From persecutor to follower
Acts 9: Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for awhile.
From the Day of Pentecost on there’s tension between the followers of Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Obviously, the murder of Stephen is the primary example of that. Now, Saul, who was there as Stephen’s last words were addressed to Jesus, becomes the main enemy of the believers. He terrorizes them, showing no mercy. Then, on the way to Damascus to root out even more Jesus followers, he encounters Jesus, himself. It’s a dramatic turnaround. The greatest enemy of Jesus and his people is now one of them. Saul is as zealous for Jesus as he had been zealous against him. Following the martyred Stephen’s approach Saul debates the enemies of Jesus in Damascus. Then, when opposition is stirred to murderous proportions he returns to Jerusalem. Thanks to Barnabas, Saul is welcomed into the Church there. Soon he’s debating with the Hellenists of that city. Before long they decide to deal with Saul as they dealt with Stephen. Saul is hustled out of town and soon is sent to his distant home town, Tarsus. It’s only then that things calm down for the infant Church. As I read of these events, I once again wonder if debate is the best way to advance Christianity. It’s Stephen’s use of this approach that touches off the firestorm of opposition and it’s when Saul, with his debate style is moved from the mix that things calm down and the Church advances under a banner of peace. Also, I can’t help but wonder if Saul’s conversion doesn’t frighten the enemies of the Church. Saul was one of them, in fact, the most zealous of the lot. If attacking followers of Jesus can somehow make a person into one of “them” maybe it’s best to just leave them alone! No real application here but there’s plenty to think about as I consider this chain of events.
Take Away: Debate probably isn’t the best way to influence people for Jesus.
How not to win friends and influence people
Acts 7: And you continue, so bullheaded.
The ragged transition in righteous Stephen’s sermon feels so out of place. He’s been debating with the religious leaders, and winning, so they come up with a scheme to lie about him and get him arrested. The charge is that Stephen claims Jesus of Nazareth is going to destroy the Temple and toss out the customs of Moses. Stephen’s defense begins innocently enough. For some reason he decides to recount the history of their people, from Abraham on. Everything he says is plain vanilla, middle of the road facts that every Jew knows. After several minutes of this walk through history Stephen arrives at the story of the building of the Temple. Now those who have made the charge that Stephen says the Temple is going to be destroyed by Jesus sit up and take notice. When Stephen reminds them that their own Scriptures state that God doesn’t live in any building made by man they, I think, decide he’s about to say the Temple isn’t important at all. Although it isn’t recorded in this passage, I believe that people start shouting Stephen down. That’s when he drops out of his sermon and responds by calling them “bullheaded,” “traitors,” and “murderers.” His enemies don’t take kindly to being thus accused and the result is that the mob lives down to Stephen’s description of them as murderers. I know I’m not anything close to being worthy of making a judgment call on this good man who, even as he’s being murdered prays for those doing the horrible deed. Still, I can’t help but wonder if things might have turned out differently had Stephen responded differently. It seems to me that when he gets into a shouting match with his adversaries that his opportunity to make any case at all is lost. Again, I know I’m not in a position to judge here but I think Christians are almost always more effective in spreading the Good News of Jesus when they live servant-lives, humble and kind. After all, Jesus said that when we’re rejected we’re to shake the dust off our feet and meekly move on. That feels a lot different to me than telling people they’re bullheaded murderers.
Take Away: Likely the best way to influence people for Christ is to take on the role of a servant while avoiding calling them names!