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.
As the rocks rained down, Stephen prayed, “Master Jesus, take my life.” Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, “Master, don’t blame them for this sin” – his last words. Then he died.
Saul was right there, congratulating the killers.
Stephen was a man chosen to help lead in the distribution of food to the poor in the very early church. Acts chapters 6 and 7 repeatedly refer to him as “full of the Holy Spirit.” Apparently Stephen’s passion, hunger and infilling of the Holy Spirit was affecting people, changing lives and drawing attention. As with Jesus, the religious rulers didn’t appreciate that so much. Stephen was brought before the High Council and questioned by the Chief Priests. He delved into a monologue that started with God calling Abraham out from his homeland, Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt, Moses delivering the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and culminated with the Just One, Jesus, being murdered by these very men! As you read in the scripture above, this caused a riot and ended with Stephen becoming the first martyr for Christ.
What really strikes me is the subtle foreshadowing we read at the end of chapter 7…”The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them…Saul was right there, congratulating the killers.” Who is Saul? You might be asking. Are you familiar with Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament? Yep. Same guy. Saul is Paul…or you could say… Paul was Saul! Saul was a staunch adherent to the law. He was from the “right” tribe. He carefully observed the Old Testament law and tradition. He was “in” with the religious elite. Mostly, Saul hated these followers of “The Way” later to be known as Christians. Matter of fact, Saul became quite active in the capture and arrest of many Christians! So, how in the world did he end up writing so much of the New Testament? Furthermore, why did God choose him? How unlikely!
I encourage you to pick up in Acts chapter 8 and read on about Saul’s conversion to Paul. How he met up with Jesus in a blinding flash of light on the Damascus Road. But for now, I want to bring out the point that came to mind and heart for me today…God really, really likes choosing the “unlikely ones” to do His work. I am sure there are various reasons, but one that jumps out to me today is that when God chooses those most unlikely for a particular purpose it is because He will get the glory! Is that so God can just look more…Goddy? No, I think it’s because He is the only One able to change us, save us and heal us. So, others always need to see past us to Him! God chooses the unlikely because there will be more of Him in the equation. Also, I believe when God chooses the most unlikely, underqualified and least deserving folks they are as stunned as everyone else! I believe it is essential that we realize our ability and talents are a gift from God. But when God chooses the unlikeliest of the world it is glaringly obvious that it is only through Him they fulfill the purpose and call He has for their life. And I believe, just as with Saul, when God chooses the unlikely ones there is no one more convinced than they are how much they need Jesus as they live out His purposes for them.
What about you? Are you an unlikely candidate for being used by God? How does your rap sheet look? Perhaps yours is full of wrong choices and the ugly stuff. Well, have you taken part in persecuting and murdering Christians? You haven’t??? Oh well I guess you aren’t disqualified! Because if God, in His wisdom and splendor, chose a self-righteous hater like Saul what makes you think He would count you out? Make no mistake, God humbled Saul for sure! Saul, on his merry way to arrest more Christians, ran smack-dab into the reality of Jesus. And God, being the way He is, gave Saul a new name and a purpose that has affected history.
Don’t count yourself out. Don’t look around at the ‘good’ people busy doing “God’s work” and think they were just so highly qualified. Maybe a few have lived a pristine life, but many of the most power-filled and compassionate Christians you’ll ever know started out as the most unlikely ones.
See, you just can’t put God into a box. And He won’t let you stay in one, either.