If we knew the amount of people who are opposed to the Gospel, we would be astounded. Forget the ethnicity or the nationality of a person … as you speak to people about Jesus, you will be shocked at the amount of people who reject what you say and even blaspheme the Son of God outright.
Remember, the country in which we live is not a Christian country. It might be Christianized in some ways, but the main religion in the country leans more toward “Secularism” and “Materialism”, even if people say that align themselves with a specific religion … and this includes Christianity. Amongst those who oppose the Gospel, there are those who would turn the radio, TV or music up so that they won’t need to hear what you have to say about Jesus!
This was how these Jews responded who took Stephen to the high priest and Sanhedrin.
Ac 7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 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. 8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.
These verses show the true intent of these Jews. This is the reason they persuaded some to lie about Stephen. They wanted him dead … taken out of the way.
1) The Gospel message Stephen spoke drove them to madness! Remember his accusers levelled charges against him in the shape of disrespect to the Law, to Moses and the Fathers. In turn Stephen took them through a timeline journey in Biblical Theology to prove them wrong. Their anger was because they could not dispel his arguments presented from the very Scriptures they had.
Ac 6:10 they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
(1) They “they covered their ears”. This practice was common to prevent hearing blasphemy. This was their accusation against Stephen. These Jews applied this in either of two ways. The first was to push fingers into the earhole and bend the finger in such a way that the ear was stopped closed. The other way was to turn the soft ear lobe into the ear and press against it to prevent hearing. The concept comes from:
Zech 7:12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets.
God said this should be done to the rebellious:
Isa 6:10 “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Whether it was the people who did or God who required it, the meaning is the same. The rebellious’ ears are closed and cannot hear God’s Words. The very message that Stephen brought included the fact that the forefathers would rather kill God’s prophets that listen to God’s Word through them. They even killed God’s Messiah. This “mob” would soon be doing the same to Stephen.
(2) They started “yelling at the top of their voices”. They did not want to hear Stephen speaking Truth and added to their stopped ears as much noise as possible. They were fanatical.
(3) They “they all rushed at him”. The complete group of accusers, to the last one wanted to silence this servant of God.
(4) They “dragged him out of the city”. The word “drag” includes force in the most undignified manner. Because of what would follow, they needed Stephen outside the city to prevent defiling the city!
(5) They “began to stone him”. Stoning had death as its intention. They wanted Stephen dead because in their mind they declared him guilty of blasphemy.
Notice that what was happening was not openly sanctioned by the Sanhedrin and the high priest. There was no conclusion to the hearing. There was no verdict. Yet since these Jews were allowed to proceed in the way they did, the Jewish Ruling Council were as guilty as them. They were complicit in the act of murder in the same way they were when Jesus was crucified!
When we do not stand for Jesus, even when it hurts us financially (get over looked for promotion or lose the job), relationally (within the family, marriage or amongst friends) or emotionally (health), we become complicit in the acts and words leveled against Jesus and His Gospel.
2) Introducing Saul of Tarsus. Collecting stones and throwing them on Stephen with all their energy required they remove their outer garments. For safe keeping they piled it at the feet of a man present. His name was Saul.
Ac 8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.
What is the significance and importance that Luke mentions Saul twice … once in verse 58 and again in chapter 8 verse 1? Saul supported what they were doing. He agreed that Stephen was a blasphemer and needed to be executed. We will see soon how he went from place to place to jail Christians seeking to root out Christianity. He was a Pharisee following the Law of Moses legalistically. He was likely about 30 years old and had been under Gamaliel, the esteemed Hebrew professor and member of the Sanhedrin.
Ac 22:3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”
The reason he is mentioned here is because Saul is converted to Jesus and Jesus changes his name to Paul who goes on to become the greatest of all apostles. Soon the Christian Landscape changes from Jerusalem to the whole known world under Paul’s missionary journeys. It is appropriate to say that if God can change a hardened heart that desired with all passion to eradicate the Christian Church, He is able to change the hardest heart resisting the Gospel today. How? Though your prayers!
3) The Gospel in Stephen in life and death.
Ac 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 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.
This is total love for lost souls. As they threw stone after stone Stephen did not focus on the pain, he focused on God to save lost souls. His plea for their pardon came out of his mouth as he breathed his last. What an example to us to concentrate on lost souls more than our present comfort and safety.
Father, make me like Stephen and please raise up others to be like him. Amen.