Monday, May 20, 2013

The Jewish Church Persecuted!

From a human standpoint it is utterly amazing that the church ever survived its first years! In Acts 4 Peter and John were arrested for preaching in Yeshua's name. Then in Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira were struck down by the hand of God because they had been deceitful in the selling of some of their property, the proceeds of which were intended for the church. Later in that same chapter the apostles were arrested and would have been executed except for the intervention of Gamaliel, a Pharisee on the Sanhedrin, who cautioned, that by executing the apostles the Jewish leaders may have found themselves fighting with God Himself. The Sanhedrin refrained and only had the men beaten, which in ancient days, often led to the prisoners' deaths anyway. In chapter 6 there was an internal dispute in the church over the feeding of the Greek-speaking widows. This was remedied by appointing seven men to oversee the distribution of food. One of the seven was Stephen, who in chapter 7 was arrested and eventually stoned for his preaching about Yeshua. Next in chapter 8 is the following:

Acts 8:1-3 (KJV)
1 And Saul was consenting unto his (Stephen's) death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

With the death of Stephen there arose a great persecution of the church at Jerusalem. Saul, who eventually was named Paul, seemed to have been at the forefront of the persecution.

Acts 5:11 (KJV)
11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

This verse is describing the fear that began after Ananias and Sapphira were killed. How much more frightened they must have been after Stephen's death and the ensuing persecution! It is surprising that the believers didn't just give up.

There was another emotion that the church likely had. At this point in time, the church was Jewish. It wasn't until verse 4 of chapter 8 that Philip went into Samaria and began preaching there. The Jewish believers had come to faith in a Jewish Messiah. They continued their worship in the Temple. The Temple was the center of Judaism.

Acts 2:46 (KJV)
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

But with the beginning of persecution, the Temple may not have been a friendly place. The religious leaders were after the believers. They were losing what had been comfortable. Even family may have begun to turn against them. They must have felt an alienation, an isolation, and loss of widespread community and its moorings. Yet, they clung onto Yeshua!

Has faith in Yeshua caused fear, loss, and isolation in your life? Believing in Yeshua can mean great sacrifice, in some way or another. It isn't always government persecution, it could be a result from job or family conflicts. Yet, we must cling to Yeshua. His Words are the Words of Life! There is no other by which we can be saved from our sin, or receive eternal life.

Remember, God is in control. He has a plan and it will be accomplished. In the case of the persecution of the early church, it was an impetus for the Jewish believers to spread abroad, bringing their faith with them. What purpose does your loss have?

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