BRP Insight Post for Week of May 28, 2019
The early church was being heavily persecuted in Jerusalem, and Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to assist the disciples. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he was an impact player in the early church. The number of new converts was increasing rapidly! This was bad news for the religious establishment, so they set their sights on Stephen. At first they tried to argue with Stephen, “but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.”(Acts 6:10) When they couldn’t defeat him, they boiled with anger. So, they accused him of false charges and stoned him to death. The persecution was so bad that all but the original disciples fled out of Jerusalem. Those that fled, “traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch telling the message only to Jews. Some of them however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.”(19-20)
Just as the early church was getting off the ground, it met fierce opposition. The threat was real. A very capable young man by the name of Saul was successfully destroying the early church. Saul was present when Stephen was stoned to death. Can you imagine Saul coming into your neighborhood today and banging on doors in search of new believers? Both men and women were dragged out of their homes and put in prison. This town had a long history of persecuting God’s messengers. It is easy to see why so many new believers fled from Jerusalem! We don’t know what they were able to take with them as far as material possessions, but we do know they had the most important thing with them…..the Holy Spirit! As they traveled, they shared the Good News with both Jews and Gentiles. “The Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”(21)
One town in particular, about 350 miles north of Jerusalem, was exploding with new believers. Jerusalem may have been the starting point for the early church, but Antioch was quickly becoming the main hub. “So for a whole year Barnabas and Paul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.”(26) And one of the coolest things I just learned….”The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”(26) God was in the process of shaping this new global church. No longer would there be “Jew” or “Gentile”. Those names created division and contention. In an effort to move the new church in a direction that would unite, a new name was created. Going forward, all believers would be called Christians! They were being persecuted for believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ so they would make a bold statement and link their name to the name above all names. They devoted themselves to the example of Christ. This name meant everything to them, and they wanted the whole world to know this. From this day forward they would live and die by this name. Are we Christians? If so, we should take the name of Christ with the same seriousness in our time. We should carefully observe our thoughts, words, and actions so they honor the one to whom we belong. Our life is not our own. It was bought with a price.
Director of Small Group & Lay Counseling Ministries