“And the high priest said, ‘Are these things so?’ And Stephen said . . .” (7:1). Stephen stood up. He spoke. And how he spoke! Speaking to his own Jewish people, he started with Abraham and God's promises and faithfulness to him. Then there were Isaac and Jacob, and the people went down to Egypt to find food during a famine. The Lord providentially sent Joseph ahead of his family. Moses . . . the Exodus and all the miracles God did . . . Solomon and the temple . . . the prophets. How great was God’s faithfulness to his people! And then, in Stephen’s day, God had sent his only son to them, but they rejected him. Grinding their teeth, they rushed at Stephen and stoned him to death.
A bad, bad scene. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus, asked God to forgive his killers, and fell asleep in the Lord. Standing there through all this was Saul, who “approved of the execution” (8:1). Another instance of the evil one surely thinking he has gained a great victory. However, the message and example of Stephen and the eventual conversion of Saul and his ministry as Paul all prove the supposed victory to be a lie. God will have his way. And so, Saul ravaged the church, but eventually he spread the gospel throughout the world. Philip preached the gospel to Samaria, to the Ethiopian eunuch, and all the way to Caesarea. Saul proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues in Damascus, had to escape to Jerusalem, and there testified of God’s grace in his life.
“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up” (9:30). And so much more is yet to come!
Faith of the martyrs, living still
in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
whene’er we hear that glorious word! --Frederick William Faber (1849)