When we get to the life of Paul in the book of Acts, the first reference to him was at the execution of a Christ follower named Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:1):
They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. — Acts 7:58-8:1
Perhaps Saul the Pharisee needed to oversee this event because he remembered the whole situation with Lazarus. In that story Lazarus died (John 11:14) and Jesus decides to go back to Judea where only a few days earlier the “people” tried to kill Jesus (John 11:7-8). The resurrection of Lazarus was a powerful testimony to Jesus and His mission and many people came to faith in Him (John 11:45, 48, 53, 57, 12:9, 17). To top off this celebration of people coming to faith in Jesus, the religious leaders decided to go ahead and kill Lazarus, too (John 12:10). I find that ironic, but Saul may have had this batched execution in mind when he came to witness the elimination of Stephen.
The Bible says that Stephen was a man full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, faith, grace and God’s power (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). This tells me he was more than just a believer in Christ but had surrendered his whole life to Him. This is not just for those who eventually become pastors and missionaries, but for all of us.
During the stoning, Stephen showed such meekness, which is defined as power under control. He had such confidence in his message and did not fear the people who sought to do him harm. He stood before the religious leaders, who were shocked to see that he had the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). Moses may have had this same look when he came down from meeting with God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29). King Solomon wisely confirms that wisdom brightens a man’s face (Ecclesiastes 8:1). Whatever they thought, they did not expect to hear a history lesson of their ancestors being a stubborn people who killed God’s prophets and were disobedient to God’s laws (Acts 7:51, 52, 53). That was the last straw; they were ticked at him (Acts 7:54).
As frightening as this situation must have been, Stephen demonstrates the attitude of Jesus himself and asks that God not hold this sin against them (Acts 7:60). Forgiveness is a hard thing to do; the message and Bible study this past Sunday was called, strong families forgive. It is only through forgiveness that we can free ourselves of bitterness that will permeate all parts of our lives, not to mention that forgiveness is a powerful witness of Christ in our lives.
We tend to equate victory in our lives with survival, but the apostles had a different understanding… that they would be counted worthy to suffer or die for Christ (Acts 5:41). I like this picture given in Acts 7:56; did you catch it? The heavens open and Stephen sees Jesus standing in the place of honor. That which was happening on earth was so significant that it brought the Son of God to His feet. While Stephen was standing up for Christ, Jesus stood up for him. Stephen may have been covered in his own blood, but he was also covered by the blood of Christ. Stephen got a standing ovation from the only One who mattered.
Saul was a witness of all this and he was no innocent bystander. The Bible says that he gave approval for all this (Acts 8:1). The word used means “to take pleasure with” and the grammatical tense is continuous or repeated action; so basically he was cheering. At the same time, Jesus is standing in heaven noticing every act in this play on earth. One man was covered in blood; the other is covered by prayer shawls. One could not save himself from men; the other could not save himself from sin.
So, consider examining yourself to see whether you are on board with the mission of Christ or if you are actually an obstacle in God’s path. Are you striving to be found faithful by God, or will you allow the world to conform you into its image? I hope that one day, maybe every day, Jesus would stand to His feet and take notice of how we are involved in the Mission of God. How about you? What can you do for the kingdom of God?