Bad is not good. Good is not bad. It is not good to be bad. It is not good to do bad. However, it is good that there is bad.
By this point in the Jesus’ story, the Savior has been crucified and resurrected. Additionally, he has ascended to Heaven where he is enjoying communion with the Father and exercising dominion over his universe. For Jesus, the stage of pain and humiliation was a thing of the past. For the Risen Son, all was good and pleasant in the paradise of God.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples have been left on earth to accomplish his mission, and the persecution he had promised was beginning to be realized. The Sanhedrin, under the influence of Satan, has several times thrown the disciples of Christ in jail. These men of God have been flogged and beaten. And they have been promised much worse if they chose to continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, the intimidations of the antichrists were of little effect. Nothing seemed to work. Nothing seemed to squelch the enthusiasm of the disciples or hinder the spread of Christianity. A Gospel flame had been lit; a Gospel fire had erupted; and it could not be quenched.
Therefore, in response, the persecution from the antichrists kicked into a higher gear, and this was seen in the story of Stephen. He was a man who helped the poor and preached to the lost. He was a man who looked very similar to Jesus. And he was one targeted for extermination:
Acts 7:54-60 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 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.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 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. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 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.
What was Jesus doing at this moment? Was this not Jesus’ disciple, ambassador, and friend? Why did the Savior not rally to Stephen’s defense? Could not Christ have empowered Stephen to walk mysteriously through the crowd as he once did? Once stoned and slain, shouldn’t the Lord have raised Stephen from the dead as he did Lazarus and himself? What a tragedy! What an apparent waste. Oh, how evil appeared to be victorious. Where was the all-good and all-powerful God as the wicked prospered and laughed while the righteous languished and died?
But it gets worse. Stephen’s death was just the beginning of the atrocities committed against the church:
Acts 8:1-3 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. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
This execution whetted the appetite of all the antichrists, and it became open-season on Christians. Over the next months, hundreds of Christ’s closest friends and worshipers were rounded up, imprisoned, and slaughtered. Yes, a religious jihad took place in the cities of Israel at that time. The church suffered due to hate-crimes and genocide. Synagogue sponsored terrorism was the rule of the day, and God’s people were tormented.
And where was God? Did he not see it coming? Did he not care? Could not he stop it?
Can we imagine the pain of seeing father killed or a grandparent beaten, whipped and thrown in jail? Can we imagine fleeing from our home with no money, no protection, no rights, and no confidence that our family would ever be normal again? From a human perspective, it would seem the church is battling the gates of hell and hell appears to be winning. And as we struggled with our fear, anxiety, depression, anger, feelings of revenge, and hopelessness, oh how we would have deep questions for God.
However, Luke does not leave the church wallowing in depressed hopelessness:
Acts 8:4-8 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
As a result of Stephen’s pain and death, Christians were scattered. Many of them made progress in using their spiritual gifts. The Word of God was spread. Demon possessed individuals were rescued. Broken bodies were healed. Lost souls were redeemed. And the church became multi-ethnic and much more diverse. In addition, who knows how Saul of Tarsus was affected by the brave commitment of Stephen to Jesus. For in chapter nine, even Saul of Tarsus is met by Jesus and made part of his church.
Therefore, the good result of the bad persecution was the good propagation of the good Gospel and the good inclusion of men and women into the good kingdom of God. He ordained this persecution, for he “ordains whatsoever comes to pass.” God did not do the evil. God did not delight in the evil. God promised to judge the evil that was done. However, God delighted in the good results of the evil. God ordained the bad persecution in order to accomplish His good will. Ultimately, that which Saul and the antichrists did was very bad. But in the end, it was good that there was bad.
Therefore friends, the same God who ordained the bad for good purposes then, is the same God who does so today. So, what are the troubles, heartaches and difficulties that you experience? While you may not fear the loss of life due to your Christianity, you nevertheless experience great heartache and heartbreak. Some suffer physically; others suffer relationally. Mentally, some are born with serious challenges, and others develop them as they grow older. Financially, many are struggling and going deeper into debt. Yes, you may not have to run for your life right now, but many times you feel like running from your life. So you see, you are really not that different from those Christians in Jerusalem. You hurt; they hurt. You cry; they cried too. You can’t see an end to the suffering; neither could they.
So then, how now do we live and apply this message? I have eight last thoughts:
1. Reaffirm the sovereignty of God. Do not doubt for a moment his control over everything. He is the God of the good and the bad. He heals, and he maims. He is God, and he asks no permission to bless or buffet you.
2. Realize that all suffering is not punishment. One can be an obedient disciple of Christ and still be greatly buffeted by the world under the control of the King of kings.
3. Realize that all suffering will not be made right on this earth. Some are like Daniel; they find their way out of the Lion’s Den. Some are like Joseph; they go from prison to the palace. However, some are like Stephen, and they will suffer until the day of their death.
4. Realize your idolatry and repent. Whom do you worship? What do you value most? Do you really value the glorification of God more than anything? Do you desire God’s will more than your own? Will you prefer God’s good pleasure more than your own? Frankly, there is not one Christian who always wants God’s glory more than their own good pleasure and prosperity. That is why the best of believers must constantly run to the throne of grace, confess their sin, and ask for divine transformation.
5. Reacquaint yourself with the idea of eternity. Do you trust the end-promises of God? Can you endure a drop of pain for an ocean of happiness. Additionally, reacquaint yourself with the concept of eternal hell. Can you endure the pain so that others can endure the eternal damnation of God in the Lake of Fire?
6. Resolve to suffer as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Learn to live like Paul who found contentment in whatever circumstance he found himself. Learn to pray like Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Learn to thrive like Esther and march on with the attitude, “If I perish; I perish.”
7. Realize that all suffering has a purpose. God is doing something to glorify his name, grow his disciples, and build his kingdom; and he might not let you in on your part in his plan. But never doubt for a moment, there is a plan, and God will be glorified.