I. "AND SAUL WAS CONSENTING UNTO HIS DEATH."
A. Here again it is important to remember that the chapter and verse designations were man-made, it was not so in the original manuscripts.
1. There was a continual flow in the original and here we need to go back a few verses to get the flow.
And cast Stephen out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
And as they stoned Stephen, He was calling on God, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And he knelt down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul was consenting unto his death.
B. Here we get a brief introduction to a man who will become one of the major instruments in God's program to get the gospel out to the world.
1. Our first introduction is negative.
a. We see him aiding and abetting those who are stoning Stephen.
b. We are told here that he is consenting to his death.
2. We see him taking a lead roll in trying to wipe out the new born church.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed [them] to prison.
3. By his own admission he said that he persecuted this way unto death. That he bound and delivered into prison both men and women. (Acts 22:4)
4. He told king Agrippa:
And many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against [them].
And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled [them] to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted [them] even unto strange cities.
5. To the Corinthians he wrote:
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
6. To the Galatians he wrote:
For ye have heard of my former life in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
7. To the Philippians he said of his past life as a Jew:
Concerning zeal, persecuting the church;
C. I think that it is correct to assume that when Stephen was disputing those of the synagogue of the Libertines that Saul was one of the chief debaters against Stephen, for Saul had already developed a reputation for his scholarship and zeal.
D. Saul was well known for his persecution of the church.
1. In Damascus when the Lord called Annaias to go and pray for Saul he objected saying:
Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
2. When those in Damascus heard of his conversion they were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came here for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
3. We read that after his conversion when he came to Jerusalem he attempted to join himself to the disciples, but they were all afraid of him and did not believe that he was a disciple.
E. This is just our introduction to Saul, we will hear much more about him in time to come. His reputation will change radically for they will soon be hearing that He which persecuted the church in times past is now preaching the faith that he once sought to destroy.
II. "AT THAT TIME THERE WAS GREAT PERSECUTION AGAINST THE CHURCH."
A. The religious leaders had already begun the persecution.
1. The first persecution was begun by the Sadducees, they were upset because they were preaching through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
a. The Sadducees did not believe in angels, spirits, or the resurrection.
b. The Apostles were claiming that these great miracles that the people saw were being wrought through Jesus who was risen from the dead.
2. In the beginning the Pharisees took a more moderate view. Gamaliel who was a Pharisee and Saul's mentor had advised that they not try to stop the apostles, but to just let things go and observe, for if it was not of God, it would fade away, if it was of God they would be in the position of fighting against God.
B. Now the Pharisees are joining in the persecution. Stephen had been disputing with the Helenist; this is why Saul is getting involved. There will now be a great intensifying and expansion of the persecution.
1. Many of the believers will be forced to move out of Jerusalem.
2. They will be scattered throughout the whole region of Judea and Samaria.
a. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
b. God will bring good out of the evil intents.
c. Jesus had told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
d. Things were exciting in Jerusalem, God was moving in their fellowship. No one wanted to leave the security and comfort of the church in Jerusalem.
e. God will use the persecution to scatter them abroad throughout Judea and Samaria.
f. Thus as Jesus had said, they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout all Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.
3. Here we see the second and third phases of this prophecy, as they scatter in Judea and Samaria. Here also is the young man whom God will later use to take the message to the world.
4. The indication here is that the Apostles remained in Jerusalem.
C. Devout men buried Stephen with great lamentation.
1. Now has come the time of which Jesus had declared to them.
They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
2. Stephen was the first one to give his life for his witness of Jesus Christ. He has since been followed by millions.
3. Why the great lamentations by the devout men at the death of Stephen?
a. There was the idea in the early church that Jesus was going to return almost immediately to set up the Kingdom of God.
b. It could be that as in Thessalonica that they believed that those who died before Christ returned would miss out on that wonderful kingdom.
c. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians concerning this very matter.
d. We lament at the death of our loved ones, but our sorrow is not as those who have no hope.
III. "THEREFORE, THEY WHO WERE SCATTERED ABROAD WENT EVERYWHERE PREACHING THE WORD."
A. The persecution far from destroying the church only caused it to spread like a wild fire.
B. Prosperity is often a far more dangerous condition than adversity.
C. When you are weak and know that you have to rely on the Lord, that is the time of strength.
1. Paul said, "When I am weak, then am I strong, for God's strength is made perfect in my weakness."
2. Again we are warned, "Beware when you think that you stand lest you fall.
3. Often we think that Satan only attacks in our weakest area.
4. I really think that the attacks usually come in the place of our greatest strength.
a. Peter's greatest strength was his courage. He was willing to get out of the boat in the storm to walk to Jesus.
b. He declared that though all the others might forsake Jesus that he would stand by Him.
c. He was willing to take on all of the guards who came to arrest Jesus in the garden.
d. Yet in that place of personal strength he fell.
5. How is that?
a. Where I think I am strong, I am prone to rely upon my strength.
b. Where I know I am weak, I am prone to rely on His strength.
D. It is in the times when Satan is assaulting the church that we are driven to our knees.
1. It is on our knees that we find our strength.