And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him (Acts 22:20).
This text introduces us to a man–Stephen — who died a matyr’s death. He was first introduced to us in Acts 6:5 as a “man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit“. Further on in v.8, we are told “…Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people“. Here is a man used mightily of God in what can be described as a revival and sporadic spread of the gospel in first century Christianity. We could describe him as someone with a budding future and ministry. The narrative of his great exploits for the kingdom of God flows through the rest of Acts six and the whole of Chapter seven. As the story progresses, we notice he had become a threat to the non-believing Jews because of the gospel (Acts 6:11-14).
Sadly, false accussations levelled against him led to his death: “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 5:58).
As Stephen was stoned to death, we are introduced to another young man –Saul– full of zeal but for the wrong reasons. The text at the beginning of this article was Saul recounting his life. Though his name had changed to Paul, he was the Saul mentioned in Acts 7:58. Paul had a hand in Stephen’s death. He approved of his execution (Acts 8:1). Saul was a murderer and loathed believers of his day. He had blood on his hands by the death of Stephen.
Today, if you are looking for the equivalent of Saul, cast your gaze on any of the terrorist groups around. Saul could be a leader of any one of them. He breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1). No doubt his conversion was received with apprehension (Acts 9:13-14, 21).
Paul, by our limited human reasoning, doesn’t belong in the fold of God’s people. Yet he was a chosen vessel of the Lord. (Acts 9:15). Saul was unstoppable, full of hatred for the believers of his day. But when he encountered the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus; his life was changed ( Acts 9).
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”(Acts 9:3-6).
Saul the murderer stopped in his tracks by the King of Kings and the Lord of glory, Jesus Chris and for the rest of his life he became a disciple of the Lord and what a gift he was and is to the body of Christ. Though a persecutor, nonetheless, he encountered the grace of God and was transformed. Hear him speak: “by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1Cor15:20).
You see, irrespective of the life you haved lived or are still living–muderer, fornicator, adulterer and any sin under the sun–Paul’s life is a great testimony that none is beyond the reach of the grace of God. God’s grace pardons. Pardon and forgiveness of sin is available through the atoning sacrifice of Christ: “…he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor. 5:21). God’s arms of grace are outstretched to you a sinner. Come just as you are and He will cleanse you from your sin and set your life on a path of restoration from the atrocious grip of sin.
[I] implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2Cor. 5:20).