At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed—he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side. He said, “Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God’s side!”
Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of town and pelted him with rocks. The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them. Acts 7:57-59 (The Message)
We leave lasting legacies based upon our behaviors in life, and those legacies can last for many generations. We see here a picture of Stephen’s death as a martyr, and Saul, later to be named Paul, fully participating in that death. Yet Stephen left an indelible mark on Saul, which later was carried down through Paul’s writings, and which last even until today. That legacy is of grace, especially under fire.
We read in the passages above that Stephen was stoned for proclaiming the good news of Jesus, and even up to the point of his death, he was testifying of the grace and forgiveness of God. Saul was a willing participant in the death of Stephen, and, as we later see in Acts 9:1 he was still a cauldron of seething anger and hatred. Yet even while he was breathing out murderous threats on Christians, God was preparing him for an incredible mission for which he alone was suited. Was Saul ready for this work when he was participating in the death of Stephen? How much was Saul affected by the behavior of Stephen as he was being murdered?
I am reminded of Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This powerful verse is exemplified in this scenario. Stephen, while dying, gives grace and forgiveness to his persecutors. Saul, while in the midst of rage and blind hatred, is being chosen by God for a special mission, and total forgiveness of his murderous sins.
Saul’s rage may actually have been intensified by seeing Stephen’s strong faith and supernatural grace in his gruesome death. This is called “conviction”. Saul was being deeply affected by Stephen’s behavior, and he was chosen by God soon after that event to have a life transformation. We are ready for life transformation when the hard shell of our defenses gets cracked by events that refute those beliefs. The Spirit rang true to Saul at the time when Jesus chose to manifest himself to Saul on the road to Damascus.
What are the legacies that we leave to those around us? How many great things are in store for the world if we simply choose to display grace under fire? Only God knows, and that should be all we care about.
Prayer: Father, we do not know the legacies we leave by our current decisions and actions. Give us grace and strength to be the models for those we do not yet know, Amen.