“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Apostle Paul had seen the worst that men had to offer. The martyrdom of saints and apostles, the persecution of the early church, the oppression of men at the hands of other men as they were dragged off, crucified and beheaded, cast to the circus in Rome to be devoured by the lions or dragged out into the streets to be stoned, the hatred and the contempt gnarling the lips and overtaking the soul as life was held cheap. Torn from their families and their friends, brutality encompassed their lives, as sorrow came so easily at hand.
And he, himself, was not innocent in all of that. There was blood on his hands as well. He knew well of the subjugation of the early church because, for too long, was he a willing participant in it.
He watched as the crowds surrounded Stephen, he saw the malice in their eyes, he heard the hatred escape their lips as he felt them turn against the young disciple. They encircled him as his body fell to the ground, to the dirt and the dust that must of kicked up as he was thrown down. The first stone was tossed, then the second, then one after another, bruising the body as it crashed against the skin. He could probably hear the rock cracking the bone as it hit the skull, the blood from the once unharmed skin, now cut, dripping, flowing from the gashes to mix with the soil as he finally closed his eyes and fell into the deep slumber of death, the life escaping from his body, the final words escaping his lips, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” (Acts 7:54-8:1)
Still though, in seeing this would he go forth, persecuting, dragging men and women from their homes and their families, ripping them away from their lives to cast them to dungeons and prisons, binding them in chains of bondage. (Acts 9:1-2) The murder of Stephen would have no effect on him except to make him more zealous in his cause, more convinced that he was in fact right in his brutal actions and his bitter hatred.
Yet, what he would come to learn is that there was nothing, no power, no strength, no authority, that would rise above that which belonged to the Lord, nor was there any act that would escape the sight of God as He showed His love unto His people.
You see, wicked men, unrighteous people, they may carry on amidst their iniquity as they bring pain and suffering, sorrow and hurt into this world. It may seem as if they are an unstoppable force, an ever present danger in the lives of the people. They might go forth bringing anguish and agony as they persecute and oppress, as they, through hatred and malice, show contempt to that precious gift of life that the Lord gives us as they rob dignity of people and hold them in dark places as their sinful ways overtake them.
Still, for as much as they may seem to hold the upper hand or as much as they may come upon the weak and the downtrodden, as much as they may show that they have the ultimate authority to make slaves out of men, casting them to captivity amidst the grim bondage of this temporal existence, the battle is not over, for the victory over the spirit and the soul, it does not belong to them, it belongs to the Lord. It’s here then that He will deliver His people from all evil that would seek to overtake them, that would seek to encompass their them and swallow them whole. (1 Samuel 17:47)
Injustice and tyranny, oppression and persecution then is never left to stand, for the Lord is made manifest in the love that He has for His people and that manifestation is made apparent to us in the freedom and the liberty that it brings to the lives of His people as His grace and mercy comes to bear. Perhaps, in some cases, it is through the big and the bold signs that were given to Saul of Tarsus as he travelled on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-9), converted from his path of malice that he might make a journey of faith through the Lord, preaching and teaching the Gospel of light through Christ Jesus, proclaiming liberty in the lives of the people. At other times though it is through the world that He acts, bringing those who destroy lives and bring sorrow to justice through the hands of temporal authorities, moving in them to act that justice might be done.
Whichever way it is though that He does choose to move, what we see is the Gospel truth as it was revealed unto Paul, as it was revealed unto the Church in Rome, knowing that through Christ and his love we have become more than conquerors as the grace of the God is revealed unto us. After all, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” yet by the authority of God we are given the power to overcome whatever captivity, whatever bondage would come our way (Romans 8:35-37).
As evil is on the march, as hurt and hardship seem so near at hand, as chaos and darkness seem to set the world ablaze, we may find ourselves wondering where God could be amidst all of this. Yet the answer is never as far off at it perhaps seems to us in these times of struggle and persecution, for He is there, near to all those who call upon His name, to heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds, to proclaim freedom to the slaves and the oppressed and to set ransom even the most lost of souls, set to a sea of troubles as He shows that He is an anchor of hope and a rock of refuge in their lives.
Remember then always that there is nothing, come what may, come what must, that has the capacity to separate us from the love of God or to rip away the grace that He offers unto His people. It may seem as if we are abandoned or we are alone, it may feel as if we have been failed or forsaken, yet, in mercy, compassion, grace and love God shall reveal Himself unto us in our lives, showing unto us that there is nothing that can separate us from Him as He shelters us under His wing and gives us hope even when all seems to be hopeless to us.
Trust then no the things of this world or the illusions that it tries to foist upon us as it pretends to have all of the power and the authority, as evil men act as if it holds in its hand the ultimate triumph, for it is all vain amidst the vain pursuits of men, and we know then that God shall come in judgment to show forth His will and His ways in the lives of all those who try to assert themselves over the lives of others in the most brutal of fashions. Then shall light and love come to bear in the lives of all people in all places, regardless of where they are held or the captivity that has been asserted over them.
That is the blessed promise of the Lord, that is the wondrous mercy that is worked in our lives through His hand…
Lord, grant us faith, in all things, through all things, in that trust You offer unto us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
We, O Lord, are Your compassion and You are the strength of our souls. Walk beside us through the journeys that we make through this world and in this world, showing forth Your grace and Your love in the lives of Your people.
We implore You Lord to be true to Your promises and hold steadfast to the faith that You have given unto us. Be beside all who are held in any captivity and bondage, bringing Your mercy to bear in the lives of all the prisoners and the hostages, all of those who are persecuted and oppressed, held amidst darkness and oppression in this world. Let not their lives be held to be cheap or without dignity, let not their souls be tormented by wickedness and iniquity, but set them to liberty amidst the freedom of Your justice that they may see that there is a God, merciful and loving, who shall forever contend with their cause.
Show unto this world, as Your word says, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from” Your love given unto us in Christ Jesus, who came to set captivity captive and ransom all of us from the power of sin, death and the Devil.
Bring those who work wickedness and iniquity, those who are agents of oppression and pain amidst this world to justice Lord. Let them, amidst their works, see that there is a God who does not dwell in unrighteousness but who shall always work for the good of those who find themselves in dark and meagre estate, held by the grim sorrow of this world. Show them that You shall always move against them so long as they move in hatred against the poor and the persecuted that they may come to know that their ways are not Your ways and that Your divine will shall always triumph over darkness and hate.
Then shall all come to praise Your name for the wonders and the blessings of Your righteousness in the lives of Your people as Your way becomes the path that puts to flight all darkness that this world has to offer.
In the name of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You in the Kingdom, one God, world without end, Amen.