As the stones hurled towards Stephen’s head and shattered his skull, they did more than end the life of a godly man. These stones were the tools of God to get His church unstuck. What?! The tools of God? Weren’t these stones a cruel act by a vicious and jealous mob? Yes, but they were not an accident, outside the control of God.
When we look at the death of Stephen, we could think that it was a pointless and tragic loss. Honestly, it seems terrible. Why would God allow a truly good man to be brutally murdered? Why does God let things like this happen? I don’t know why God lets terrible things happen, and I don’t know if there is always a definite purpose behind tragic events. But, in the case of Stephen, we have been privy to see the eternal purposes behind a tragic event.
The church in Jerusalem was already, even after only a short time following the Pentecost, becoming comfortable and lazy. They were content to sit in Jerusalem, in their very Jewish/Christian existence, and care for each other, without thinking about the rest of the world. When the stones shattered Stephen’s bones, they also shattered the complacency of the church and drove them into the countryside. Remember that Jesus said they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the Earth? Left to their own devices they would have stayed in Jerusalem. It took persecution to scatter them into Judea and Samaria.
There are two lessons to learn.
- Sometimes God uses seemingly tragic events to bring about a greater good in His Kingdom. Stephen was a servant of God. If God said to die today, he died. It wasn’t about Stephen, or about Stephen preserving his ministry. It was about being obedient, even to the point of death, to the master.
- Quite often, persecution is the best thing that can happen to the church. Humanity’s natural tendency is to find a place of comfort and sit there. One of Satan’s greatest tools for neutralizing the church in the West has been to give us everything we want and make it really easy to be Christian. It started with Constantine, the Roman Emperor who legalized Christianity in A.D. 325. Ever since then, in “free” Western civilization, Christianity has been enmeshed with human politics and warped with political power. In the United States we have freedom of worship where anything goes and everybody is right. That type of culture breeds nothing but apathy and complacency.
We should not pray for persecution, that is not the point. However, we should take a moment and contemplate the fact that the places where the church of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, is thriving is in the countries where the church experiences persecution. It is very difficult to internalize Jesus’ words to “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” when this Kingdom provides us with everything we need without a single glance to Heaven.
Let us thank God that He sacrificed a good man named Stephen to spread the Kingdom beyond the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem. Let us also thank God that we do experience freedom to openly worship Him in our country. Let us also ask Him to keep us from being apathetic and lazy in our focus on His Kingdom and His righteousness.