November 9 I Friday
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: you always resist the Holy Spirit!” —Acts 7:51
Persecution of believers by the Jewish hierarchy was rampant even after the ascension of Christ. When seized and hauled in on charges of blasphemy, Stephen boldly withstood the wrath of the Sanhedrin Council. While on trial, he first gave a brief account of Israel’s history, then accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit and of betraying and murdering Jesus. At this, “they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54).
Scripture then tells us, “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. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56). Stephen was then dragged out of the city and stoned to death. Some say that Jesus stood up to welcome the first martyr home. What emancipation and joy his homecoming must have been!
A good question to ask ourselves is: Which is more important to us—the material things of this world with all their comfort and ease, or a genuine faith that, as Peter says, is of greater worth than gold? It is hard to know how we would respond to persecution, especially that which disowns us from family and friends or inflicts pain, injury, imprisonment and even death. But how does Jesus say we should respond? In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad,” when our tendency would more likely be “react and get mad.” But Jesus gives us two reasons why we should rejoice. Our lives are not primarily about earth and the temporary. Everything we lay up for ourselves on earth will perish, and if this is the world that excites us, then we will flee at the first sign of persecution. Our real treasure is permanent, imperishable and waiting. “Great is your reward in heaven,” Jesus said. We live on earth with heaven in mind, and our faithfulness here will be marked in the annals of heaven.
Secondly, we are in good company. “For in the same way they persecuted the prophets.” Not only the prophets, but Jesus said, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Jesus is always the strength we need, and in the face of persecution, He gives us every reason to continue our work with Him. There is the anticipation of a great reward in heaven, but could there be any reason better than that of our love for Him?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for giving Your life for me. Whatever the future holds, my life is in Your hands, and that is all I need to know.