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…