“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” – Acts 8:1-3
Very often God uses the persecution of the Church to spread the Gospel. It’s incredibly ironic how something intended to eliminate the church ends up helping it grow. That’s exactly what happened after Stephen became the early church’s first martyr. At that time, almost all believers were Jews who believed Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. For the orthodox Jewish community, this belief was heresy; so Saul and other religious leaders began persecuting the church. Fleeing for their lives, the church scattered throughout Judea and even into Samaria.
Now, the last place any Jew would voluntarily go would be Samaria. The Samaritans were hated and looked down upon. Yet, when persecution hit the early church, believers fled into Samaria and took the Gospel with them. Time and time again we see God use for good what man desires for evil. One of the greatest examples of this was God using Stephen’s martyrdom to convict Saul. It prepared Saul’s heart for his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. This transformed Saul’s life from the original religious terrorist to the great missionary we know as Paul, and writer of much of the New Testament.
I really believe that the reason Saul moved from being such a zealous defender of traditional Judaism to being a religious terrorist seeking to destroy and imprison followers of Jesus was that he couldn’t shake the haunting scene of seeing Stephen die. He was so calm, so peaceful, and praying for those who would unjustly murder him. Sometimes those who are the angriest at Christians and the church are the ones battling an internal war of doubts, questions, and fears about Jesus – wondering, could it all be true?
When facing rejection, discrimination, and even persecution whether at work or home, trust that God can use for good what man desires for evil. He did for the early church and He did for Saul. He certainly can do it for you.