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Stephen And Paul

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#1 Cajowa



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Posted 27 June 2005 - 10:36 AM

Hi all ... here is an exhort I did yesterday... i got a fairly good response to it at the meeting..,. hope you all enjoy reading it!

Ummm... I haven't edited it at all this is just how I said it so I hope it reads ok

Good morning Brethren and Sisters,
Having last night had the opportunity to reflect over the past 20 years of ecclesial life in Boronia, one must think of the marvelous Grace of God that has been with us through this time and brought us to where we are today, and while we looked with sadness at some of the people who have come and gone through this ecclesia, some who have forsaken the truth as we know it, the grace of God is such that if they were willing to turn to God he would willingly welcome them back, and of course it is our prayer that that day may come.
I find it appropriate that over the past couple of weeks I have been moved by a consideration of the interaction in the bible of two people... the man who was Saul... and Stephen, and while the interaction we read of is so brief in the scriptural record, looking at it we can see the amazing way in which an evil situation can be turned for good.

The first recorded meeting in Acts chapter 7:58 where Saul of Tarsus was gathering the cloaks of those that were stoning Stephen consenting unto the death of Stephen.

NET cha 7:58, 8:1 “When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul... Saul agreed completely with killing him.”

However... we have reason to believe that this was not quite the first occasion they met... obviously Saul was there listening to his defense... but they had come face to face before, although Saul is not directly mentioned there by name.

In Acts chapter 22 we learn more about who Saul when he as Paul talks about his former life!
In verse 3 Paul is speaking “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel,”

What we take from here is that Paul ... or Saul as we are considering him was from Cilicia and if we come back to Acts chapter 6 we find in verse 9
“Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.”

It mentions those of Cilicia being apart of the mob that were disputing with Stephen. This undoubtedly included Paul.

The next verse goes on to say “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.”

Saul.... brought up at the feet of Gamaliel could not find answers to the arguments that Stephen brought forth.

Unable to resist the Wisdom a second time during Stephens’ defense in chapter 7, Paul would have been on of those who reacted violently the description of which we read in verses 54-57 of chapter 7
“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord”

Saul had closed his mind to hearing the truth, he was determined that it was wrong and this man Stephen could not be argued against, his arguments were logical they made sense, but to Saul they were wrong so there was no way he bring himself to accept the fact that his position was wrong his foundations were flawed.

It is quite likely and indeed highly probable that Saul was the instigator of the stoning, and has been assumed by some that he would have been the one to cast the first stone, and stood back with a grim satisfaction as mob tore into a frenzy throwing stone after stone.
Any satisfaction that he may have gained at the death of Stephen left him with Stephens’ last words found in the last 2 verses of chapter 7 “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
So Stephen died still unconquered by Saul.
From this moment on... until his own death Stephen never left him... the ringing of the voice of undisputed wisdom in his ears, and the fact that he asked the Lord not to hold this sin against him... the one who instigated it all!

What happened to Saul was that his anger and his frustration that resided in him against Stephen and the Jesus he preached and his inability to silence him, created in him the insatiable desire for destruction of all that were associated with them, trying to quell the gnawing conscience he had the feeling that he was wrong.

Look at what he did reading chapter 8:1-3 “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison”

While Saul was dedicated to the destruction of the ecclesia, we see his efforts only spread it further, as people were scattered to avoid him. The first indication we see of God and Christ using a bad situation for good. How many people gratefully received the word of God from that!!

Saul showed no mercy to anyone, and he now devoted himself to the destruction of this way... his efforts though were futile, instead of stamping it out... he spread it further abroad, it mentions in those verse that the all were scattered except the apostle... one has to wonder why they were not objects of Saul’s wrath? Was he subconsciously scared of being confronted with the Wisdom of those who had been even closer to Christ than Stephen? His efforts took him away from them, next time we read of Saul in chapter 9 on his way to Damascus, with the same mindset of fanatical hatred.

“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”

All this while, through the persecutions he was inflicting on the Ecclesia the thought of Stephen’s arguments rung in his mind, and drove him on furiously in his task.

We all know... don’t we? what happens next, but let us stop for a moment and think about what our thoughts would be of such a man... I don’t think any of us could imagine such a man would accept the truth... let alone be called by Christ to the truth for a specific purpose.

But there needed to be a man chosen for a specific work, someone really really touched by the grace of God in their live, someone who would understand that if God could convert, save and have Grace on them... after all that they had done ... the “chief” of sinners, there is no reason then why Gods grace could not be shown to al men... even gentiles.

What happens next as we know is the Conversion of Saul ... into Paul with which we are very familiar, but reading this record is very enlightening to Saul’s mindset.
“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”

The phrase of interest here is it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks, a phrase which is not in the original manuscripts for this chapter but is added in chapter 26 by Paul’s own account of the events.

That aside it shows that there was a real struggle going on in his mind, and as he was kicking against his conscience he was hurting himself and on the long road to Damascus he would have no doubt had time to ponder to go through all these things in his mind, and the thought of Stephen the one who had infuriated him and set him on this path... would have haunted him!

Our Lord Jesus Christ knew exactly what it would take to turn this man into a vessel worthy to take the Gospel to the World... and from this moment on he was changed no longer a champion of the Pharisees... a champion of the law.. but a man who would be able to shew that justification does not come by self righteousness but by faith in the Grace of God.

It is of no coincidence then when we read further that the man who was sent to him in Damascus to restore his sight and to baptize was Ananias... whoseame means “The grace of God”
And Paul speaking of that time when Christ was revealed to him in 1 Corinthians 15 writes
“And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

The change which happened in Paul was quite dramatic... looking back on his life now, he viewed events in a different way, he lamented the fact that he had persecuted the ecclesia and killed Stephen a faithful servant of God, Paul now though instead of being haunted by such things is motivated by them... and it is not long before we see the same spirit that Stephen had come through in verse 29 of acts 9 we read
“And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.”

Here we have Paul now in Jerusalem and now he was the one that was disputing with the people there, the only place this word disputing is used.... is when it is used of Stephen disputing in Acts 6... and look even the reaction he got was the same... it was for Paul no doubt a bit of dejavu from the other side as the people he previously would have debated with now wanted to kill him.

As Paul goes though life we can tell that the thought of Stephen never left him, as little snippets of what Stephen said or did pop up here and there, for instance when Paul was at Athens talking to people about the unknown God, he picks up on what Stephen had taught him when he tells them that God does not dwell in temples made of hands, Hebrews which we believe that Paul wrote seems to have a fair bit of reference back to Stephens speech.

One particular occasion we could refer to is in acts 22 where we find Paul in Jerusalem who in a very similar fashion had to make a defense like Stephen did.

In acts 22:1 we see Paul opens his speech to the people in the very same way in which Stephen did appealing to men, brethren and fathers... and he talks to them saying that once he was just like them, zealous he speaks to them of his persecution of the ecclesia and also the fact that he was there when Stephen was killed consenting to his death, and again he receives the same reaction that he had once had towards Stephen... in verse 22 we read
“And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air”

They were going through the same motions as what happened the day Stephen died, taking of their clothes ready to hurl stones no doubt... but on this occasion he was spared.

The last occasion in paul’s life where Stephen is mentioned is when Paul is nearing the end, writing to Timothy in 2 timothy 4 writes
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

That word crown there is Stefanos... is the greek, it comes from the same root word as Stephens name... and we know that Paul is thinking of Stephen because he leaves Timothy with the same words that Stephen left with Paul, concerning those that had done much evil we read in 16 “I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” and Paul would have had hope that his prayer would be answered because Stephen’s was and he had come to the truth!

The exhortation we can gain from this is this... that God and Christ can work in our lives, the bad things that happen they can make them work in our lives for good.
And as we remember Jesus our lord in the bread and the wine, we see his body and blood shed for us, on him was laid the iniquity of us all, by his stripes we are healed... while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. How often though are we the perpetrators of crime of crucifying the son of God afresh? How often do we put him to open shame by the way we go about our lives?
Yet by the abundance of God’s grace we are saved through faith, and like Paul was motivated by the life of Stephen whom he killed, we need to be motivated by the life of the Son of God, who gave his life for us... and let the word of Christ dwell in us so that we can echo the words of Paul in Gal 2 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
The day is so short ... the work to be done so great!!!

"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."

#2 Amy Parkin

Amy Parkin


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Posted 27 June 2005 - 12:29 PM

Thanks for that! :eek: Lots there that I hadn't thought about, especially this bit:

While Saul was dedicated to the destruction of the ecclesia, we see his efforts only spread it further, as people were scattered to avoid him. The first indication we see of God and Christ using a bad situation for good. How many people gratefully received the word of God from that!!

It's amazing how what he did to Stephen stuck in his mind all of his life.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths."

--Proverbs 3:5-6

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