September 8: Resilient Hope and Red Herrings
Joel 3:1–21; Acts 7:54–8:25; Job 19:1–12
The death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, must have crushed and discouraged the early church. But in this event Luke shows us glimmers of hope. He reminds us that God is working behind the scenes.
Facing death, Stephen prayed for his persecutors, asking that God “not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). God answered that cry of mercy in a generous way. As we watch Stephen being forced out of the city and stoned to death, Luke introduces us to another character present in the crowd: “The witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:54).
This detail seems like a red herring, but by introducing Saul (later Paul) to us before his conversion, Luke gives his readers hope in desperate circumstances. Saul was determined to squelch this dangerous new sect coming out of Nazareth, but soon Paul would become its greatest advocate. By placing Stephen’s death alongside Saul’s persecution, Luke shows that the church is resilient. Stephen was a source of encouragement and godly leadership for the church. Similarly, and in spite of his beginnings, Paul would expand the influence of the Church far beyond the expectations of its first followers.
In the end, Paul’s presence at Stephen’s stoning is not an irrelevant detail at all. God already had plans to use Paul’s life to further His kingdom work beyond Jerusalem and into the nations of the world. Paul’s conversion would be one of the greatest testaments of God’s saving work, demonstrating that God works to gather His community in ways we might not see. Even when circumstances seem grim, He is active behind the scenes, ready to use characters in His grand narrative for His good purpose.
How can you turn to Jesus for hope in your hopeless circumstances?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
- For behold, in those days and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people, and for mine heritage Israel: whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. And they have cast lots for my people, and have given the child for the harlot, and sold the girl for wine, that they might drink. Yea, and what have you to do with me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the coasts of Philistia? will ye render me a recompense? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I render your recompense upon your head. For ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly and pleasant things. The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have you sold unto the Grecians, that ye might send them far from their border. Behold, I will raise them out of the place where ye have sold them, and will render your reward upon your own head. And I will send your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall send the to the Sabeans, to a people far off, for the Lord hath spoken it. Publish among the Gentiles: prepare war, wake up the mighty men: let all the men of war draw near and come up. Break your plowshares into swords, and your scythes into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and call all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about. Put in your scythes, for the harvest is ripe, come, get you down, for the winepress run over, for their wickedness is great. O multitude, O multitude, come into the the valley of threshing: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of threshing. The sun and moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their light. The Lord also roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shall shake, but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, mine holy Mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall be no strangers go through her anymore. And in that day shall the mountains drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall run with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the House of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim. Egypt shall be waste, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, fofr the injuries of the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. But Judah shall dwell forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood, that I have not cleansed, and the Lord will dwell in Zion. Joel 3:1–21
- But when they heard these things, their hearts brast for anger, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he being full of the holy Ghost, looked steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens open, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. Then they gave a shout with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him violently all at once, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet named Saul. And they stoned Stephen, who called on God, and said, Lord Jesus receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had thus spoken, he slept. And Saul consented to his death. And at that time, there was a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and of Samaria, except the Apostles. Then certain men fearing God, carried Stephen among them, to be buried, and made great lamentation for him. But Saul made havoc of the Church, and entered into every house, and drew out both man and women, and put them in prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went to and fro preaching the word. Then came Philip into the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, with one accord, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits crying without a loud voice, came out of many that were possessed of them: and many taken with palsies, and that halted, were healed. And there was great joy in that city. And there was before in the city, a certain man called Simon, which used witchcraft, and bewitched the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was some great man. To whom they gave heed from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is that great power of God. And they gave heed unto him, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But as soon as they believed Philip, which preached the things that concerned the kingdom of God, and the Name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also, and was baptized, and continued with Philip, and wondered, when he saw the signs and great miracles which were done. Now when the Apostles, which were at Jerusalem, heard say, that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John. Which when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Ghost. (For as yet he was fallen down on none of them, but they were baptized only in the Name of the Lord Jesus.) Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands the holy Ghost was given, he offered them money. Then said Peter unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou thinkest that the gift of God may be obtained with money. Thou hast neither part nor fellowship in this business: for thine heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, that if it be possible, the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken, come upon me. So they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Gospel in many towns of the Samaritans. Acts 7:54–8:25
- But Job answered, and said, How long will ye vex my soul, and torment me with words? Ye have now ten times reproached me, and are not ashamed: ye are impudent toward me. And though I had indeed erred, mine error remaineth with me. But indeed if ye will advance yourselves against me, and rebuke me for reproach, Know now, that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with his net. Behold, I cry out of violence, but I have none answer: I cry, but there is no judgment. He hath hedged up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths. He hath spoiled me of mine honor, and taken the crown away from mine head. He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and he hath removed mine hope like a tree. And he hath kindled his wrath against me, and counteth me as one of his enemies. His armies came together, and made their way upon me, and camped about my tabernacle. Job 19:1–12