“Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Acts 7:57-60 NKJV
“As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”
Acts 8:3 NKJV
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 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.””
Acts 9:3-5 NKJV
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
II Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV
This morning I entered one of my favorite chapters in the book of Acts, chapter seven. It is the sermon of Stephen, that great deacon of the early church, whose death signaled the bloody birth of the church age, as the Gospel was dispersed into all the world.
It is also the beginning of the conversion of Saul, who will be Paul the apostle. He stood by as Stephen took the crowd opposing him through the history of Israel, through God’s constant faithfulness, and Israel’s constant infidelity.
The sermon was a detailed, and way above most of those who heard it, except one, the person of Saul. Saul was a pharisee, a teacher of the law, and he knew all that Stephen recapped.
I am sure that it was his heart that was “torn to the quick” more than any other. I can imagine that a firestorm was raging in his mind, as tradition and knowledge collided with with the Holy Spirit in the battle for his soul.
“though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Philippians 3:4-6 NKJV
I believe that the whole scene of Stephen’s death was Jesus’ personal witness to the heart of Paul. In His sovereignty, He was recreating His ministry, encapsulated in a moment, from the start of the sermon to Stephen’s last words.
“Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.”
Luke 23:34 NKJV
“Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Acts 7:60 NKJV
The grace of God flowed from the bleeding lips of Stephen, as they had from Jesus. The irresistible grace of God hammered against the stony heart of Saul. The conviction must have been overwhelming, and I am sure that he fiought against it as the inner conflict tore at him. Very often when people are faced with truth, there is great rage and anger and a desire to shut up those who are bringing that truth. Saul/Paul was no different.
I remember my own anger as I sought to hold on to my pride and self reliance in the face of the overwhelming truth of God’s word. I became angry at the people of God who He sent into my life. Each person brought the message, and each hearing was as a hammer blow on chisel, chipping way at my resistance.
By the time Saul came to the Damascus Road, he was breathing threats and destruction toward those who called on the name of the Lord. He then encountered Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, we are like Stephen as we bring the truth into a sinful world bent on its own traditions and bound for hell. Many have been deceived, like the Pharisees were, and will seek to shut us up. In the midst of it, we must proclaim the truth of the Gospel in the word of God.
We will not know if there is a Saul among them, and we will not know what God may do with that one heart once they have been converted. They be the one who proclaims the Gospel loudly as the Lord brings His final harvest.
I have many quiet times when I try to imagine heaven, of that moment I enter in. There will be that time when I see Jesus, bowing at His feet. Then there will be the long awaited reunion with family and friends who have gone before. Then I will seek out all my bible favorites. I can see Elijah and John the Baptist exchanging recipes, maybe Hannah and Mary talking about their boys. The great moment will be seeing Stephen and Paul, talking about that day when seeds were planted, the baton passed and salvation began to spread throughout the world.
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