Stephen and Saul
ďAnd cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down
their clothes at a young manís feet, whose name was Saul.Ē-Acts 7:58.
When we see the martyrdom of Stephen we donít see the pain and the suffering of Stephen as the Holy Spirit doesnít tell us, however the Holy Spirit takes another line, that is to show the triumph of the martyr.
Acts 6: 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
The martyrs entered into a heavenly peace. However, in this instance, the Holy Spirit allowed† the pen of
Luke to record that the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. According to the Jewish law, the witnesses were first ones to throw the† stones. They were the leading† executioners, for they gave evidence against the person whom they accused, then the witnesses will kill with their stones. For them to throw the stones, they will have to take their long flowing robes off and they will lay it down in the one who is in charge of, in this case it was young Saul. He is the one who is in charge of and one who will be delighted to see the death of Stephen, that person in this case was young Saul.
I would like to show you the contrast of Stephen and Saul.
They were both sincere men. There was no hypocrisy about Stephen. You could see that the words that he spoke came from his heart. Neither was there any hypocrisy about Saul. He really thought that he was doing Godís service in what he did. He was quite as sincere, in his own way as he thought he was doing something good for God as he wanted to kill the one who was in opposition to Jewish tradition.† Both had strong convictions, Stephen had strong convictions of his belief in Christ Jesus and Saul had strong convictions of his belief in Jewish belief, then they both showed their convictions, they had a great zeal of their convictions. As both had a zeal for God.† Saul would take care of the executioners garments, by doing so he thought he was doing a great work for Godís glory. They were both sincere in their beliefs.
But now let us observe their differences. Saul was a man of self righteousness. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews and a Pharisee of Pharisees.
Philip 3: 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Saul thought he was without fault, he thought he was accepted before God because he was without fault, he was watching Stephenís with all the pride of self righteousness. On the other hand Stephen trusted in Savior, Messiah, Christ Jesus who bled and died on Calvary. He was righteous not a righteousness he received from the law but the righteousness of Christ. He did not draw comfort of what he did but what Christ did on the cross.
What a great difference of these two men. These men represent two religions, one religion that says you need to be good to go to heaven, the other religion that says, sinners can go to heaven if they repent and trust in Christ Jesus. One religion is of the way to heaven by keeping the law and their good works, the other is purely on the grace and the mercy of God. Even in churches today there are people of these two beliefs.
Look at Saul, he was a ritualistic, a formalist, he would love the Old Testament every letter of it and he had the outward holiness. Saul would love the temple, he was the fleshly man, on the other side Stephen was the spiritual man, he saw the inside how a manís heart needs to be changed, this was done not by observing the Old Testament law but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Both these classes are here today.
Stephen is defending Christ at the cost of his life and Saul was opposing Stephen with all his might. Saul heard the sermon of Stephen, it was a great sermon, very convicting one. Did Saulís heart get convicted of Stephenís sermon, no, not at all. Here Saul heard the sermon what Christians belief and this sermon made him more angry with the Christians.† Saul was an enemy of Christ as Jesus did not fit the agenda of the Pharisees.
Acts 8: 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
On the other hand Stephen was filled in the Holy Spirit and full of faith. But the young man Saul saw something else, he saw a Christian die a triumphant death. There are some who were enemy of the gospel but converted by the dying words of a martyr. But not with Saul. Stephen was put to death but Saul was yet breathing out threatening and slaughter of the disciples of the Lord.
We see today men like that, our goal is to bring all to Christ, do all you can do to bring men and women to the cross of Christ, for them to receive salvation. However if they are lost of saved you are not responsible for salvation, you are called to do what Christ commanded to witness to others of Christ, give them the gospel. Once you have told a person the way of salvation, even if he is not going to believe you, you are not responsible, you have done all you can now you give that person to the Lord, trusting in God alone that may God do a miracle.
Now Stephen is dead, was it a great loss to lose a such man full of the Holy Spirit? Seems like it was a great loss but not from Godís perspective. Sometimes it looks like a big calamity of the church when the best of men who are full of the Holy Spirit is taken home. In this case it looks like God took Stephen when he was most useful to the church. Why would God ever do a such a thing?† Stephen was fully ripe for Godís glory and it was the Master in heaven who would pick up the ripe ones for his glory. Donít be amazed, God therefore can take most useful men to heaven.
But now Stephen is gone home, who would take Stephenís place? Witnesses had laid their clothes at Saulís feet. Remember Elijah left his mantle to Elisha and so the mantle of Stephen was lying at the feet of Saul. When a great Christian dies God always bring another great successor.† Remember John Huss was burnt to death for preaching the gospel to peoples own language. John Huss was a great man of God, when he died seems like a great loss. Yet, Martin Luther was the man to follow John Huss and God raised Martin Luther in due time.
The believes† in Jerusalem did not know where Stephenís successor was, but God saw him among Stephenís enemies, and it was† Saul who was a mightier apostle than Stephen could ever have been. The Church lost Stephen, but she gained Saul, and that was a very good exchange. Yes, it was that young man Saul, when he was converted he wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. No other apostle taught the way how apostle taught the great doctrines of God, the sovereign grace of God. It was Paul who said, Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
If Saul had not been there, he would have missed the benefit of Stephenís sermon; and Stephenís
sermon is the text from which Paul preached all his life. If you examine it carefully, you will find that Stephenís speech is the root out of which, through the blessing of the Spirit. Of God, Paulís theology grows. Stephen
sermon allowed Paul to remember the about Sarah and Hagar; (Epistle to the Romans)† and all that discussion about father Abraham being justified by faith is there in Stephenís speech. Probably Stephenís speech was recorded in Paulís mind as Paul traveled with Luke, Paul told Luke what Stephen had said as Stephenís sermon went deep into Paulís soul and helped in writing the other epistles.
Saul became Paul,† the Holy Ghost has caused for Paul to remember his sins.
Acts 22: 19 And I said, ĎLord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.í 21 And he said to me, ĎGo, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.íĒ
It is very good for us to remember our old sins, because it will keep us humble.
1 Timothy 1: 12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Look at the pit from whence you were digged, and when God gives you any special mercy, say to yourself, ďWhat a miracle of grace is this, for I was amongst the most undeserving of all. This sin of Paulís was always in his mind, and so it continually increased his love. He was like the woman who loved much because she had had much forgiven, ó like the debtor who, although he owed the most, was most grateful because his lord had freely forgiven him all. Who was so zealous as Paul? He counted all things but loss for the glory of God.
Philip 3: 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
This sin of Paul was recorded in the Bible, and retained in his memory, because it kept him to the doctrines of grace. Paul was not converted by his own free will but Godís own will, Paul was going on his own way persecuting the church when Christ knocked him down, Paul was saved by Godís sovereign grace. It was not by the salvation of works but by Godís grace alone.
Gal 1: 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born.
His life was divided into two periods, ó first he was persecutor, and then he was persecuted. When he had been driven from city to city, and many times stoned, how he must have thought of Stephen, and the stones that fell on him. When he had been hated of all men for Christís sake, he might well have despaired of the gospel ever spreading had he not said, ďAh! As Godís sovereign grace† converted me, it can convert others. You never find Paul drawing back or flinching, but he went preaching almost to the ends of the earth, feeling himself to be a debtor both to Jew and Gentile, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, because, said he, ďI obtained mercyĒ
Lastly both Stephen and Saul both are in heaven, it would be pretty amazing for Stephen to see Saul in heaven and Saul would tell Stephen I am here because of Godí grace and mercy alone. There would be a great joy of both meeting in heaven in the righteousness of Christ alone.