June 13th 2009

Saul And Stephen

1 of 12 weekly studies taken from Acts 7 to Acts 14

“Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he fell on his knees and cried out, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
Acts 7:58-8:3 (NIV UK)

Each Saturday from now until the end of August we plan to look at the life of Paul up to Acts 14. Today’s story happened before Paul’s name was changed from Saul.

The first glimpse we have of Saul is surrounded by drama. In his sermon Stephen had preached that his listeners “always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51). Infuriated, the crowd stoned Stephen to death. Saul assented to this murder, and proceeded to persecute the church “intensely”. His aim was to destroy it (Galatians 1:13).  

What motivated such hostility? Pharisees like Saul had killed Christ out of envy. Jesus was too popular, and now the focus was on His followers. Saul also sought to “please men” (Galatians 1:10). His status had advanced in Judaism beyond many of his contemporaries, and he was “extremely zealous” for the traditions of the fathers (1:14). Was it that Saul had ambitions and desired to stay in favour with his Pharisee peers as well as being supportive of the Old Testament way of life, which itself was now under threat due to the new Christian teachings from men such as Stephen?

Note Saul went from house to house and dragged both men and women off to prison. How would you have reacted to such persecution? Could it happen again? The answer is yes, it could. In fact in some areas of the world believers face persecution to this day because they proclaim Jesus as King and Lord.

Following Jesus and doing what He says provokes strong reactions.  Sometimes people hate us for it.  “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake”, said Jesus (Luke 21:16-17).

Merciful Father, please let your Holy Spirit comfort those who suffer for the sake of Jesus and His gospel. Give me the boldness to stand up for what I believe when faced with hostility and even persecution from others.

Study by James Henderson

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