Yesterday, I wrote about Stephen’s example to us as the first Christian martyr.
While I was writing that post, I imagined a possible conversation between Stephen and Paul.
Aside from Acts 7 recording the first Christian martyrdom, there’s something else in Stephen’s story.
It’s the first time we’re introduced to the apostle Paul.
“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” -Acts 7:58
Saul, who would later become Paul, was present at Stephen’s murder. He was the unofficial coat holder.
“Hey, Saul. Hold our coats for us while we kill Stephen.”
“Uh . . . Okay.”
While Paul did not actually throw a stone at Stephen like the others, his part in Stephen’s murder plagued Paul.
But not before Paul followed in Stephen’s murderers path.
“Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.”- Acts 8:2, 3
From Paul’s writings, we know that he battled with the fact that he became a persecutor of God’s people.
“I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison” – Acts 22:4
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.” – Acts 26:19-11
“For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” 1 Corinthians 15: 9
“You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.” – Galatians 1: 13
Paul often found the need to defend his conversion to members of the early church. They questioned whether or not he could have God’s blessing. To be honest, I really don’t blame them. I mean, how would I feel about my pastor if I knew he had tortured and killed my fellow Christians? Despite this opposition, Paul knew where his authority came from.
Paul had to tell them time and time again, “Yes. It’s true. I was the biggest scumbag you’d ever want to meet. But God saved me and I’m not that person anymore. If God can change me, then he can change anyone. That’s what I’m trying to tell you about how wonderful God’s grace is. Get it through your thick skulls!”
Despite Paul’s convictions, he also remembered the very point when he became a persecutor of Christians.
“And while the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing by, approving and keeping the coats of those who killed him.” – Acts 22:20
So, I imagine Paul was not to eager to meet Stephen in heaven. Even though he accepted God’s grace and knew that he was fully forgiven of his role in Stephen’s death, he still carried around this baggage. Who wouldn’t?
But, I imagine that Stephen, “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8), who begged God to forgive his persecutors (Acts 7: 60), ran up to greet a reluctant Paul.
“Greetings, Paul! I’m so glad you’re here!” Stephen exclaimed while embracing Paul.
Paul breaking down, crying and weeping, “Why, Stephen? why are you hugging me? Why would you ever want to see me? I am so guilty. I stood by and did nothing but hold your murderers’ coats while they stoned you to death. I cannot even begin to tell you how sorry I am!”
“But, Paul. Don’t you know that I have already forgiven you? Who do you think I was praying for when my last words were ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’? It was you, Paul. And look at the great work that God blessed you with! My prayer worked, and I am so thankful to God that we can share eternity together, as buddies!”
From there, I imagine that Paul and Stephen became great friends and are worshiping God at this very moment.
I believe that my imagined meeting and friendship holds some amount of truth to it. It’s based upon truths scattered throughout scripture.
We also have some incredible modern-day examples that shows how former persecutors of Christians have come to Christ and have been forgiven and accepted by those they have persecuted.
The rest of this week, we’ll take a look at a few of their stories.
Until next time, may God bless and keep you and yours.