A significant event takes place in Acts 7, marking a trend in church history that unfortunately continues to this day: persecution. In this text, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, meets his death. This man is first introduced to us in Acts 6, when the leaders of the church choose deacons for the purpose of carrying out the ministry of the church. Stephen was among those chosen. He is described as a man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," and as a man "full of God's grace and power." Some enemies of the gospel opposed him, and ultimately arranged to have him arrested under false pretenses. During his trial, Stephen spoke of the history of Israel and how God had worked through his people throughout history. He concluded his message by telling them about Jesus, saying to these religious men that they had put to death God's chosen Messiah. His words infuriated them, and they dragged him into the street, then out of the city, and stoned him to death.
Today in America—and thankfully in most of the world—it is difficult for us to imagine this level of persecution. From time to time I hear alarmists talking about how bad it's getting in America—how persecution is beginning to set in. They usually have to stretch a bit to make their case. In one case, for example, a church having difficulty getting a zoning permit for their new building claimed that they were being persecuted by the city council. This type of overstatement diminishes the plight of those in foreign countries that are truly persecuted—those living under the threat of death, those forced to worship underground, those in prison for merely possessing a Bible. This is real persecution, and there have always ...
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