Reading: Acts 7-8
Summary: One of the most prominent and influential people in the church’s early days, who as not an apostle, was Stephen. He becomes a lightening rod of opposition from the Jews. Unable to adequately respond to His message of Jesus as the Messiah—the one foretold and the one opposed by them, as had been the prophets beforehand whom their fathers had also killed—they silenced this powerful preacher, as they had Jesus, by taking his life.
Stephen’s death serves as a spark that sets ablaze a severe persecution against the church—enter Saul of Tarsus. God uses this persecution and the consequent dispersing of Christians from Jerusalem as the means by which the gospel is first taken from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and beyond, just as Jesus had said it would spread.
A Troubling Illustration
The fact that God causes all things to work together for good is a greatly reassuring fact. That is evidenced by the fact that Romans 8:28 is considered a favorite Bible verse by so many people. Sometimes people try to make that passage say what it does not. It’s not an assurance that God only allows good things to happen. It doesn’t say that everything will come out to our satisfaction. It doesn’t even say that God causes everything to happen that does happen. What it does say is that whatever happens, good or bad, God can cause it to work together for good.
A powerful illustration of this truth plays out in the life and death of Stephen. This man was an incredible preacher, defender of the truth, and champion of the cause of Christ in the hostile environment of Jerusalem during the church’s earliest days. For his effectiveness, he pays with his life.
I’ve often wondered, why? Why did God allow this tremendously effective proclaimer of truth be silenced? Later—in Acts 12— the apostle James is also killed but Peter is spared. Why did God save the one but not the other? Why didn’t God rescue Stephen? Can you imagine the devastating impact of this loss on the church? We know it was big because the church made “great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2).
To complicate things, this murder sparked such intense persecution against the church that the Christians all fled Jerusalem. All-in-all things were really tough for the church. Then there’s this—“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Think about it. Stephen’s death ignited great persecution; persecution scattered the Christians; the scattered Christians spread the gospel from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria. This was precisely the scenario Jesus promised (see Acts 1:8).
God caused good to come from horrible circumstances. It didn’t bring Stephen back to life. It didn’t restore these fleeing Christians to their homes. But it did work together for good; ultimate and eternal good.
For this passage to be of real reassurance, then our interest in “good” is for God’s good, not mine.