Pain has always been a part of life. A mother carries a baby in her womb and with difficulty a child is born … but that knowledge of pain has not slowed the number of people born on earth. The first experiences of life consist of pain … the first slap on the behind, growing your first teeth, learning how to walk, and all of these are a part of life’s experience. As we grow up we discover emotional pain as our tender emotions of childhood are turned upside down as we grow through puberty and our teen years. Job said, “Man’s days are few and full of trouble …” Job 14:1 But God’s design is for us to find what He is doing while life goes on!
In Acts chapters 6, 7 & 8 we have seen Satan do all he can to hinder the Church of Jesus Christ: Annanias and Sapphira lie about their donations to the church, the Hellenistic Jews complain about how the food is being distributed, one the newly chosen deacons by the name of Stephen is stoned to death, and a grand scale persecution of church erupts with Saul of Tarsus dragging Christians off to jail! Where is God when things like this happen!
Have you ever had a series of events like this? Has your faith ever been shaken? Do you ever wonder if God went on a journey somewhere? I want you to know that God never loses control and He is always working to bring forth righteousness.
4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.
First we need to know that God often uses adversity to fulfill His plan. The disciples had been given the plan of God, Matt 28:19A Go ye therefore into all the world@ and again in Acts 1:8AYou shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.@ But the Gospel had stayed in Jerusalem up to this point! The Lord used the adversity to move the disciples from Jerusalem on to Samaria!
None of us enjoy adversity, but we need to recognize that some of the greatest decisions in life have come as a result of adversity. It was because of persecution of the church in England that settlers left there and established colonies in America! It was because of excess taxation that the colonist declared their independence from England and we became a new nation. History is full of good decisions which were produced by adversity! Emmanuel Church was born because of some adversity in our mother church over the gift of tongues!
The early church responded to adversity by spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ further than it had gone before! I believe it was Bill Bright who first said, AI wonder how God is going to get us out of this one,@ when difficult times came. It is often in adversity that we pray more, believe God for greater miracles, and yes, we often submit ourselves to Him in repentance and a greater commitment to obedience when we face those difficult times. God does use the adverse circumstances of our life to bring about His perfect plan! Look for God in times of difficulty!
God uses times of adversity to make peace between those who have been enemies.
From the time of Pentecost until Acts chapter 8, the Christian church was primarily Jewish. They continued to meet at synagogues and at the Temple, they kept the Law of Moses, and they considered themselves a part of the Jewish religion. However, the Samaritans were part Jewish ... and part Assyrian ... and there was a long standing enmity between the two nations.
It was the Samaritans who had offered to help Zerubbabel rebuild the Temple after it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Zerubbabel declined the offer and from that time on they opposed his work. When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans again offered to help and were refused. Again they opposed his work. When Ezra came to Jerusalem after this, he found many of the men of Israel had married the Samaritan women and had families with them. He demanded they divorce their wives, disown their children, and send them all back to their families! There wasn't a lot of Agood will between the two nations!
It was one thing for a newly selected deacon to wander off to Samaria and preach, but after the revival they had with Stephen ... the Apostles in Jerusalem wanted to be involved!
14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
The Samaritans had accepted Jesus as the Lord of their lives, they had been baptized in water, but they had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Stephen thought the work of the Holy Spirit was a Jewish experience ... I don=t know ... but when the apostles arrived the laying on of hands for the infilling of the Holy Spirit was their first priority.
There are a number of Christians who have received Christ and have been baptized in water, and have never had hands laid on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. If you are one of them, may I encourage you to find someone to pray with you to receive the Holy Spirit? It was important to Jesus! He told the disciples to not leave Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and now the apostles act quickly to bring the Samaritans into an experience of the Holy Spirit. If this was important to Jesus and to the apostles, shouldn't it be important to us, too?
The Scripture does not say what the manifestation of the Holy Spirit was when the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit, but Simon the Sorcerer saw or heard something which amazed him! He offered money in order to obtain such a powerful gift!
20 But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!@
Money can=t purchase the gift of they Holy Spirit, nor can it bring peace between bitter enemies. Money can=t buy love! Only God can bring love and peace in the presence of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit!
God often used adversity in order to fulfill His plan, to bring enemies together to make peace, and He often uses adversity to touch the deep places of our hearts.
We noticed the man named Saul who heartily agreed with Stephen=s stoning. He took it upon himself to make havoc of the church in Jerusalem and was the one creating most of the adversity for the church. But I want you to know ... God has His eye on him!
Let me ask you ... what would you want God to do to the person who created havoc in your life? If someone burst into your home uninvited and dragged your loved one off to prison ... and they never returned ... what would you pray would happen to that person?
Obviously, most of us know the story of Saul ... he became the Apostle Paul! That is what God did to him! This was not a nice guy! Yet God had a special plan for his life, too!
1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"
Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"
Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
The most amazing stories ever told are not about physical healings ... but about the miracle of God=s forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom told of one of the horrible prison guards who mistreated them in the Nazi prison camps, who met her after the war and explained that God had forgiven Him ... and he wanted to ask her forgiveness as well. It was difficult ... but not too difficult for God.
I don=t know what was in the deep parts of the man named Saul of Tarsus. The manifestation of what was there was displayed with anger, bitterness, hatred, and murder. Most of us do not have that kind of response to life! But the list of those who have include people like Hitler ... and the latest serial murderer called the BTK killer.
Can God forgive such atrocities? With God all things are possible. But the question is not about Hitler nor the BTK killer ... it=s about you and its about me. What is in your heart? Often we hide deep sins, long lost hurts, mistrust of others, unforgiveness, and we refuse to deal with it until we find ourselves in the midst of adversity.
Take a look at Saul of Tarsus. He is in the center of the storm of adversity ... he is the major cause of it! Yet he is also being torn by the emotional upheaval he is creating! He is like someone who is kicking his legs against sharp wooden sticks ... and he keeps on doing it! Then Jesus steps into the picture. It is only then that Saul realizes that his anger and torment isn't directed toward people ... its directed toward Jesus Christ! His struggle was against God.
Times of adversity are often used by God to help us see the deep places in our hearts ... the places where we are tormented and driven. It is out of this poisoned well that we frequently hurt others, say things which damage relationships, and we wish we could change. We are caught in the habit of kicking against the sharp sticks of life ... we damage ourselves and others ... and Jesus is waiting to get our attention to change us!
Jesus used this time of adversity to call Saul into a place of discipleship ... and then a place of leadership as the Apostle Paul. There is no end to the possibilities of what God can do in your life and mine! If we let Him.
Have you faced some adversity? Perhaps its there as a reminder to help you find the plan God has for your life? Or perhaps there are some old scores that aren't settled between you and the Samaritans of your life! Are you ready to go pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you up to overflowing?
Let God make your hard times into harvest times!