, coming straight after Stephen’s martyrdom:8:1 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.
You might remember in our look at Acts as history, we saw how historians liked to show the impact speeches had on the events of history. Here, Stephen’s speech has an immediate impact. It brings down great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, so that many of the believers were scattered.
And this has an impact on mission, as the believers are forced to leave Jerusalem – and as they do so, the Gospel begins to spread. As missiologist George Weiland says: this mission strategy wasn’t intentional. It’s not like there was a meeting of the Jerusalem Mission Committee who said, “hey, back in Acts 1:8 Jesus said you will be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but also to the ends of the earth. It’s already Acts 8:1 and we’re still here. Isn’t it about time we did something about that?” Instead, God used persecution to propel his messengers out from Jerusalem. Out of their comfort zone, to the ends of the earth.
In his book, Let the nations be glad! (p89-90), John Piper gives a more recent example:
“Thousands of Koreans fled what is now North Korea in the 30’s as the Japanese invaded. Many of these settled around Vladivostok. When Stalin in the late 30’s and early 40’s began developing Vladivostok as a weapons manufacturing center, he deemed the Koreans a security risk. So he relocated them in five areas around the Soviet Union. One of those areas was Tashkent, hub of the staunchly Muslim people called the Uzbeks. Twenty million strong, the Uzbeks had for hundreds of years violently resisted any Western efforts to introduce Christianity.As the Koreans settled around Tashkent, the Uzbeks welcomed their industry and kindness. Within a few decades, the Koreans were included in nearly every facet of Uzbek cultural life. As usual in God’s orchestration of global events, He had planted within the relocated Koreans strong pockets of believers. Little did Stalin suspect that these Koreans would not only begin enjoying a wildfire revival among their own people, they would also begin bringing their Muslim, Uzbek and Kazak friends to Christ.The first public sign of the Korean revival and its breakthrough effects on the Uzbeks and Kazaks came on June 2, 1990, when in the first open air Christian meeting in the history of Soviet Central Asia, a young Korean from America preached to a swelling crowd in the streets of Alma-Ata, capital of Kazakhstan.”
To think about
What other stories do you know of where God has used persecution to position people to do his work? (Or as Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”)
What are some of the ways in which God has used difficult circumstances to position you to do his work?