It Started with a Murder

Part of Series: Day by Day with Paul
Read Acts 6—7

The first time the Bible mentions the Apostle Paul is at the scene of a grisly murder.

It happened in the very early years of the Jesus movement—as little as a year after the cross and resurrection.

At that time, the Jesus movement was known as “the way” (Acts 9:2). Why? Maybe because Jesus had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6a). His claims were exclusive. He was not a way, but the way. And “the way” was alive and growing.

The disciples not only preached the good news about Jesus, they also lived it by loving their neighbors, especially the poor. As a community, they tried to take care of people who had no one else to care for them, such as orphans and widows. But it was not a perfect operation.

There were growing pains.

People were slipping through the cracks.

Specifically, some widows were being overlooked. So the apostles decided to appoint seven men to take care of those practical needs so the apostles could devote themselves to the word of God and prayer (Acts 6:1-4).

One of those godly men was named Stephen.

Although Stephen was chosen to wait on tables (as it were), he was full of faith, grace, power, and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5, 8)—a powerful preacher, debater, and wonderworker. Many people were coming to faith through his ministry—even Jewish priests (Acts 6:7).

And that made the Jewish leaders angry.

Very angry.

They didn’t want the Jesus movement to grow. They wanted it to die—even if it had to die one person at a time.

Beginning with Stephen.

So the religious leaders hatched a plan. They recruited some false witnesses to say that Stephen had spoken against the Temple, the Law, and the rabbinical traditions (Acts 6:14) and they put Stephen on trial.

Faced with these accusations, Stephen gave a stirring defense and ended with a stinging indictment:

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7:51-53 NIV).

After that, the crowd was ready for a lynching. Stephen knew what was coming. He looked up to heaven and declared that he saw Jesus standing next to the Father (Acts 7:55-56). That drove the court deeper into a frenzy. Blasphemer!

The mob grabbed Stephen and dragged him out of the city so they could stone him to death. They didn’t want his blood to defile the city. But they had it backwards: Stephen was too good to die in such a wicked city. And before they took up their stones to kill him, the murderers took off their robes and gave them to a young man for safekeeping:

When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:58 NIV).

There he is: Saul.

Is that name familiar? Maybe not. That young man would later become the Apostle Paul—perhaps the greatest of all of Christ’s apostles. But at that moment, in the middle of that mob, as Stephen lay bleeding, pummeled by stones, and slipping out of consciousness, Saul was just another angry voice calling for Stephen’s murder.

Dr. Luke tells us that “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8:1), though he apparently didn’t personally throw a stone. Did Dr. Luke get that detail from Paul himself since the two traveled together? As Paul admitted to Timothy, at that time his heart full of blasphemy and murder against Christians (1 Tim 1:12-13). He was glad to be in that crowd. He thought that killing Stephen was the right thing to do.

It was a horrific moment. But Stephen’s martyrdom was the beginning of something worse.

Saul got a taste for Christian blood and wanted more.

“The way” was about to be littered with corpses.

Shawn Lazar is the Editor of Grace in Focus Magazine and co-host of Grace in Focus Radio. He received a BTh at McGill University, an MA from the Free University, Amsterdam, and is currently pursuing a DPT at McMaster Divinity College. He has written three books—Beyond Doubt: How to Be Sure of Your Salvation; Chosen to Serve: Why Divine Election Is to Service, Not to Eternal Life; and One-Point Preaching: A Law and Gospel Model.

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