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Holding to the Hope of the Gospel
July 5, 2007
Dear Friend of Mary Craig Ministries,
Paul wrote Timothy: "But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra-what persecutions I endured. And out of them all, the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But the evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of…" (2 Timothy 3.10-13)
Why does persecution arise? Jesus tells us in Matthew 13.21. Tribulation and persecution arise because of the Word. Those who
have no root in themselves can only endure a while before stumbling.
Jesus told Paul on the road to Damascus that Paul was persecuting Him. How so? A great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem in its earliest days (Acts 8.1). This persecution followed the death of Stephen, the first martyr. Paul consented to Stephen's death, for at that time he was still Saul. Witnesses laid down their clothes at Saul's feet. He went on to make havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. This becomes part of Paul's testimony, e.g., Acts 22, 26; Phil. 3.6; 1 Timothy 1.13.
Adhering to the truth of the gospel will mean persecution for the faith. The prophets were persecuted (Matthew 5.12). Lovers of truth will be persecuted for righteousness' sake (Matt. 5.10). Jesus said:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you. A servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. (John 15.18-23)
Many receive the word with joy, but because there are stones of stumbling, rocks of offense, and the word has not taken root in good soil, they are not prepared for persecution. The desire to live the "good-life" compromises the desire to live the "God-life."
Satan brought that temptation to Christ. Go for the crown and bypass the cross. (Luke 4) But if we, as followers of Jesus Christ, would have the crown of life, we must prepare our hearts for persecution.
To do this, we can learn from the character and life of Stephen, the first martyr. His name comes from stephanos, for "the victor's crown." Every believer can be better prepared for persecution by examining four areas of Stephen's character and ministry:
1. The servant. In Acts 6 we find problems arising in the newly formed and growing church. Stephen was one of seven men chosen to free the apostles from certain duties that were bringing neglect to the prayer and study of the Word. We find that Stephen qualified as one of good report, full of the Spirit and as having wisdom. He was efficient and deemed capable to take care of meeting the needs that had arisen. He was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, full of grace and power. He was set apart for the ministry to which he had been called through the laying on of hands.
2. The faithful and true witness. Stephen was a preacher and evangelist. He won the lost and did miracles. When he spoke no one could match or resist his wisdom and power. (See Luke 21.15) He was God's special instrument for spreading the gospel among the foreign Jews present in Jerusalem. Indeed, his powerful testimony would be the climax of the church's witness to the Jews, for afterwards, the gospel would go out to the Samaritans and then to the Gentiles.
3. The follower of Christ. Stephen found himself squared off against representatives of three continents. Not being able to face the truth of his message, these men went out and got some false witnesses (cf. Jesus, Matt. 9.3, 26.59-61). He was accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and against God. (cf. Jesus, John 10.36) Adhering to religious pride, elders and scribes seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin, where they accused him of speaking against the temple and the law.
In Acts 7, Stephen proved from the Scriptures that the Jews misunderstood their own spiritual roots (7.1-8), that they rejected God-sent deliverers (7.9-36), that they disobeyed their law (7.37-43), that they despised their temple (7.44-50), and that they resisted the Holy Spirit and the truth (7.51-53). This true Jew understood that the law and the prophets pointed to Jesus, and that Jesus ushered in a new and living way for Jews and Gentiles alike.
Like Jesus, Stephen's statements were misrepresented willfully and with malicious intent. Before his accusers, however, Stephen's face was "the face of an angel." 1 Peter 4.14 tells us that the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon the one who is persecuted for the name of Christ. A radiance shone on Stephen's countenance as he recounted the history of "the God of glory."
4. The vessel of the Holy Spirit. Stephen knew that the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands. He understood that the real becomes counterfeit when the heart is wrong. These, in perverting the truth revealed to them, are indicted as "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears." They resist the Holy Spirit as their fathers did. They killed those who foretold of the coming of the Just One and have now become the betrayers and murderers of that Just One.
Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen looked up into heaven as his hearers were cut to the heart and with uncontrolled fury set about to stone him for blasphemy. Like Jesus, Stephen lived within the veil and died without the gate.
In an act of worship, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He testified to what he saw: "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7.56) As they were stoning him, Stephen was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Like Christ, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." God gave him the grace to forgive his murderers and to pray for his enemies. And then he died.
This is the first appearance of Jesus in the glorified state. He stood to receive Stephen into glory. Stephen's death meant condemnation for Israel. When they allowed Herod to kill John the Baptist, the Jews sinned against God the Father (Matt. 21.28-32). When they asked Pilate to crucify Jesus, they sinned against God the Son (Matt. 21.33-46). Now, however, they sinned against the Holy Spirit who was working in and through the Apostles (Matt. 10.1-8; Acts 7.51). For this, judgment would come and did come in 70 A.D.
Satan used five devices: opposition, deception, persecution, division, and martyrdom within and without the church to thwart God's plans and purposes. Nevertheless, the kingdom of God increased and advanced as God gave grace and triumph. As we learn from Stephen's example, may we also be full of the Holy Spirit and not resisting Him (v.55), steadfast in looking up (v. 55), clear in our vision of Jesus (v. 55), bold in our witness of Christ (v. 56), firm in our faith and hope (v. 59), earnest in prayer for the enemies of Christ and His gospel (v. 60), and calm in our death, should it come to that (v.60).
You and I may not be called to martyrdom, but we are called to be "living sacrifices" (Romans 12.1, 2). Sometimes it's harder to live for Christ and trust Him. If we are living for Him and seeking to live godly in Christ Jesus, we must be prepared to die for Him as well.
I pray that you will remain faithful unto death and so receive the crown of life (Revelation 2.10). Hold to the hope of the gospel and remain in Christ, steadfast in your faith.
July 21st is our next Barnabas Project distribution; this time into the community of Belle Glade, Florida. As you join us through your gifts, you make a lasting difference in so many lives. You help us meet the challenges of ministering to the forgotten and forlorn and to the many coming to Craighouse® and to www.marycraig.org from around the world.
We praise God for your gifts. They speak volumes of your generosity and dedication to Christ. Thank you!
Holding to the Gospel,
P.S. Go to www.marycraig.org. Order from our Catalog section, using PayPal Worship with us 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Grow and flourish in small group ministry at Craighouse®, located in the Pompano Plaza at 114 E. McNab Road, Pompano Beach, FL 33060. Log on to www.craighouse.org for a map and more events and Bible studies. Reach MCM at 954-491-7270. Send in your prayer requests. Mary Craig Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Federal ID 65-0429517.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord
Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15.57, 58
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