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"And Saul Approved of Their Killing Him"
Encounters With Jesus
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. (From Acts 7)
Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin accused of blasphemous acts against the law of Moses and against God. Several years prior, another man stood before the Sanhedrin charged with the same crime--this man was Jesus.
We are told by the author of Acts that Stephen seized this opportunity as a time to force the Jews to realize that they were rejecting God's message. Stephen's last sermon infuriated the Jewish leaders to the point that they stoned Steven to death. In the midst of the stoning, Stephen encounters Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. We are told that Stephen's face "shone like the face of an angel."
The story of Stephen is far more that the story of a martyr. The author of Acts uses the story of Stephen to introduce a young Jewish scholar named Saul. We are simply told that Saul "was there, giving approval to his death." We are also told that the young man stood and looked on as he took care of the men's garments during the stoning.
How many times have we heard a verdict and agreed that justice was served? I imagine that Saul possessed these same feelings and felt that Stephen deserved to die. Now, think about the number of times that we thought justice was served only to realize that we were wrong. Saul would soon realize his error in judgement when he encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus.
In Acts 9:1, we read that "Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the LORD's disciples." Prior to his conversion, he was angry, vindictive, and eager to destroy to this new way of thinking called Christianity, but his mindset would soon change during his encounter with Jesus. The story of Saul's conversion is perhaps one of the most beautiful stories in the New Testament because it truly reflects the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power to soften even the most hardened of hearts.
Sometimes I am amazed by Christ's power to transform our lives. Christ has the power to change our ways of thinking. He has the power to change our hearts, but we have to be receptive to His voice. Although we do not see Christ in a bright flash of light as Saul did that day on the road to Damascus, we do have that still, small voice that comes to us when we least expect it. However,like Saul, we must learn to let go of some teachings or beliefs that challenge our perceptions of right and wrong. This contradiction of beliefs often forces us to struggle and wrestle with our conscience, but we must all endure the battle if we seek true transformation.
The story of Saul proves that Christ can turn people around and use them for His holy purpose. If Christ can turn Saul into Paul, the great missionary and preacher, imagine what He can do for you.