Monday, September 24, 2007

Acts 7-8:3

Chapter 7 contains Stephen's speech before his accusers. The speech can be divided into two parts. In the first part, which consists of verses 1-50, Stephen recounts God's working through his people from the time of Abraham through David and Solomon. He has the crowd's attention. He believes the same things that they believe. Onlookers no doubt wondered what the big deal was. The "big deal" begins in verse 51. That's when things get ugly.

After giving this eloquent history, Stephen rebukes the crowd by saying, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit." He accuses them of murdering the prophets who announced the coming of Jesus, and then they murdering Jesus, the Son of God.

At this the crowd has had enough. They rush Stephen, carry him out of the city, and stone him to death.

No doubt there were other Jesus-followers watching. Imagine the thoughts going through their head at this point. The fun and games are over. This is really serious! Our friend has just been killed. Maybe they even questioned how God could allow something like this to happen.

Luke mentions something else that at the time seems pretty incidental - that those stoning Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. This is incidental because we've never heard of Saul before. We're about to hear a lot about him, though. Saul was a devout Jew. He had been raised by the right parents, educated in the right schools, and apprenticed under the right teachers (for more on Saul's background, see Philippians 3:4-6, Acts 22:3, & Galatians 1:13-14). Now he was about to be unleashed on the Church.

After Stephen's speech, most of the crowd believed that he was indeed a heretic who had to be stopped. This was all that the religious leaders needed. They commissioned Saul to go throughout Jerusalem and arrest men and women from the Church. After five years of relative peace, the Church was now about to go "underground." Luke mentions that all but the apostles fled Jerusalem. We will soon discover, though, that this too was a part of God's plan.

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