But Saul Began to Destroy the Church
Today there is great hostility against the Church of Jesus Christ! Christianity is being assaulted on all fronts. Nationally, internationally and personally the Christian and the Christian world-view is attacked by “people of the world” and even some who call themselves a part of the church. If we go back to the Bible the book of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the church and its persecution. Jesus brought great joy and challenge to the first church. Miracles and healings were seen and evil spirits were removed from the people by the power of the Holy Spirit; the church was alive and growing. Those who were in leadership of the Jews sought to have the apostles and their teaching about Jesus and His resurrection silenced. They didn’t even want the name of Jesus used in public (we will see how this relates to today’s church too.) The apostles were threatened, jailed and flogged but they were faithful to Jesus and His teaching they continued to tell all who would listen to their teaching. The political/religious powers of their day did all they could to stop the spread of the Gospel even to the end of killing James, the apostle and Stephen for what they called blasphemy. Then the Bible introduces Saul!
Acts 8:1-3 NIV
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. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Saul was determined to destroy what he believed was this false teaching of the followers of Jesus. He went about dragging people off to prison even if they weren’t in Jerusalem for their crime of “worshipping Jesus.” Today, Saul is a representative figure for all those who choose to persecute Christianity and Christians all over the world and in America too. Christians are being killed daily in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as other African nations in the name of the Islamic religion. If you have read or listened to any news of late there is an Islamic terrorist group called Boko Haram that has kidnapped more than 300 girls from what I understand was a Christian school, while killing others at the school so they could “convert” the girls to Islam. The situation has not come to be that radical in America but even today in our country those who are in political leadership seek to force Christians to “violate fundamental and traditional Christian beliefs which have been held for two thousand years.” These leaders and now American under their authority, places them and America in direct opposition to the God of the Bible. Let me read this passage to you from Acts: Speaking to the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law who was honored by all people said regarding the Christians in Jerusalem –
Acts 5:38-39 NIV
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
The Name of Jesus
In this passage Gamaliel said that the religious leaders needed to wait to see what God would do with this “religion” The church then was scattered and still being persecuted but God was at work among those who were believers and willing to share with the world it’s message of redemption. I believe even today under the persecution of the government or other groups, like the organized atheists, God will do the same as He did for the disciples, He will provide power and purpose for the church if we are faithful to the Scriptures. The book of Acts tells us that Saul was a very religious and devout Jew and meant well and really thought he was doing what he did for God. We see today many of those who oppose the church and what they are doing think that they are doing what God wants them to do in the name of tolerance and love. Nothing could be further from the truth. Others just don’t want God involved in the life of Americans. In fact many complain as did the Jewish leaders of Peter and John’s day that the “name of Christ” should not be used at all in public. Today many don’t mind you using the word God in public or in conversation but at the first time you use the “name of Jesus” then you are intolerant to those who don’t believe like you and you should stop using the name of Jesus. Listen to what Peter said in Acts 5:8-13,
Acts 5:8-13 NIV
Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?" "Yes," she said, "that is the price." Peter said to her, "How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also." At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.
It is the name of Jesus that tells the difference between a person who just believes in God and one who is genuinely saved and born again, they are the ones who know the name of Jesus and are not ashamed of speaking His name. We see in today’s passage that Saul stood by while Stephen was stoned and approved of their action and then began his own murderous rants in and around Jerusalem. Did he accomplish what he thought he needed to do? Well at first he seem to do very well and was successful to frighten and scare Christians as well as jail them and kill others but when God had enough Jesus appeared to him personally and stopped him in his tracks. Just as Gamaliel said that if this belief in Christ and His message is real then Christianity cannot be stopped because then they would be going against God Himself! Paul realized the hard way that he truly was going against the will of God Almighty and his actions were to stop. Christianity has been proven to the entire world to be authentic over the 2,000 years since Christ, by the power of God, whether the President of the United States agrees with God or not. But that does not stop the persecution of believers throughout the world and including America. Yes, there is persecution from outside the church too by other religions, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in their lands where that religion is dominant. Christians all over the world find that becoming a believer in Christ might cost them their jobs, families, rights, property and even their lives. Many are jailed and their freedom is taken from them and others suffer greatly in various ways for their faith. I have personally heard testimonies from adults who said when they were but children and trusted in the Christ of the Bible that their families disowned them and they were left to themselves to survive. What a tragedy! But there is a price to pay to follow the Son of God by faith.
Here in America those who believe are being assaulted by the very government that spelled out Freedom of Religion as one of our foundational principles found in our Constitution. So many have chosen to re-interpret what is simply put for all Americans to read and understand. The government is to not mess in the business of their citizen’s religion. We are supposed to be protected and yet now by liberal interpretation of our founding documents the government is telling us what we can say cannot say and where we can or cannot say it. We have been told by our President that this nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and primarily Christian beliefs, that we are no longer a Christian nation and we really never were. The influence of Christ and the Scripture is all over the monuments and buildings in our very own capital telling us that our founders felt comfortable using scripture and sharing the truth of God’s Word with the entire world. If you search the state constitutions for the fifty states you will see that each state originally sought God’s help in establishing their state. The Preamble CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA says We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the preservation and perpetuation of the same. The date for this Constitution uses “in the year of our Lord,” that too indicates the belief in God Almighty. This is Memorial Day weekend. Our military men and women have for centuries given their last measure of life to persevere our right to be free. How can we say that these men and women died in vain? If our freedoms are taken away at the whim of a governing party, then they have died in vain. If we don’t do something soon to change the course of our nation we will truly lose more than our Freedom of Religion, we will lose our Freedom period! My prayer is that we will keep fighting so that we can continue to be the land of the free and the home of the brave! If you choose not to vote Biblically on all issues and candidates then you are a part of the problem and will also be held accountable to God for your actions. This week I will be going to our capital, Washington D.C, to meet with legislators and prominent religious leaders to discuss and learn about how the church and pastors in particularl can be actively involved in putting our nation back on the right path. Did you know that millions of Christians did not vote in the last presidential election? If you were one of those I plead with you to be registered to vote right away. When the elections come again this fall and for the next presidential election, you are the ones who can make the difference. Make sure you know what the candidates stand for and if they are Biblically sound in the issues that are regarding morality. There are two areas that have been particularly clear as issues that are pushed in the face of Christians: abortion, the killing of innocent children in the womb and the redefinition of marriage, same-sex marriage. When Jesus confronted Saul on the way to Damascus He said to Saul, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks?” This statement has become “a proverb to signify the fruitlessness and absurdity of rebelling against lawful authority.” (A Commentary and Critical Notes) Saul had to hear from Jesus Himself to realize that it was futile and going to be dangerous for him if he continued to fight against Jesus and His Gospel. Folks don’t be a part of the problem fighting against the Lord’s church and His Gospel plan for the world, stop and think, you can be a part of the solution. Begin to stand for the Lord Jesus and His kingdom wherever you are and to whomever you speak. If something is clearly against the scriptures and you have a chance to speak, speak kindly but firmly for the Lord. Some have asked me over these last years, “Are we in the last days?” Maybe we are and maybe things won’t get better but since you and I don’t know for sure why should we turn over and play dead. When Saul was saved and became the great Christian, he became Paul and was alive for Christ and helped change the world for the Lord. You and I can do the same in a way. If we stand for and live for righteousness in our culture, all the long praying that God will give you wisdom and courage, He will use you to touch lives for His Kingdom’s glory. I challenge you today to first live for Christ every day, and then be willing to share with anyone the love and forgiveness of sin to all God brings your way. Remember that God loves everyone but He does not approve of or excuse sin in any way, sin must be confessed and then forgiven before a life can come to Jesus and be born again. When the Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” it means that when a person has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and He becomes their Savior and Lord, then their life will be different… they will be a new creation they won’t be the same as they used to be! Today will you trust Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord? Will you confess your sin and be willing to have God make you a new creation in Him? You won’t ever be the same, your sins will be gone and a new adventure with Christ will begin and last for all eternity. Will you stand with Christ, for the truth of the Word of God, and seek to help make America a Godly nation again?