“Saul approved of his execution.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison…
“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Acts 8:1,3; 11:19-26
The ravaging of the early church could have appeared to be its demise, but in fact, it worked just the opposite. The more vehement the persecution, the more the church spread, and grew. The Lord often does that- turns the plots of men into fodder for bringing about His purposes. What enemies meant for evil, God used for amazing good, to scatter and multiply His church. (Genesis 50:20)
When Jesus died, His agony was excruciating, and on the surface appeared a failure of His mission. But as God always does, He overturned the wisdom of man to accomplish His eternal, redemptive plan for mankind. He does so for us today. Truly, we do not see the way He sees. He sees, and brings about, growth from persecution, fruit from barrenness, life from death. (Isaiah 53:2-6; 55:8-9; John 12:24; 1 Corinthians 1:20,25)
Who wants hardship? Mistreatment? A cross? Often we’d choose to remain quiet and hide our faith over speaking up and being cancelled, ridiculed, hated, or persecuted. But God intends and uses and redeems our trials in marvelous ways we would not otherwise know, in ways we could not beforehand imagine. He raises up Antiochs in our hardest of hard circumstances, and therein, gloriously, displays grace and gladness. He stretches and matures us, and is magnified as we share the sufferings of Christ in His power. If we grasp the ‘better’ of God’s eternal plan, we will learn to endure for the joy that is ahead, though presently unseen. This is an adventure in bold faith, and it is always worth it. (Philippians 3:10; Hebrews 12:2-3)
Do we buckle under suffering, and view it as a dead end? Considering the Lord’s infinite wisdom and goodness, what possibilities for growth and glory might we expect, and even participate in, instead?
Lord, help me see with eyes of faith beyond today’s hurt to tomorrow’s Antioch, where You are exalted and bearing much fruit.