When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
~ Acts 4:13
In the aftermath of Pentecost and the initial preaching of the Apostles in Jerusalem, there was an outpouring of extraordinary events. Jesus’ closest followers, fishermen and laborers for the most part, began humbling the Sanhedrin with their knowledge of scripture and powerful public speaking. These were not fleshly accomplishments, but accomplishments of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostles chose seven men to oversee the ministry of serving widows with food. Stephen was among them, a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” He did great wonders and miraculous signs. The religious leaders resorted to old tricks to counter this work of God – bogus charges, false witnesses. Stephen didn’t back down. Instead, he explained from their own scriptures how the Jewish people had rejected God time and again, ultimately rejecting the coming of the Righteous One. In their rage, they stoned him. Stephen responded with mercy as he died, begging God’s forgiveness of his persecutors.
Saul was there, assisting the ones who threw the stones. After Stephen’s death, he embarked on a vicious persecution of the church. But a couple of chapters later we see another extraordinary thing – the risen Christ appears to Saul and blinds him. God uses another believer, Ananias, to share the gospel of Christ and to heal Saul’s blindness. Saul not only believes, but becomes a preacher of the gospel to the point that his former allies now sought to kill him as well.
Meanwhile, Peter received a vision demonstrating that the gospel is for the Gentiles as well. A righteous Gentile names Cornelius also received a vision, and God put these two men together, radically expanding the limited Jewish vision of Christ’s church.
I believe that these extraordinary things and the Spirit who brought them are available to us today if we are willing to listen, believe and obey.
Lord, let me always remember the courage and faith of Stephen and the apostles, and be strengthened by them. Amen.
~ Stephen Peterson