“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting.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. NLTActs 7:51-60
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.Acts 8:1-3
Luke makes it very clear to us where Saul was at, at this time in his life. Although he has been taught by Gamaliel, he was certainly not a moderate like his mentor. Luke has painted the scene for us well. Saul was a witness to Stephen’s stoning. He saw the reactions of both sides and the true nature of each man involved. It is also likely that he heard the advice which Gamaliel gave to the Sanhedrin. He witnessed the violent reaction of the religious leaders as well. Despite all of that, he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. That is an indictment against Saul. He has to have known what the Law of Moses required and the correct procedure to be followed in order to stone someone for blasphemy and/or speaking against God. But there is no evidence whatsoever for such a charge. He has seen with his own eyes the actions of Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, contrasted with the reactions of the religious leaders full of anger, wrath and fury – without cause. He has heard, assumedly, Gamaliel’s advice on what to do. But Saul has turned a deaf ear to that advice and agrees with the actions of the mob. There is no indication here that Saul was fearful of the mob reaction and was simply swept along by it. Rather, the way Luke has written this account, he places the responsibility firmly on Saul. Saul wasn’t a victim of mob rule nor innocently caught up by it. Saul was one of the instigators of the persecution. Saul not only agreed with the murderers but he became involved in the action. Many times we can agree with something or give it tacit approval but not involve ourselves to the point where we do something about it. Nor take action to further the cause we agree with. Most people give mental agreement to something they half heartedly believe but never take the next step to becoming actively involved in furthering the cause.
Saul on the other hand agreed completely, 100% we could say, with his body, soul, mind and spirit. I.e. with the totality of his being. This was the beginning of a great wave of persecution against the church and Saul was instrumental in it happening. In fact the inference was that he was either leading it or one its prime instigators. Saul had gone from holding the clothes to wielding the sword. Notice the few brief words that are said of the part he played in the persecution. He went EVERYWHERE, from HOUSE to HOUSE, dragging out both men and WOMEN in order to throw them in prison, for the end goal of destroying the church. It takes a very callous, heartless, unfeeling person to take this action against WOMEN as well as men. What was Jesus’ summation of all this activity? He proposed to build His church (the body of believers) on the confession of their faith and trust in Him. Furthermore, He said even the gates of hell would not prevail against this body of believers called the Church. The conclusion is that right from the outset, Saul is set on a collision course with the Messiah who had come.
The story is set for a showdown. Have you noticed what has been happening for the last few chapters in the Book of Acts? The opposition has been growing more and more intense and the Jewish leaders have come more and more to the foreground. Until now, they have been able to play a subversive role behind the scenes. They have subtly been able to stir up the opposition at a distance and leave others to do their dirty work by paying them as a subversive undercover force. But with this latest incident they have come out on stage in their true colours. Stephen’s pointed comments and skilful re-telling of the story from another perspective has brought out their violent, malevolent reaction in the murdering of Stephen. Like he said to them:_
You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah, whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.Acts 7:51-53
Those are very strong words in the context of them being said to the religious leaders of the day.
Now let me draw your attention to something else that has happened in stark contrast to Stephen’s saintliness. Saul has seen all of the above and has been an eyewitness to the events surrounding Stephen and has been personally taught by Gamaliel himself, the one who offered the Godly wisdom to the full Council. “Stand back and wait and see. If God is behind all these happenings then you will only be pitting yourself against Him.” This young rising star of a Pharisee has done just that. He is now the next one in line to do exactly what Stephen has suggested. Saul is now the one to pick up the baton on behalf of the religious leaders. He is the next in line to take upon himself the role of resisting the Holy Spirit, persecute those who bring the Word of the Lord (the prophets) and siding with those who killed the Messiah, the Righteous One who had come. Now he is persecuting Jesus’ followers and throwing them in prison. Saul is well and truly the next radical to take up the cause for the religious leaders. This young man, Saul, has taken up the mantel to persecute Jesus’ disciples. Did you catch the subtle hint in the fact that the coats of members of the Sanhedrin were laid at Saul’s feet? Now Saul has taken on the role as the leader of the persecution of this new Way and he is doing it with all his might. Everywhere, in every house and to everyone, men and women. Watch this space. Saul is on a collision course with the One whose followers he is persecuting. He has been radicalised by those opposed to his mentor and his Messiah.
Don’t ever let anyone turn your sky into a ceiling!Rick Godwin
Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.Ian Vail
The will of God and the manifestation of His presence is irresistible.Anon
If you oppose what God intends to bring to pass then you pit yourself against the One who formed the heaven and the earth by His words.Ian Vail
Unless you can create the whole universe in 5 days, then perhaps giving “advice” to God isn’t such a good idea.Anon
Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.Anon
No matter what your problem is – don’t nurse it, don’t curse it, don’t rehearse it. Just call on God and He’ll reverse it.Jussar Badudu
Now sit back and watch what happens to this young radicalised Pharisee with a murderous heart.