Stephen is a great hero of our faith who does not get a lot of limelight, as he is only covered at the end of chapter six and chapter seven. He is an honorable man we can all learn a lot from, as he was willing to lay it all on the line.
At the end of chapter six, Stephen was seized for preaching about Jesus of Nazareth. Some false witnesses ensured that he would get into trouble with the high priest and other Jewish officials. The high priest had Stephen speak for himself, and that is the majority of the content in chapter seven. In the first 50 verses of Acts chapter seven, Stephen provides a pretty nice summary from Abraham to King David. At the conclusion of this summary, he begins to rip into the Jews for being a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears,” (Acts 7:51).
The Jews did not take too kindly to the words of Stephen, so they decided to stone Stephen. I can’t even imagine the level of pain Stephen would have been going through, as he was being stoned to death. If it were me, I would have been so riled up in anger, and I would have wanted to retaliate. However, that is not the course of action that Stephen took. Just moments before Stephen’s death, he fell “to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep,’” (Acts 7:60). What a way to go out!
Stephen followed the example set by his Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, as Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the people who crucified him. There is so much to be learned in this short recording of the life of Stephen, a lesson of strength and grace.
At the same time that Stephen’s life comes to an end, we are introduced to the man who wrote nearly half of the books of the New Testament. It is an introduction that is only made for the movies (and, well, the Bible). This man proved to be a foundational piece in the spreading of the gospel message. He would go by the name of Saul.
Saul is introduced in the scriptures as approving the execution of Stephen, a hero of our Christian faith. Not only did Saul approve the execution of one man, but he “ravaged” the church. Saul went from house to house finding people who claimed to believe in Jesus. Once he found these people, he would send them to prison. Surely, this led to many of them having to die for their faith.
What an awful start to one’s life! Thank the LORD that Saul did not follow this course of action for much longer, as we will see in the coming chapters. We can learn from Saul that God is willing, able, and wanting to use anybody, no matter what someone has committed in their past.
Let this serve as an encouragement to you, as you may struggle with some choices you have made in your past. Don’t let decisions you made in your past prevent you from being an instrument of God’s work, as God was even willing, wanting, and able to use the likes of Saul, a man who persecuted many Christians. Praise God that we serve a forgiving God.
There’s a lot to learn here, as we take a look at the life of Stephen and the introduction of Saul. It’s my prayer that we all learn to have the strength and grace of Stephen, and we don’t let our past stop us from serving God like Saul.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Acts 7-8
Tomorrow we continue the story of Saul with chapters 9-10. Don’t miss it!