Persecution, Prison and Proclamation # 2.
- 11 July 2021
- Stuart Robinson
Zoom Church Short Devotional Piece
Like that wonderful function on Google Maps – I would like to ‘zoom out’ and take a quick look at the wider context of our Acts 12 and 13 reading to demonstrate how God is able to use all situations – even the painful and the deeply discouraging ones, for his redemptive purposes and to his greater glory.
As the scriptures say, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ – Romans 8:28.
And so, we ‘zoom-out’, as it were, to Acts chapters 6,7, and 8 where Stephen – a man described as being ‘filled with Holy Spirit’ (6:3) and God’s grace and power; an evangelist who ‘performed great signs and wonders among the people’ (Acts 6:8), is executed by the religious leaders in Jerusalem for his fearless faith in Jesus (Acts 7:56-59).
As a result, on that very day, ‘a great persecution broke out against the Christians in Jerusalem’ (Acts 8:1).
The fledgling church is being ripped apart by dark and malevolent external forces.
Now I do not doubt that in that moment, all must have seemed hopeless.
But God’s greater redemptive purposes were in play.
We read in Acts 11:19ff that believers who had fled Jerusalem because of that persecution, had made the almost 700-kilometre trek through modern-day Lebanon right up to Antioch (on the coast of modern-day Turkey), and to the island of Cyprus.
And as they spoke of their trust in the risen Jesus with people they met, Jews and Gentiles, gave their lives to Christ; ‘the Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21).
Hearing snippets of this great work of God, the beleaguered remnant church back in Jerusalem sent Barnabas – described as a good man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24), up to Antioch, to report back on this revival.
Barnabas rendezvoused with Saul (or St. Paul) on the way – and then together, they taught and preached in Antioch for over a year.
And that new church plant grew and flourished (Acts 11:26).
Indeed, it became a movement, for the new believers were first called ‘Christians’ at Antioch (Acts 11:26).
And it was this group of new Christians – who came to faith as a result of persecution and oppression, who then rallied to the cause of the Jerusalem mother church, when a severe famine hit the whole community.
These believers – as their means allowed (Acts 11:29), sent a large financial gift – delivered by Saul and Barnabas, and his young cousin, John-Mark (Colossians 4:10), to the elders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; 12:25).
So even in adversity, the message of Christ flourished not only through preaching and evangelism, but also through acts of selflessness, generosity, and service.
Working hand in glove with God’s greater redemptive purposes, are faithful believers who are attuned to the will and word of God.
Let us now ‘zoom back in’ to text before us – Acts 13, where we encounter a diverse group of Christians who comprise this church in Antioch.
They include tradespeople, and scholars, through to one man, an aristocrat – Manaen, who had been raised with King Herod – who as you know, was infamously connected with the deaths of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus (13:1).
And this group intentionally met together to discern the mind of God (13:2).
And they apply themselves.
They invest in the process.
They take time.
And as they worship, God by his Holy Spirit responds to their petitions, ‘set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’, is the Spirit’s clarion command (13:2).
So, in fellowship, they agree on a course of action.
They recognise the leading of the Holy Spirit and after further prayer and fasting they lay hands on Saul and Barnabas – a sign that they affirm their call, and the means by which (through prayer) Saul and Barnabas are sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit (13:4.)
A very good thing because they are about to encounter fierce opposition.
Do remember our theme today: God is able to use all situations – even the painful and the deeply discouraging ones, for his redemptive purposes and to his greater glory.
Here is the short version of what happens next: Paul and Barnabas encounter the forces of darkness in the person of Elymas, an executive on team of Sergius Paulus – a very high-ranking government official; viceroy of Cyprus and its surrounds.
God, in his mercy and grace, was drawing Sergius Paulus to himself (v.8) and Elymas was doing everything in his power to poison Sergius Paulus’ interest in the word of God.
And at this point the prayers of the team back in Antioch are answered as Paul (as he also known v 9) – filled with the Holy Spirit takes a stand against Elymas’ satanic interference and declares God’s judgment on the sorcerer.
And he is immediately cast into mist and darkness; Elymas who is spiritually blind now becomes physically blind.
Unlike Sergius Paulus, who having witnessed the power of God, immediately turned to the Lord in wonder and amazement (Acts 13:12).
What a miracle – a great Roman leader submitting to the reign and rule of Jesus!
I put it to you, beloved, that God is able to use all situations – even the painful and the deeply discouraging ones, for his redemptive purposes and to his greater glory.
May we, in this season of challenge, like those saints in Antioch, apply ourselves to faithfully, prayerfully, and courageously discerning his mind as we realize our calling and Vision: Light for the City, Refreshment for the Soul.
In the name of Christ. Amen.