To Flee or Not to Flee?
Dear God, in my busy, cluttered, noisy world, I long to hear Your clear and loving voice speak to me.
Read Acts 7:54—8:8
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
8 And Saul approved of their killing him.
The Church Persecuted and Scattered
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Philip in Samaria
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“The person who has found nothing to die for is not fit to live” (Martin Luther King Jr., 1929–1968). Obviously Stephen had found a purpose to live and die for.
Stephen’s pointed challenge to the rulers (51–53) made them furious, but it was the declaration of his vision of the exalted Christ in heaven that they considered blasphemous, causing them to cover their ears (55–57). Some of those who heard his prayer for their forgiveness (60) no doubt remembered hearing the same from Jesus Christ on the cross only a few months before (Luke 23:34). This martyrdom was the beginning of a persecution which led to a scattering abroad of the saints, leaving only the apostles in Jerusalem.
There have been many instances in church history when believers have had to decide whether to stay and be prepared to endure whatever their persecutors inflicted on them or to flee to some place where they could worship God in safety. The Huguenots who escaped from France in the seventeenth century and the Pilgrim Fathers who fled from England and the Netherlands are famous examples of Christians who decided to leave. Sadly, it is very much a live issue for hundreds of thousands of believers in the Middle East today. Progressively, the birthplace of the church is being emptied of Christians before our eyes. Those of us who do not have firsthand experience of the wrenching and the trauma involved can hardly pontificate on the right or wrong of whether to flee or to stay put. Our responsibility is to pray and to support them in whatever ways we can.
We may note that while the apostles directed events from the capital city, the others went about scattering Gospel seeds in all the places to which they were dispersed. Philip, one of Stephen’s fellow deacons (6:5), continued his good work of proclamation and miracles (8:4–8). As a result, the aim of the persecutors was being frustrated more than ever!
As well as prayer, in what ways can you support Christians who are being persecuted?
Gracious Lord, I pray for Christians who are facing persecution, especially those in the Middle East. Sustain, comfort and encourage them, I pray.