This week we’ve studied the story of Stephen, an early Christian leader attacked and killed for his cause.  This kind of thing still happens today.  Just read a fascinating story about a former Muslim suing a Presbyterian church in Oklahoma.  He was baptized at that church, and claims he asked for a private baptism for fear of persecution if he visited his native Syria again.  The church, either neglectfully or purposely did post his baptism on their website, as a celebratory event, and the man claims thi sled to him being attacked and nearly beheaded when he returned to Syria.  His claims of the church’s negligence do, of course, need to be tested by the courts, but the existence of violent mob reactions to Christian
faith is well documented in this and a million other story.

However we die, especially considering this isn’t how most of us will die, we have the opportunity to point to Jesus.

It can have a profound effect on others, when we show that there is something much greater than pain and death in this world.

So many people in our world fear pain and death like nothing else, and it’s great news to learn that they are of limited power when faced with the power of Jesus Christ.

In this story, there is an odd line:  And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Why name the guy who acted as coat check for an angry mob?  At the beginning of this week, I jokingly suggested that introducing new characters is sometimes a signal they’ll be killed off, but that’s not why Saul gets mentioned.  It’s because of the profound impact this, and other events, had on his life.  He later became a follower of Jesus himself, only after a violent career persecuting Christians ended with a dramatic encounter with the risen Jesus.  We’ll learn lots more about him in the Book of Acts, since he later becomes known as Paul, not Saul.

He watched a follower of Jesus die like Jesus, outside Jerusalem, by an angry mob, forgiving his tormenters.  He could see the integrity and countercultural identity of this upstart religious movement in that moment.

But you can imagine the regret and guilt that would consume a Christian who’d been involved in an event like this before his conversion.  Normally it would be too painful to bear, but he overcame it through God’s grace alone.

He could speak of God’s forgiveness in a way few can, because there was such a direct correlation and dramatic difference between his old and new life, between his persecution and promotion of Christianity.

Challenge: Who is observing your life, and how you handle pain?  If the list is short, who can you make sure is close to you through life’s ups and downs, to see Jesus in you?

Meeting with a Group?  Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide

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