Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Conversion of Saul

[This week we will look at the conversion of Saul. It is a familiar story but it brings up some interesting ideas. If Jesus had thousands of believers, disciples, and his apostles, why did he seek out an enemy like Saul?

Ephesians 1:7-9 

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself,

So whatever the circumstances of Saul's conversion, we know that his redemption was according to the will of God, for his purpose, and his pleasure. ]

Acts 9

The Damascus Road: Saul Converted

 1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

[Saul, continuing his persecution of the church, decides to take it on the road. Since followers of Jesus had scattered from Jerusalem, Saul looks to seek out Jesus disciples in Damascus. Damascus lies north of Jerusalem towards Syria. So he obtains letters from the high priest authorizing him to arrest any of "the Way" found among the Jews at the synagogues. If they were brought back to Jerusalem they would have been subject to the same jail and beatings, in trying to get them to renounce Jesus, as had been done to believers arrested in Jerusalem, after the death of Stephen. ]

3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

[Saul's trip is interrupted by a Supernatural light that knocks him to the ground. When Saul retold this story to King Agrippa he said the light was brighter than the sun. John 1:5 says "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend". Saul was walking in spiritual darkness persecuting the church of Jesus Christ, when Jesus appeared to Saul as a physical light. Then Saul's heard a voice saying "why are you persecuting me". Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus is "the head of the body, the church", it is clear that Jesus takes the persecution of his church personally.]

5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"
Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

[Saul clearly humbled by fear says "Who are you Lord?" And the reply comes back I am Jesus. Then Jesus adds an interesting statement, "it is hard for you to kick against the goads or pricks". A goad is essentially a cattle prod, which a sharp point. You can heard an animal with one of these by pricking them on the leg, and the animal will move away from the sting, and sometimes they will kick out at the prod to try and get it away, but that usually just gets them prodded or pricked again. To me this says that Jesus had been trying to get Saul's attention for some time, to lead him into "the Way", but Saul had resisted the gentle prodding, so Jesus took a more dramatic approach.]

6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"
Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

[For Saul this was quite a revelation. Jesus truly is the resurrected Lord, and Saul is now in a state of full surrender to Him. Saul is changed from persecutor to obedient servant in a few brief moments. Again from Acts 26 Paul tells Agrippa that Jesus told him he would become a witness for the faith. So Jesus tells him to go into the city and wait for instructions. This is an important reminder for us, we are not just saved from Hell, we are saved for a specific purpose in God's plan. The names Saul and Paul are used interchangeably. Usually he is called Saul when he is just with the Jews, but Paul among the Romans and gentiles. ]

7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

[Can you imagine being one of the travelers with Saul? They also saw the light and were knocked to the ground. But they heard a voice and apparently did not understand what Jesus spoke to Saul. When the light fades, they were expecting to see a person who was speaking, but no one was there. Now they are left with an experience of a supernatural light, a disembodied voice, and their leader Saul has been suddenly struck blind. So they lead him by the hand into Damascus. There he waited for 3 days, blind, maintaining a complete fast until his blindness is taken away.]

[Some look at the conversion of Saul, and say why him. Why did any enemy of Jesus receive this dramatic visitation from the resurrected Lord?]

Colossians 1

13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.


[Some people get the idea that God is scouting the countryside looking for "good" people to save. But we understand that everyone is under the power of darkness before their conversion. It is only through the blood of Christ that we are changed.]

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.


[Our savior is also our creator, nothing exists without him, and no one knows us better.]


18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

[We are nothing without Jesus, the church has no purpose other than him. We share in the mission to reconcile all people to God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus.]

21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—

[Here is the point. We are all enemies of God apart from our salvation in Jesus. Before our conversion we are full participants in the evil purpose of Satan. God does not save good people, God saves his enemies. In this point Saul's conversion is not unusual, it is normal.

This story completely refutes the idea that any religion is sufficient for God as long as we are sincere, also known as "All paths lead to God". This is nonsense! Saul was a devout Pharisee, passionate about the Law of Moses, zealous in protecting the traditions of his Jewish faith. Saul was lost. But Jesus sought him out, saved him, and made him a powerful witness to the grace of God.]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Philip and the Ethiopian

Christ Is Preached to an Ethiopian

Acts 8   
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert.

[Philip the evangelist fresh from his success in Samaria is told by an Angel to travel the road south from Jerusalem to Gaza. Gaza was the last settlement along the coast before the wilderness trail leading to Egypt. He is not told why, or anything about the trip, he is just commanded to go.]

27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

[Eunuch's were common within hereditary monarchies of most cultures. The general idea is that to keep the royal bloodline uncorrupted, any male servant close enough to enter the bed chamber of the king or queen had to be emasculated, such that any offspring could only come from the monarch. So common was this practice that by the end of the first century the term would refer to a royal servant whether or not they had actually been altered. This man was the finance minister for the queen of Ethiopia. Candace derives from the Nubian term "Kantake" which means "queen mother". Ethiopia is part of the empire of Kush south of Egypt. What is interesting here is that an Ethiopian Eunuch would come to Jerusalem to worship. While is it is true that there were some converts to Judaism, proselytes they are called, a Eunuch would have an obstacle to overcome. Deuteronomy 23 says that "He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD." There also were some partial converts to Judaism that were just referred to a "God fearers". So we don't know the full extent of this Ethiopian's status as a Jewish convert, we know he believed in and worshiped God, and he had wealth and education such that he could travel for worship and even own a personal copy of the scriptures. ]

29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."
30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

[Directed by the Holy Spirit, Philip runs to catch the Ethiopian's chariot. Now this would not be like a two wheeled roman battle chariot, this was probably more like an ox cart, and the word had a very generic usage for any wheeled vehicle that could be ridden. Since the Eunuch is reading while riding, he a probably seated and traveling fairly slow. Philip hears him reading from Isaiah and asks if he understands the text.]

31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

      " He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
      And as a lamb before its shearer is
       So He opened not His mouth.
In His humiliation His
justice was taken away,
      And who will declare His generation?
      For His life is
taken from the earth."
– Isaiah 53

34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

[As Christians we almost always preach Jesus using the New Testament writings of the Apostles, but if you want to preach Jesus as Messiah to a Jewish believer you might take a different approach, using scriptures they already regard as prophetic. Philip finds him reading Isaiah 53, so let's look at that passage and see if we can see Jesus there.]

Isaiah 53

3 He is despised and rejected by men,
      A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
      And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
      He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
      And carried our sorrows;
      Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
      Smitten by God, and afflicted.
       5 But He was
wounded for our transgressions,
      He was
bruised for our iniquities;
      The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
      And by His stripes we are healed.
       6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
      We have turned, every one, to his own way;
      And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

       7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
      Yet He opened not His mouth;
      He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
      And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
      So He opened not His mouth.
       8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
      And who will declare His generation?
      For He was cut off from the land of the living;
      For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
       9 And they[a] made His grave with the wicked—
      But with the rich at His death,
      Because He had done no violence,
      Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
       10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
      He has put Him to grief.
      When You make His soul an offering for sin,
      He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
      And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
       11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
      By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
      For He shall bear their iniquities.
       12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
      And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
      Because He poured out His soul unto death,
      And He was numbered with the transgressors,
      And He bore the sin of many,
      And made intercession for the transgressors.

[So do you think a disciple of Jesus can preach Jesus as the suffering Messiah using Isaiah 53. As we discussed before the Jews were looking for a conquering Messiah not a suffering savior, so this would be a life changing message for the Ethiopian Eunuch. I don't know how far Philip went in the scripture but if he made it as far as Isaiah 56 he would have seen a special promise for Eunuchs:

Isaiah 56

4 For thus says the LORD:

      " To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
      And choose what pleases Me,
      And hold fast My covenant,
       5 Even to them I will give in My house
      And within My walls a place and a name
      Better than that of sons and daughters;
      I will give them an everlasting name
      That shall not be cut off.

[But whatever the scripture Philip used the Eunuch trusted in Jesus.]

Acts 8   

36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"
37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may."
And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

[Depending on your Bible translation verse 37 may be in brackets and the NIV excludes it altogether. It is not most Greek manuscripts, and some believe it was added later to emphasize the faith of the Eunuch before baptism. But if Philip preached Jesus, and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized it was obvious he had expressed his faith to Philip. Now if someone asks to be baptized and you have not taught them about Jesus as the savior, then you need to be cautious that they are not trusting in a ritual to save them, but Philip did not have this problem.]

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

[Philip was a remarkable evangelist very much empowered by the Holy Spirit. A second century church father named Irenaeus wrote that the Eunuch returned to Ethiopia and became a missionary for Jesus to his own people. Similar to the Samaritans this Ethiopian was a God fearing man, who was at least somewhat excluded by traditional Judaism. When the gospel spread from Jerusalem, it went first to those who already believed in the God of Abraham. Slowly this inclusive salvation began to build an ever more diverse church, eventually reaching even to the gentiles.]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Witness in Samaria

Acts 8

Saul Persecutes the Church

 1 Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

[Now if you remember from the crucifixion of Christ, the Jews had lost the right to execute capital punishment on their own, they needed approval of the Roman Governor. Without that approval the martyrdom of Stephen was murder, a lynching authorized by the council. Saul a Pharisee of some standing gave his personal approval for this killing. The persecution which followed was mostly against the Hellenist or Greek speaking Jews like Stephen. But even as fear swept the church, devout men made a great lament over Stephen, the first man slain for preaching the gospel. Yet Saul would take Christ followers, jail and beat them until they recanted their profession of faith in Jesus, sort of undoing Baptism by forcing people to publicly deny Christ.]

Christ Is Preached in Samaria

4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.

[If you refer back to Acts 6 you will see Philip was the second deacon chosen after Stephen, to serve the church. Like Stephen, his faith leads him to witness in Samaria as Jesus had foretold in Acts 1:8. Also like Stephen, Philip has the spiritual gifts of healing and exorcism. We are given the added detail here that the only defense these demons could mount against the Holy Spirit was to cry in protest as they were cast out. As always the signs provide the opportunity to preach and people received the gospel with great joy.]

The Sorcerer's Profession of Faith

9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God." 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

[The people of Samaria were very superstitious, practicing a form of Judaism but adding to it whatever type spiritualism became popular. Like Christians who read horoscopes or call the psychic hotline, their religion was corrupted by their fears and passions. The man Simon would combine whatever occult practices and tricks he could learn with some false theology to persuade the people that he had power from God. But when Simon saw the true miracles done by Philip, and all the converts turning to Jesus, Simon also professed his faith and was baptized. After this Simon would just follow Philip, continually amazed at the spiritual signs.]

The Sorcerer's Sin

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

[Now here we have an odd situation in Samaria. Philip filled with the Spirit was preaching, and healing, baptizing the converts in Jesus name. But none of the Samaritan converts we yet filled with the Holy Spirit. Then Peter and John travel from Jerusalem, pray for the converts, laying hands on them, only then are they filled with the Spirit. So why was this necessary? If you remember from the beginning of Acts I told that the signs of the Holy Spirit were confirming two things, 1 – Jesus resurrection from the dead, and 2 – The Apostles leadership of the church. Now Philip was filled with the Holy Spirit, but he was not an Apostle. Historically Jews had no fellowship with Samaritans; remember how surprised the woman-at-the-well was when Jesus spoke to her? Here it was necessary for the Apostles to come from Jerusalem to Samaria, confirm the work of Philip, and endorse the conversion and Baptism of the Samaritans so there would be no division in the church. Having done this, they were all filled with the Spirit.]

18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

[Simon had continued to follow Philip still amazed at his power. But now Peter and John demonstrate a new power, that they can give other converts the Holy Spirit when they lay their hands on them. It seems Simon's conversion was motivated by a desire to continue his business as a spiritualist. To be credible to people who had seen what the apostles can do, he needed this power also. So he offered them money in exchange for this new spiritual power.]

20 But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity."

[You see Peter shocked at Simon's offer both rebukes and curses him. Peter rejects him as a believer "no part of portion" in the Holy Spirit, telling him his heart is "not right" with God, then telling him to repent, and pray for forgiveness. To this day the purchase of a religious office is called Simony. We see something similar to this every election cycle as politicians suddenly get the urge to get Holy, and be seen at all the big churches in their area. You also see in when famous people are caught in some sexual immorality, they find a high profile spiritual advisor to counsel them. But we are never quite sure if they repent of their sin, or just lament over getting caught.]

24 Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me."

[Again confirming Simon did not know God, he would not even pray for himself, instead asking Peter to pray for him, not that he would really repent, but that nothing bad would happen to him.]

25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

[Now that the apostles had confirmed the conversion of Samaritans, they joined Philip in preaching there, before returning to Jerusalem.]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stephen the Servant

Acts 6

Seven Chosen to Serve

1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

[Here we have the first recorded problem with entitlements. The all-things-in-common philosophy hit a snag with the discovery that some of the widows were not getting what they needed. The apostles seemed a little frustrated by this, so they ask for help. They would appoint spirit-filled, wise men of good reputation, to help the apostles by serving the church. The Greek root word for servant is "diakanos" from which we derive the word deacon. But "diakanos" in it various forms is used all over the New Testament for all forms of servants, from apostles and preachers, to the people who serve meals. But regardless of the task you will find spirit-filled, wise, and reputable, are good requirements for any job within the church. God can do a lot with a person like that.]

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

[So these servants are commissioned by the apostles with prayer and the laying on of hands.]

7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

[With all the opposition the apostles got from the priests and Sadducees, you had to wonder why they kept preaching at the temple. And here you have the answer, because of their faithfulness in preaching, a great many priests repented and trusted Jesus as their savior and Lord.]

8 And Stephen, full of faith[b] and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.

[Up to now we had not seen the spiritual sign gifts demonstrated in someone who was not one of the apostles, but here Stephen is able to do these things, and with the same purpose, that he could preach Jesus to those drawn by the miracles. Again we also see the opposition to Jesus. The rest of chapter 6 tells how these men arranged accusations and false witnesses against Stephen, just like they did with Jesus. So we will pick up the story with Stephen on trial, accused of speaking against the temple and the Law of Moses.]

15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.

Stephen's Address: The Call of Abraham

1 Then the high priest said, "Are these things so?" 2 And he said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3 and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' 4 Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran.

[Realizing that this trial is about preserving the Jewish traditions and the power of the rulers, he gives them a history of Israel starting with the call of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob then continues with Jacob's sons.]

9 "And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.

[He tells of how Joseph came to Egypt by trouble, but God gave him power and influence.]

17 "But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt 18 till another king arose who did not know Joseph. 19 This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. 20 At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father's house for three months. 21 But when he was set out, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son.

[He continues with Israel in bondage and the deliverance of Moses because God had a plan for him. How Moses fled to the plain of Midian where he remained until God appeared to him, so that he could lead the nation of Israel.]

35 "This Moses whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?'[i] is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

[Here is where you see Stephen beginning to show his plot line. "Moses whom they rejected", "showing signs and wonders", you can see the parallel he is drawing to Jesus.]

44 "Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house.
48 "However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
' Heaven is My throne,
      And earth
My footstool.
      What house will you build for Me? says the LORD,
      Or what
the place of My rest?
Has My hand not
made all these things?'

[As we saw before a part of the significance of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the presence of God is with those born-of-the-spirit, no longer in the old temple. This is dangerous ground for Stephen, for some held the temple as an object of worship not just a place to worship God.]

51 "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."

[Here Stephen goes all in. Early in his sermon, it seems Stephen might use their common history to build a bond, and relax the tensions. But Stephen is not there to make nice, he is there are a witness for Jesus Christ. He is looking for conviction and repentance leading to salvation.]

54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

["Cut to the heart" is the same sign of conviction we saw in Acts 2 when Peter preached. That time they asked "what should they do" and Peter told them to repent. Here they react to the conviction with violence. Stephen facing death continues to glorify God with his words and his courage. Committing his spirit to Jesus and praying forgiveness for his killers, mirrors much of when Jesus did during his crucifixion. One big difference is that Stephen never felt forsaken as he died. Jesus had to be forsaken so he could bear our sins. By contrast Stephen experiences a heavenly vision of the glorified Lord.

It seems strange that the first man martyred for preaching a gospel, was not even an apostle. Appointed to serve tables, Stephen took sharing Jesus as his first responsibility. He looked beyond himself, his own safety, even his own life, to preach Jesus. This was the beginning of a persecution that would scatter the church and spread the gospel worldwide. Even a tragedy can work to fulfill God's purpose.]