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Thursday, December 1 2011
Stephen was one of the first Christians to be martyred after the Messiah's resurrection (see The Stoning Of Stephen). He was killed for the same reason (Stephen spoke the Truth), by the same means (false charges of wrongdoing) and by the same people (including Annas And Caiaphas) as the Messiah.
"6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. 6:9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. 6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
Stephen's response to the accusers is found in Acts 7:1-53. Like Jesus Christ, Stephen merely spoke the Truth - to which they "stopped their ears" and killed him.
"7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Among those present at Stephen's death was a young Pharisee named Saul, who, prior to his conversion, became one of the most fierce Christian haters of that time (not all Pharisees opposed the Christ; the famous "John 3:16" was taught to a believing Pharisee, Nicodemus - see What Was The Lesson Of John 3:16?). Saul didn't just sit and hate Christians; Saul actively hunted Christians, "entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison" (Saul was fortunate to have not yet encountered a Christian who was given to defend himself - Jesus Christ had reserved Saul for Himself in that regard, as we will read; see also Who Has A Spirit Of Confrontation?). Much to Saul's dismay however, his persecution of Christians in Jerusalem resulted in them being "scattered abroad," preaching the Truth far beyond a single city or country.
"8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death.
"The Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight"
John the Baptist came to fulfill a "way" prophecy: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." The "groundwork" preparation that John accomplished was fulfilled by the Messiah.
"3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea [see also What Was Strange About John The Baptist?], 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3:3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Matthew 3:1-3 KJV)
The Christ warned that there are two ways that people can become "lost" on the way (a word that means road e.g. highway, freeway etc.) The wrong road (i.e. those who ignore or reject Christ, for the time being; see The Eighth Day: What Does It Mean?) will obviously result in being "lost," but so does going the wrong way on the right road (i.e. people who claim to be Christian, while ignoring or rejecting what Christ actually taught; see Antichristians).
"14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6 KJV)
Where was Saul the Pharisee before his conversion? Was he on the wrong road? No. As an Israelite, Saul had been of the Christian religion all of his life (i.e. "the LORD God" of the Hebrew Scriptures was Jesus Christ; see The First Christian Church). But Saul was going the wrong way on the right road - like someone who drives down a one-way street the wrong way, Saul was colliding with those who were going the right way on the right road.
"9:1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 9:2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem." (Acts 9:1-2 KJV)
The LORD could have struck Saul down anywhere, but He chose to do it when Saul was on his "way" to persecute those of the Way. Saul was made blind as an object lesson of his spiritual blindness up to that time, but his being struck down, by the Way, on the wrong way, was also a profound illustration of just "where" Saul was "headed."
"9:3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 9:4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
While under Greek occupation, many of the streets in the city of Damascus were laid out in a grid pattern; the Romans later extended many of them further. One of the most prominent streets in the grid was Straight Street that crossed the city from east to west. It was there that Saul was taken (Straight Street is shown in the photograph). The Messiah's earlier "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way" was once again demonstrated in the conversion of Saul by his being taken there to get himself "straightened out."
"9:10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias.
Ananias, one of the people of the LORD who Saul had intended to "bring them bound unto Jerusalem," was sent to participate in the conversion of Saul into Paul.
"9:17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 9:18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. 9:19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened.
Almost immediately, Paul began to be subjected to the same persecution that he had just before sought to inflict on others.
"9:23 And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: 9:24 But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. 9:25 Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
Saul was chosen to be one of the greatest Christian teachers that ever existed (more than half of the Book of Acts is about his ministry, and most of the Epistles were written by him - after Paul found the right direction on the right way), but his conversion also produced a relative peace for the people of God - a testimony as to just how much of a Christian hunter that he had once been when he was headed in the wrong way.
"9:31 Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." (Acts 9:31 KJV)
This Day In History, December 1
1135: King Henry I of England died.
1145: Pope Eugene III proclaimed the Second Crusade (see Constantine's Crusades In History And Prophecy). It was undertaken by King Louis VII of France and Emperor Conrad III from 1147 to 1149 (see also Emperors and Popes).
1553: The Imperial Chamber at Speyer outlawed Albert (Albrecht) II, and he sought asylum in France.
1640: In a nationalist revolution, Spanish garrisons were driven out of Portugal. Two weeks later, the Duke of Braganca was crowned as John IV.
1742: Empress Elizabeth ordered all Jews out of Russia.
1821: The Dominican Republic declared independence from Spain.
1822: Dom Pedro became the first emperor of Brazil.
1906: The Cinema Omnia Pathe, considered to be the world's first cinema, opened in Paris.
1918: The Danish Parliament passed an act granting independence to Iceland.
1918: The union of Transylvania and Romania was declared.
1918: Alexander I proclaimed the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
1925: In Switzerland, the Pact of Locarno was signed by France, Belgium, Germany, Britain and Italy. Although it guaranteed peace and inviolable frontiers in Europe, the signers were involved in World War Two less than 15 years later (listen also to our Sermon The European World Wars).
1959: 12 countries signed a treaty to make Antarctica a scientific preserve with no territorial claims.
1973: David Ben-Gurion (born in Poland as David Gruen), Israel's first prime minister, died at age 87 (listen also to our Sermon The Balfour Declaration).
1989: Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to visit the Vatican and meet the Pope.
1990: Workers digging the English Channel tunnel broke through the last section, opening Britain to the continent for the first time since the Ice Age.