«All those sitting in the Council fixed their eyes on Stephen and saw that his face looked like the face of an angel» (Acts 6:15, GNT).
SAUL HAD A PAST that condemned him and entirely disqualified him from being a good Christian. His name meant «he who was desired» or «asked for insistently.» He was far from fulfilling his parents’ dreams, let alone God’s. He was born in a Gentile city, was a Roman citizen, and had been educated in Jerusalem by one of the most eminent rabbis, named Gamaliel. Saul presented himself as «a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless» (Phil. 3:5, 6, NIV).
Saul had also set all his expectations on the coming of the Messiah, but, disappointed, after Christ’s death he joined the priests and elders to persecute and bring an end to that «outlaw sect» of followers of the Nazarene. The Jewish leaders had assumed that the new faith, along with the enthusiasm of Christians, would cease once Christ had been nailed to the cross. But none of that happened. On the contrary, the events at Pentecost and subsequent ones showed an active and powerful church.
Saul became a staunch defender of the doctrines the Pharisees held, and devoted all his energies to bringing the followers of Jesus to trial, to prison, and to death. However, neither the threats, nor the prohibitions, nor the punishments seemed enough to put out the intense fire that burned in the hearts of the new believers. Even persecution was a resource for spreading the gospel.
This is how a courageous and committed servant like Stephen, full of grace and power, performing wonders and signs, was falsely accused of blasphemy against God, unjustly sentenced, and ultimately stoned. Stephen’s death seemed like a defeat, but God always writes straight with crooked lines. Stephen’s life, his last words, his countenance, his gestures, and his commitment to the truth touched many, even Saul. And God transformed the apparent defeat into a resounding victory.
As you begin this new year, perhaps you are saddled with certain prejudices, fears, failures, sadness, guilt, and unreached dreams. Do not be distressed. As with Saul, God wants to give you new opportunities. For that, like Stephen, look up, because there is the key to obtain peace and victory.
Begin these new twelve months seeking Jesus.
Take as your own the words of Ellen G. White to her son Edson:
«Be thorough in all you undertake. Rely constantly upon your Saviour; go to Him for wisdom, for courage, for strength of purpose, for everything you need» (Letter 3, May 5, 1877).