Please read Exodus 28-29 and Acts 7 if you're interested in reading the Bible through in a year.
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of their killing him.–Acts 7:57-58 (NIV)
In the past when I have read this story, my immediate focus has always been drawn to Stephen, the church’s first martyr for the faith. But this morning I am drawn to Saul.
Saul, the most important disciple to have never met Jesus personally, did in fact meet Stephen. He was there as the crowd brought charges of blasphemy against Stephen to the Sanhedrin. He was there when the members of the Sanhedrin became furious with Stephen and gnashed their teeth at him. He was there when they dragged Stephen into the street and began to stone him. He was there when Stephen prayed that the sins of his executioners not be held against them.
What’s my point? Saul never met Jesus personally, but he met someone who was so much like Jesus in Stephen. Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (6:5). He was full of God’s grace and power and performed great wonders and signs (6:8). Because of his grace and power, opposition arose (6:8) but they could not stand against the wisdom that the Spirit gave him as he spoke (6:10). The crowds seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin, the same council before which Jesus appeared (6:12). Stephen’s face was like that of an angel (6:15). As he spoke, Stephen saw the heavens open just like Jesus did when he was baptized. And as Stephen was being killed, he prayed “Lord, do not hold their sins against them” just as Jesus had prayed as he was being crucified.
Saul may have never met Jesus personally, but he met Jesus in the person of Stephen. And even though Saul approved of killing Stephen and began to persecute the Christian church, the next time we encounter Saul in scripture is his conversion experience in chapter 9. Coincidence? I think not. I think that, in encountering Stephen, Saul encountered Christ. And that encounter stuck with him and changed the course of his life.
You can be a witness like Stephen. When you embody the teachings of Jesus, you will often be met with resistance. You may not think that your faithful witness is making a difference in a person’s life. Certainly Stephen may have died wondering if his faithfulness had left a good impression on the people. But your faithfulness does make a difference. Your witness can change the heart of someone like Saul who goes on to be one of the greatest influences on the Christian faith.
May God grant you the grace to be a faithful witness for Jesus today and may God use your witness to transform those around you.