Saul Makes Havoc of the Church
Although there is one and only one Jesus, there are some intriguing parallels between Stephen and Jesus I'd like to point out before leaving Acts 7. Both Jesus and Stephen were arrested on similar false charges of blasphemy. Both stood before the same judges (the Sanhedrin council). Both knew they would not get a fair trial. Both knew they had come to the most important time of their lives. Both were improperly condemned to die. Both asked for mercy for their persecutors.

After uttering these words, Stephen fell "asleep." This is a euphemism for death. Death is metaphorically designated as a sleep because of the similarity in appearance between both conditions and because eventually both will be raised (one from the bed and one from the grave)! The manner of Stephen's death would have been encouraging to any faithful Christian who learned about it. Stephen's faith did not collapse. He did not become bitter or violent. He died full of peace and tranquility. He served the Lord faithfully to the very end with great commitment and dedication. What an example of magnifying Christ in one's body by life and by death (cf. Phil. 1:20)!

"Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:1-4).

Later in Saul's life he would become a penitent, prayerful, powerful preacher of the word of God. But, for now, we see him as a persistent persecutor! A large-scale persecution arose against the Jerusalem church. Disciples of Christ were hunted down from house to house (as they had been evangelizing!) and were forcibly dragged off to prison. The persecution was impartial, affecting both men and women, and it was vicious. Saul intended to completely destroy the church; he was relentless (cf. Gal. 1:13). After the arrests began, many fled, but they didn't go quietly. They went "everywhere preaching the word." They were scattered, you might say, like seed for a coming crop!

Interestingly, God had commanded that the gospel be taken into all the world and such had not happened to date. The church had grown very strong in Jerusalem, but God had something greater planned. Specifically, Acts 1:8 gives the order of outreach: Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. In the providential scheme of things, it was time for the gospel to spread further! In this sense, the persecutors actually helped the church grow. Their zeal to put out the fire only ended up spreading the flames! Indeed, man is powerless when he fights against God. The individual Christians who left Jerusalem loved the Lord, His word, and His church. They would not be stopped by threats, beatings, imprisonment, or even death! Friends, may we have this type of faith! May we be so convinced of the gospel that we all actively and boldly share the word freely with all! The church cannot reach its fullest potential when only a precious few are sowing and watering the seed among the lost.

After Stephen's death, devout men buried his bloody corpse and made "great lamentation over him." He would be missed. The fact that they buried a "blasphemer" and honored him shows they did not accept the judgment against him.