40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
How many would have come to faith, professing Yeshua's name in public, had they known what the near future held? First the Jews, then the Romans hunted them down to rid the world of the "curse" of Christianity. But the fact is they had no idea of the persecution they would suffer for Yeshua's name, and when that time came they stood tall, singing God's praises while facing imminent, grizzly death.
54 When they 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 clothes 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.
1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee, as zealous for God's law and temple as any Jew. He believed his righteous duty was to eradicate the plague called The Way, and he embarked upon his crusade with deadly efficiency.Now, how many members of today's Christendom would follow in Stephen's and countless other martyrs' steps? Would church-borne professions of faith stand up to the threat of torture and death? Would a believing husband and father watch his wife and children raped and murdered rather than repudiate his, and their, Savior? Those questions will never be answered until, either we who claim to follow God's Son find ourselves in those awful circumstances, or we face Him in judgment.The time will come when praise-chorus-singing evangelicals will stand beside stolid, liturgical church-members, and when the persecutor demands they recant their Christian faith, who among them will stand for Christ? Historically, many of the boldest, most vocal faith-professors crumple in persecution's ugly face while many other unassuming believers stand and take the enemy's worst, through a faith deeper than any human being can comprehend.
4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
Each of us must one day answer that question for ourselves. Whether it comes when we face cruel persecution, or when we face Christ's judgment seat, we will discover our faith's true character. Now is the time to begin preparing for either eventuality. Now is the time to petition God's sanctifying Holy Spirit to complete our heart-cleansing. Now is the time to fall on our faces in humble confession and repentance for our life-style and attitudinal failures, for when the testing comes ... and it certainly will ... we will not have time to prepare.