We have been examining the concept of “So That…” That is to say, everything happens, “So That…” something else can happen. If we have employment it is “So That…” we can get paid. We get paid, “So That…” we can pay our bills, etc. Mom or dad fixes dinner, “So That…” the family may eat. We practice sports, band, etc., “So That…” we can perform better.
Think about it. Everything happens, “So That…” something else may happen. As we read the book of Acts in the New Testament it is evident it is evident that Jesus’ resurrection was a, “So That…” experience for those early Christians who were called people “the Way.” It was later Jesus’ followers were call, “Christians” in Acts 11:26. His disciples continued to be called people of “the Way,” through out the book of Acts.
Those early years of Christianity found them with many enemies. Having enemies, for the right reasons, is not a negative. The great Greek philosopher, Socrates wrote, “Everyone has need of a faithful friends and bitter enemies. Friends will advise him and enemies will make him look about. Much good comes by enemies, and a good use may be made of them. Were it not for enemies, how could we exercise the graces of love and charity, patience and kindness? Enemies are the fire that purges, the water that cleanses, the dross (garbage, waste matter after purifying by fire gold and silver) of our hearts.
Those early followers of Jesus were often killed, because they were believers. The first martyr was Stephen in Acts 7. Martyero is the Greek New Testament word for witness. It means to witness by word and deed, as well as to die for one’s faith. Stephen was certainly a martyero in both senses of the Greek word. He was stoned to death, a terrible death, for his witness. It was a watershed experience for the early church. Jesus’ resurrection was so important to those early believers they were willing, and considered it an honor, to die for their faith. To be absent from the body is to be present with Jesus, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10. Stephen and all people of “the Way” understood this.
After Stephen was martyred Christians no longer could feel good about their apathy. He was chosen for special ministry, because he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” Apathy is so terrible prevalent in the church today. Apathy can be explained by the following story. Three preachers died at the same time and went to heaven’s gate. St. Peter met them there and said, “We are so full, we can’t let anyone else in right now.” St. Peter said, “Why should I let you in?” So the preacher said, “Look at my knees, they are worn out, I prayed and prayed...” So St. Peter said, “Come on in.” The next preacher said, “Look at my Bible. It is worn out from preaching and studying.” So St. Peter let him in. The Lutheran preacher was next and St. Peter said, “Why should I let you in?” The preacher said, “I brought a covered dish.”
Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.” As Stephen was dying he did a most incredible thing. All these “religious folks” were standing around tossing small boulders at him. Saul, later called Paul, was there giving his approval, Acts 8:1. The people would be shouting all kind of obscenities at Stephen. Stephen would be blood soaked, bruised and crushed bones. Stephen’s final words were in Acts 7:60, “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.” As Jesus said before he died at the Crucifixion, “...Lord, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
And the progress reports in Acts witness to the fact the thousands and thousands were converted to become Christians. The four marks of the early church, which caused them to grow so rapidly were: teaching; fellowship; breaking bread together; and prayer.
In Stephen’s sermon before he was killed he called them, “…stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears. You are just like your fathers; You always resist the Holy Spirit.”
The resurrection of Jesus happened, “So That…” we might have a reason to live and a reason to die. There is nothing greater than witnessing to the salvation of Jesus. Christianity is never convenient or comfortable. In fact, Christianity always costs. Now, may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.