In Acts chapter 6, one of the first deacons in the church, Stephen, is wrongfully accused of a crime he didn't commit.
He had been testifying powerfully of Jesus resurrection and won many arguments with Jews who opposed him (Acts 6:9-10). They lied, and he was arrested (Acts 6:12).
At his trial, Stephen told the story of the Exodus. He pointed out that God sent Moses to the people of Israel as their deliverer to lead them out of slavery. But time and again they rejected Moses as their leader.
Moses was the one who foresaw God raising up a prophet like him, Jesus, in the future (Acts 7:37).
Stephen rebuked the Jews saying they were just like their forefathers. Their forefathers rejected the prophet Moses, and now the Jews had rejected God’s prophet and Son, Jesus.
But rather than hearing Stephen's warning, Israel doubled down killing Stephen. They did precisely what Stephen had rebuked them for doing. They rejected another one of God’s prophets.
This is a tragic moment, the first Christian martyr to follow in Jesus footsteps. Another unjust trial happens. God’s message is rejected again.
If I didn’t know what happens next, I would guess that it’s judgment time! Not only did you just kill God’s son, but you keep on killing his followers.
God’s got to stop all this, right? They can’t just get away with this!
But that’s not what happened. At least not immediately. God is a just God. And the Jews who murdered Jesus and Stephen were guilty before Him. But it’s here where God’s ways are higher than my ways, and his thoughts are higher than my thoughts.
Two stories emerge that show God’s wisdom and mercy.
Only God Knows Why
Things don’t immediately get better, and judgment doesn’t quickly come. In fact, things get worse. Great persecution springs up from Stephen’s murder that scatters the Jerusalem church (Acts 8:1).
One of Stephen’s co-workers and likely his friend, Philip was one of those scattered. Imagine yourself in Philip’s shoes. Your friend was just brutally murdered.
You may have even seen it take place. You are in danger, and so is the church you work for. Everyone is panicked and flees from the city.
What do you do? Two words immediately pop into my head — PITY PARTY. Never been a better time for a pity party man. This sucks. I just lost my buddy and my job.
My life is in danger. I think it’s time to crank some Puff Daddy “I’ll be missing you” and sit down and cry for a while.
Maybe Philip did that for a while, but he didn’t stay there. He turned to the Holy Spirit for strength, and he went to Samaria.
This would have been a shocking turn for a Jewish reader. They hated Samaritans. Remember the Samaritan woman with Jesus, "Jews have no
So Philip loses his friends and decides to go to his enemies. Only the Holy Spirit would inspire a story like this.
As Philip goes, the Holy Spirit goes with him. And a chapter that started with mourning turns to joy as many people believe when Philip shares Christ with them and does wonders through God’s power (Acts 8:5-8).
When I scream for JUSTICE, God is more concerned with spreading His glory.
When I scream, “God you have to do something.” God whispers back, “I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done. I’m drawing people to myself. I’m showing grace and mercy.”
Stephen's death seemed so pointless and shocking. It must have been incredibly hard for Philip and the other believers to handle. But the Holy Spirit had a joyful purpose in mind.
We don't know why we go through times of suffering and difficulty, but we know our God is wise and merciful!
He’s not who I thought he was
The second story is one you’re likely familiar with and yet no less shocking.
There was a man who had a significant part in Stephen’s murder who wrote two-thirds of your New Testament. Saul who later became known as Paul.
Saul hated Christians. He hated Stephen. He hated Jesus.
He was “dragging off men and women and putting them into prison.” (Acts 8:3)
And after doing it in Jerusalem, decided to track down those who ran away. He got permission and headed off to Damascus to exterminate these Christian pests (Acts 9:1-2)
Saul is not just an unkind person; he is an ENEMY of Jesus and Christians. If anyone deserves the justice of God to swiftly come down and say, “NO MORE!” Saul is that guy.
Will God do something? Surely He is going to step in and stop this. Surely He is going to stop the madness that is happening, the murder and imprisonment of His people. His people who are being treated so terribly!
Yeah God did something. But not what I thought He would do.
He changes Saul to Paul in an instant. Like a snap of the fingers. Boom. He goes from breathing threats against the church, to prostrate on the ground unable to see calling Jesus the LORD.
I didn’t see that coming. Neither did anyone else.
Ananias who God told to heal Saul. He's like "God, you sure you got the right address?". This guy is here to imprison me and possibly have me killed; I think we should maybe heal a different guy (Acts 9:13-14 Elisha Standard Version).
The Christians in Damascus hear him preaching after this, and they’re confused (Acts 9:21). The Greek word is that they were entirely beside themselves and couldn’t explain it.
Jesus disciples…they were afraid to let him hang out with them until Barnabas told them he was cool. (Acts 9:26)
I’m sure the Jewish leaders were confused when they heard about it. Is Saul a Christian? No way bro. Have you met Saul? He hates Christians. He killed a guy because he was a Christian. There’s no way.
God didn’t hear my screams for JUSTICE. Instead, he heard Stephen’s prayer, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)
And God answered that prayer saving the very man who oversaw his murder.
Guys, I’m not like God. And that’s an excellent thing. And just to be clear, God did show justice; on the cross. My screams for justice were already answered by Jesus.
God is wiser than us. He is more just than we are. And He is far more merciful than we are. I’m deeply humbled seeing how God loved His enemies. God loved his enemies so much that He sent His Son into the world to die for them (John 3:16).
And you know what? I’m one of those enemies that Jesus died for. I’m more like Saul than I am like Stephen. And I’m so lucky that God is not like me.
God gives His Holy Spirit to live inside of and completely change His enemies. And oh what a joy to receive that gift.
Thank you, Father, for showing grace and mercy to those who have opposed you and lived against you like me!