The View From 1776

Unexpected Benefits of Adversity

What seems to be a disaster may be God’s way of prodding us into action to accomplish larger goals.

Sunday’s sermon at the Black Rock-Long Ridge Congregational Church (North Stamford, Connecticut) was delivered by Rev. Kevin Butterfield.  His message was the need to let go, to move out of our comfort zones and become witnesses to the unchurched, secular members of society. 

It is not enough to hear and understand the Gospel; we must act upon it.  We must lead kind, respectful, loving lives, and we must seek opportunities to serve those in need.  People, particularly the young, must see us walk the talk.  Hypocritical lip service will poison evangelical progress.

After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity made rapid gains in Jerusalem.  Then disaster struck.  Stephen was stoned to death.  Christians were scattered to Judea and Samaria.  Rather than the end of the church, however, this proved to be its great beginning.

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.  (Acts 7:55-60)

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. (Acts 8:1-3)

In Shakespeare’s phrase, “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”  Persecution proved to be the spur for performance of Jesus’s Great Commission:

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.  He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. (Mark 16:14-15)

Prophetically, Jesus had told the disciples that they would preach the Gospel, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, finally to the whole world.

So when they met together, [the disciples] asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:6-8)

Thus, persecution by religious authorities in Jerusalem, with Saul among the most zealous, jolted the apostles out of their comfort zone and sent them out to witness in Judea and Samaria.  It was God’s way of fulfilling Jesus’s prophesy.

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. (Acts 8:4-6)

In the crowning irony, the arch persecutor Saul, on the road to Damascus, had his dramatic encounter with Jesus, and, becoming the Apostle Paul, established Christian churches around the Middle East and the Greek and Roman worlds.

Setting the stage for what he knew was to follow, Jesus earlier had told the disciples to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to know what they should do and to empower them to do it.

After his suffering, [Jesus] showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  (Acts1:3-5)

We too, today, can witness effectively to the atheistic, materialistic, socialistic world and convince them of the falsity of their doctrine, if we prayerfully seek the power of the Holy Spirit.