God never promised us a rose garden. Instead, He assures us that He will be with us continually.
A vivid example of that is shown to us by Stephen, the first Christian martyr:
“Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8, NIV2)
Wouldn’t we think that this would attract many to come to know Jesus personally? It sure did, but is also caught the attention of the critical: “Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)-Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia-who began to argue with Stephen.” (Acts 6:9, NIV2)
There is always opposition when we do God’s work. Amazingly, many times this opposition comes from the religious communities who, though they proclaim to know all about God, have generally never met Him personally.
“But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (Acts 6:10, NIV2) In other words, no one can outdo what the Holy Spirit does! No one!
Their only way out was slander, as they did: “Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.'” (Acts 6:11, NIV2) By the way, slander is the choice weapon of the evil one, who continually tries to discredit the workings of God.
“So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.'” (Acts 6:12-14, NIV2)
Now we find out their true colors! “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NIV2)
Amazingly, Stephen stayed poised: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15, NIV2) This is what happens when we focus only on Jesus. We may be experiencing grim circumstances, but Jesus upholds us all the way. Even though Stephen was falsely accused, he was completely in peace.
“Then the high priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?'” (Acts 7:1, NIV2) Now Stephen has the opportunity to testify and testify he sure did, with no concerns of his own life.
We, too, can stand completely at peace no matter what the circumstance we are facing, as long as Jesus is our reality.
Persecution against Christians has increased exponentially. Just a few months ago, on November 4, 2014, in central Pakistan, violence occurred against a Christian and his pregnant wife. They were accused of allegedly burning some pages of the Quran.
These two were enslaved laborers in a brick-making kiln. In this system of modern slavery, the workers are given an amount of money in advance, and they cannot leave without returning the money. They even live in quarters at the kiln site, and since there are exorbitant amounts of interest on this “loan”, bonded labourers are often enslaved even for generations. As a result, when falsely accuses, this Christian and his wife were unable to run for their lives, because their kiln owner refused to let them leave without repaying their debt. Thus, they were literally stuck.
At about six in the morning, when Shahzad and Shama returned to their home to prepare themselves for their work, they were faced by a huge, angry mob. They were beaten with wooden clubs and then tied to a tractor and dragged down a road under construction, covered with crushed stones. Never did this couple have the opportunity to defend themselves.
Sadly, the whole time a police van was present, but no one came to their help.
Even after all this, the mob was still furious. They took some gasoline from the tractor and poured it over the poor couple, and then threw them into a burning kiln. Condemned with no proof!
The killing of people merely on accusation is quite common in Pakistan. If only these accusers would take a few minutes and wonder about their actions. Is this truly a worthwhile endeavor? Is this spurred by love or hatred? Is it spurred by truth or lies? Who are they truly serving?
One day they, too, will face judgment. What will their verdict be?
I have no idea what that Christian couple went through. Were they terrified? Probably. I sure would have been. Still, I am also certain that God sustained them through this ordeal.
Some may miss the boat and accuse God for not coming through. I think this is ironic, as it is quite clear where this comes from. Only one is a specialist in false accusations used to turn everything into his favor. Do we wish to be part of his plot?
I still believe that some good will come out of this, as we will discover next time when we look at the aftermath of Stephen’s execution.
We may still wonder, however: How would we have reacted to such false accusations? With love or hatred?
May we always remember to pray fervently for our fellow believers who are facing persecution. We have it easy here in the Western world. Any opposition here is child’s play compared to what happens in other parts of our world.
(To access the entire “Facing Unimaginable Odds” devotional series, please click here.)