Times of challenge
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
Saul has been converted and because of the generosity, friendship, wholeheartedness, and witness of Barnabas is brought into the fold in Jerusalem even though the fellowship still feared him. Saul is welcomed and he sets out with zeal to proclaim the name of Jesus. The Greek Jews, having heard Saul’s witness set out to kill him and the Church spirits him away, back to his hometown of Tarsus.
The first three years since Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit had been both edifying and trying. Judas was replaced. Many believers were added. The faithful witnessed out-in-the-open. They prayed in the Temple, healed, and talked about Jesus to all who would listen. Many were added, and the Church was of one heart and soul and marked by a consistent spirit of harmony, but a price was being paid. The Apostles were hauled into court and they were whipped. Stephen was martyred.
Certainly Saul’s conversion did not end prosecution. Others likely followed in his footsteps. The Greek speaking Jews plot to kill Saul shows the hatred that existed. Yet suddenly the Church was at peace.
Some scholars point out that the Jewish leadership had to take its eyes off the Christians for a while. They were probably having bigger problems with Rome. The Governor wanted to erect a statue to Caesar in the Temple. There could be a thousand other reasons as well.
As in the early Church our faith is tested at times and at other times we find ourselves at peace. Decades ago a faith commitment was seen as a likely part of most people’s lives. Going to church and following the tenants and aims of the Christian faith were ‘normal.’ In the modern age any true witness to the reality of Jesus and commitment to following His commands would be met with laughter and mockery at a minimum. We might find ourselves thought of as old-fashioned and outdated. At the extreme we may lose friends, face ostracism at work, possible termination from jobs or clubs and organizations, and even a court appearance or two. To us these may be fates worse than death.
The common thread we hear today is that Christians must witness publicly to Jesus – to His way. We must do this whether the Church is filled with joyous zeal, is under persecution, or is living in times of peace. In all times the Church will grow in numbers by the commitment and dedication of His disciples (us) to the One who is the only truth and the true vine.