The Reprieve

US FlagBy Dr. Rick Flanders

“Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”

(Acts 9:31)

One important effect of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and his departure from Jerusalem to his home city of Tarsus, was the experience of “rest” (“peace” in the Greek) among the Christian churches he had been persecuting.  Persecution was and is an unavoidable part of the Christian life (according to Matthew 5:10, John 15:18-25, and also Second Timothy 3:12) but, for a time, the early churches experienced a reprieve from trouble for their faith through the removal of their chief persecutor.  It is obvious that the Lord gave them relief in order to facilitate the progress of the Gospel.  Sometimes in history, God will give His servants relief from persecution to open the door for them to spread the Gospel more rapidly.

Spreading the Gospel is what churches are meant to do!  The program the churches followed at the first was the one outlined and mandated by the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Olives just before He ascended into heaven.  He said,

“Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

(Acts 1:8)

They were to be filled with the Holy Spirit and then in the power of the Spirit to evangelize the city of Jerusalem and continue to evangelize the surrounding area, the next country, eventually getting the Gospel of Christ to “the uttermost part of the earth.”  Follow the progress of the following of this plan by the followers of Jesus in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles.  Read the first chapters, and see what happened.

  1. The believers at Jerusalem were indeed filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and empowered to give effective testimony to the resurrection of Christ, and its saving message (chapters 1 and 2).
  2. That congregation grew by adding new believers and by multiplying disciples (chapters 2 through 7).
  3. The apostles, who led the Jerusalem church, were for some reason slow to move on to the “all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” sections of the Lord’s commission, but stayed in Jerusalem for years enjoying the fruit of their evangelism. As a result, God, Who was and is serious about the Acts 1:8 program scattered the believers away from Jerusalem through the harsh persecution of a Jewish fanatic named Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:1-4).
  4. The Christians persecuted by Saul were scattered all over that part of the Near East, spreading the Gospel. They became active in establishing new Christian churches all over the region (see Acts 8:5-40 and 11:19-26).
  5. Important in the progress of this multiplication of churches was the reprieve God gave them through the conversion of Saul to Christ, and his being sent away to Tarsus of Cilicia (Acts 9:1-31).

Although dedicated believers in Jesus will be persecuted for His sake, the reason God gave the churches relative “rest” for the period initiated in Acts 9:31 is clear, and it is the same reason He may sometimes provide a “reprieve” for His servants today.  He was opening the door for the rapid multiplication of churches.  Find in the record of the Acts how the Christians spread the Gospel of Christ through the rest of Judea, how God changed the minds of His people about evangelizing the Gentiles so that they would not hesitate to give the Good News to anyone, how churches began reproducing new churches, and how the churches started sending out missionaries!  All of this happened after God gave them rest.  See it in chapters 9 through 15, and onward!

Some believe that God’s people in our country and in the world have recently been given a “reprieve” from some difficulties through recent changes in the government.  Our national election on November 8 has certainly removed much of the threat of severe persecution that has been hanging over our heads.  Now don’t think that God is a Republican.  Don’t even think that He is an American.  But He is the Ruler over all, and has His way in the affairs of state (familiarize yourself with this fact by studying Psalm 75, Proverbs 21:1, Daniel 4, and Romans 13:1-7).  And the big Republican victory on Election Day has given Christians somewhat of a reprieve to carry on more vigorously and with less outside hindrance the evangelizing of the world.

Let’s not get into an argument, but let us face certain important facts about the results of this past election.  The election of the other side would have given us credible reasons to expect persecution by the federal government we Christians have never seen in this country since the Bill of Rights was passed.  Among those reasons are these.

  1. The Democratic nominee and her husband have made public statements overseas that they would seek to block further missionary work by American churches in certain countries. Missionaries were warning us about this during the campaign.
  2. Significant cultural changes undoing the norms of Western civilization would occur in the next few years because of the appointment of radical activist judges to the United States Supreme Court. The Democratic Party by various means of expression promised the appointment of such liberal justices who would not only preserve the extreme departures from traditional standards that have already come through recent Court decisions, but would also render many more destructive decisions, which would shape the brave new world in which our children would live and rear their families.  These decrees would also set Christians up to be persecuted.
  3. The government would seek to force Christians and their churches to abandon their Biblical convictions and conform to the new standards of progressivism. When dealing with the question of what churches would do about new laws that require acceptance of homosexuality and the right of a woman to extinguish the life of a child in her womb, the Democratic nominee said that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”  For a politician to say that religious biases would have to be changed must mean that the government must force religious people to change their beliefs and practices.  Of course anything like this would require the state to ignore the protection of religious liberty.  This right is already being violated in other countries through the passage and enforcement of laws against “hate speech” and against religious people who “discriminate against” people who want to violate divine law.  Hate speech laws want to say that you can’t even publicly disapprove of certain sinful practices.  At this point, even “hate speech” (defined in a variety of ways” is still free speech, but the Democratic agenda put it and the free exercise of religion in real danger.  But now, for a while, it seems that we have a reprieve.
  4. The world will become increasingly more dangerous for Christians and Christian activity if those in power in the United States continue to make our country weaker and weaker in international affairs. The bloody massacre of thousands of believers in Christ simply because of their unrelenting faith will no doubt grow under the kind of foreign policy our nation has followed for nearly a decade.  The restoration of American strength on the world stage would make Christians safer everywhere.
  5. A political philosophy that demands bigger government and higher taxes by definition restricts the freedom of Christians to do God’s work and to finance the spread of the Gospel. The Bible tells us to pray that our rulers will allow us simply to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (First Timothy 2:1-2).  Christians want to be left alone so that we can be free to spread the Gospel and live lives that conform to the will of God.  We will not be looking for subsidies or federal programs to meet our needs.  Such an expansion of state activity limits our freedom to live the Bible way and do the work of the Gospel.  The Democrats were promoters of big government, but if the Republicans are telling us the truth, we have been given a reprieve from the threat of overbearing socialism, at least for a time.

Wednesday morning, November 9, did not give the people of God the dawn of the Millennium.  It did not bring us great joy over the character and faith of everyone that had been elected to office the day before.  But it may well have given us some kind of reprieve (“stay of execution, amnesty”) from the threat of imminent persecution and restriction of our freedom to evangelize.  God has granted us “rest” that we might preach and add believers to the churches and multiply the disciples of Jesus and, yes, multiply the true churches of Jesus Christ around the world.  Now is the time rise up and renew our lives to be lived for Christ.  It is not the time to sit back and count our investments, or just stop worrying so much.  It is not time to feel beholding to a political party or politicians.  It is time for revival.  The truth is that renewed believers in Christ ought to be going from street to street every day, spreading the Gospel.  Our churches should be filled to capacity and our prayer meetings attended like our other services are.  We didn’t get new leadership in order to make our nation great.  God has given us a reprieve to evangelize the world!


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