“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”
Stephen. The first person to die for his faith in Jesus Christ. The first martyr.
Stephen is preaching in a synagogue, his words drive the present Jews into such a fury that they take him outside and stone him to death. A brutal death.
The anger and rage that overtook these men was extreme. I feel safe assuming that none of you reading have seen an anger so intense that it resulted in a man being stoned to death.
Imagine the men…frothing at the mouth, pupils dilated, sweat dripping from their brow, so angry that they cover their ears and scream at the top of their lungs as they rush at a man, drag him outside, and throw rocks at him until his body is ruined. As his blood pours out of his broken body he ends his life with these words.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Stephen was a true follower of Christ. His life and death oozed a love and commitment to Jesus that we should all desire to have. But today’s lesson isn’t just about Stephen. It’s about one of the men that killed him.
“Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul” Acts 7:58b
As the furious crowd murdered Stephen there was one man there named Saul, as the men begin to stone Stephen they realize they are going to get covered in his blood. As the rocks hit home they will send back sprays of blood on the men throwing.
So Saul calls out “Hey! Guys! Give me your coats. So they don’t get this guys blood on them, I’ll keep an eye on them for you”
They do and Saul sits back, by the coats. Watching and giving approval to the murder of Stephen.
“And Saul approved of their killing him.”
This Saul guy seems like a terrible person. And he is. Saul was on the hunt for men like Stephen. He spent his time, energy, and life, tracking these Christians down. Then he had them arrested, persecuted, and killed. Saul was full of passion for what he believed. So much passion that he was willing to kill for what he believed.
And that’s where we see that Saul’s passion was being misused. His passion was selfish. He was willing to kill for what he believed. Today we will see Saul’s passion re-oriented, we will see Saul’s passion pointed in the direction of the truth. We will see the most powerful change of all. We will see Saul change from willing to kill, to willing to die.
After Stephens death Saul heads to Damascus to continue his mission of eliminating Christians. On the road to Damascus Saul’s life will do a 180. Saul will change from persecutor to persecuted.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'”
A dramatic intervention is what takes place on Saul’s road trip. He is visited by the very presence of God. Once this interaction with God is finished Saul is blinded and is helped to Damascus. Then Ananias, a disciple of the lord living in Damascus, came to Saul and healed his blindness.
Saul was baptized and then spent some time with the disciples in Damascus learning about this Jesus who had just changed his life forever. He immediately began to preach the word of Jesus in the synagogues.
Saul is refereed to by a new name from then on in The Bible.
The New Testament is full of stories about Paul. The New Testament is written mostly by Paul. He spent the rest of his life teaching the word and spreading the salvation message to the Gentiles.
We are first introduced to Paul as the man watching the coats at the stoning of Stephen. Now I want us to look at a story in which the roles in a stoning are changed.
Paul is in Lystra preaching. He has been traveling for some time now teaching and starting churches everywhere he goes. Before Paul was in Lystra he was in Antioch. The Jews in Antioch did not take kindly to Paul’s message and plotted to kill him. Paul flees to Lystra where he begins teaching again. Progress is being made in the people life’s in Lystra, the Christ is at work. But then the people from Antioch show up.
“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.”
Paul is stoned. Left outside the city. Believed to be dead.
I wonder what was going through Paul’s mind when he regained consciousness. I wonder if Paul laid there in his own pool of blood thinking “Yup. I used to do the same thing when someone told me about Jesus.”
Paul then does an amazing thing. He gets up and goes back into the city. He goes back into the city full of people that just tried to murder him. People that thought they had murdered him.
I would have ran.
Gotten really far away from Lystra and the murders of Antioch. However, Paul goes back in. Because Paul has been there. Because Paul knows what it’s like to stone someone for preaching Jesus. Paul knows that even if they are so against the idea of Jesus that they kill those who follow him, that they still aren’t too far gone.
That nobody is too far gone.
Paul goes on to be a pillar of the early church. He starts churches all over the known world. He is the first to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. He goes on to write 13 books in the New Testament. And ultimately he is killed for his faith.
We see that God didn’t count Paul out. That God doesn’t condemn those that mess up. That God doesn’t condemn those that kill his followers. That God offers redemption and hope to every single person that still draws breath.
To nonbelievers; Don’t think for a second that you are too far gone for God to forgive. Nothing you have done, nothing that has been done to you disqualifies you from His love and forgiveness. Remember God used a murderer to write the New Testament.
To Christians; Don’t pretend to be bigger than God. Don’t make decisions for God about who He can save. Don’t count people out because you think they are too far gone. Remember God used a murderer to write the New Testament.
We find Paul as the Christian hunter. We find Paul as the guy so full of hate for Jesus he condemns His followers. We find Paul as the guy watching the coats during the stoning of Stephen.
We leave Paul as the man who preached the Truth to the Gentile world. We leave Paul as the man who wrote half the New Testament. We leave Paul as the man who died for his faith in Jesus.