Be Still and know that I am God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Jesus is here with you. ‘Speak Lord your servant is listening.’
“Stand at the foot of the cross and look up – at the figure hanging there – I have done that for you – not only to have your sins forgiven – but to give you a totally new life – from the moment I poured my Spirit on you, the direction of your life changed. You have been taken up spiritually into the heavenly realms – where you have received every spiritual blessing in Me (Jesus) – yet physically you remain in the world where the battle for the souls of men rages on – but take heart, I have overcome. Only keep alert, because the enemy is all around – keep putting on My spiritual armour. The helmet, let him not cause you to doubt your salvation – that is where he seeks to weaken you – weaken your resolve, weaken your faith. Then put on the shield – I am your shield, remember your new identity, you are now “in Jesus” – remind yourself of that as he seeks to send fiery darts at you, whispers of ‘did He really mean – when He said that?’ so that you are tempted to doubt Me, My love, My purposes for you. Nothing can change that, that is secure, just wait in expectation to see what I have in mind for you .”
My reading today is from Acts 6:8-15. What can the Lord have to say to me today from this apparently straight-forward passage? To rehearse the context I remember that the story of the new church is moving forward at a great pace, thousand of new converts, due to the witness of the apostles and the miraculous signs they were performing, which authenticated their message. There had been opposition, mainly from the local religious establishment, but which the apostles took as a blessing that they “had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” Acts 5:41. The story moves up a gear now, after some housekeeping in the church to achieve order.(Acts 6:1-7)
Stephen had been chosen as one of the men “full of faith and the holy Spirit” (vs 3) to wait on tables, in the previous section. He is shown here actively witnessing. Now friends why don’t you read this section and ask Jesus to help you to understand what He was saying to the early readers and what He is saying to you today.
OK, so it is obvious that Stephen is faced by a new opposition. I find the description of this group interesting. They were Jewish proselytes, yet came from various other ethnic nationalities. I stop and wonder how often division in the church is caused by factors, like social standing and ethnicity, other than doctrine. These folk were not Christian or part of the new church but, through their actions, they were trying to block its growth. To make it worse they used deceitful and dishonest means to discredit Stephen, who, through the wisdom and power of the Spirit, had left them unable to answer him.
So what is going on here Jesus? Why is this obvious opposition intruding on the growth of the gospel cf 6:7? I know already (maybe I shouldn’t) that Stephen is about to be executed. So why do we have this rollercoaster ride in the new church?
I remember a little picture in a discipleship book I used to use with the students. It was a picture of an aeroplane. Yes, you see the message is that an aeroplane can only take off against the wind. So in His wisdom then and over the centuries God has used opposition as a spur to growth. A stimulant as it were to let us take off and soar. And of course who is behind the opposition? The enemy. So the word from the Lord to me becomes suddenly so much more relevant. Don’t be surprised by opposition, nor be disheartened. God is absolutely in control of the war and the outcome is already determined, but the battles rage on all over the place. While the enemy seeks to divide and destroy the main purpose of God is spurring growth of individual Christians and of the Church. Amen? Amen.
Let’s all then keep actively reminding ourselves of the battle, so that we will remember who the real enemy is and not become disheartened by difficulties, knowing they are God’s tools to bring us to trust Him more and more.