As Stephen was killed for his bold and brave witness (Acts 7.60) Saul, who most would know by his Roman name of Paul, is there to approve (cf. Acts 26.10). This kick-started a wave of persecution against the church. Previously the leaders had been arrested, interrogated, and persecuted but now the wider body was under threat. Many fled, and in doing so fulfilled the words of Jesus in Acts 1.8. What we look at as senseless and inhumane persecution, God was viewing as His Word going forth. Perspective is so important.
Despite Stephen being stoned at the hands of the community, we see that not all bowed to the pressure of the pack:
“Some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him”.
(Acts 8.2, NET)
Apparently, Jewish law forbade public mourning over someone who had been executed and so this is quite the statement. We see that not all Jews were persecutory in their view of the early church, and the loud lamentation over Stephen must have sent a strong message.
Sadly, however, as this is happening we read that Saul was ravaging the church. He went out of his way to find, arrest, and imprison both men and women. Most who have grown up in the modern West have no idea what this must be like. To be arrested and thrown into prison simply for being a believer is something that most cannot comprehend.
The contrast in this short passage is so strong. On the one hand we see the great persecution which began with Stephen’s death and almost the figurehead for that in Saul. On the other, a strong message that not all Jews were supportive of this and some went out of their way to show it. This is generally how the world reacts to the Word, isn’t it? There are some who want to suppress and squash this life-changing message because it disrupts the established ways of doing things. Then there are those who see it in action and are drawn to it. Our responsibility is not to differentiate, but simply to share: to share with words and with actions the life-changing message of Jesus. Then, even if things look like they are falling apart from our perspective, they may just be coming together from the Lord’s.