Ryan Lochte and three other US Olympic swimmers were robbed at gunpoint yesterday morning. The criminals posed as police officers, pulled them over in their taxi, pointed their guns at them, and stole their wallets, cell phones, and Olympic credentials.
Meanwhile, a man in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is charged with stabbing his father during Sunday worship services. We don’t yet know the father’s status or why he was attacked.
But we know this: misused freedom is a daily reality on this fallen planet. From Adam and Eve to today’s headlines, humans abuse the freedom God intends us to use to love him and each other (Matthew 22:37–39). And innocent people usually pay the price.
The good news is that when innocent Christians suffer faithfully, God uses our witness in ways we cannot imagine this side of glory. For instance, as Stephen was being stoned to death, “the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). This “young man” was Saul of Tarsus, better known as Paul the Apostle.
Why did Luke, the writer of Acts, insert Paul into the narrative? Luke was Paul’s personal physician. It seems likely that he knew Paul had participated in Stephen’s martyrdom because Paul told him. And it seems likely that Luke included this fact in the story because of the impression it made on Paul.
For the young Pharisee to watch Stephen die so courageously and graciously, praying that God would forgive the very people who were murdering him (v. 60), must have been dramatically powerful. Stephen’s witness was so impactful that it’s been said, “No Stephen, no Paul.”
Here’s the point: the first Christian martyr went to his death never knowing that his faithfulness would help produce the greatest evangelist, missionary, and theologian in Christian history. You cannot know the future significance of present obedience.
Is Stephen’s story yours today? Have you been hurt, slandered, gossiped about, or injured in some other way? If Stephen, a man of “good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), could face persecution, so can we all. In the last letter Paul wrote, looking back over decades of service to Jesus, he noted that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
If you’re Stephen, perhaps you should make Augustine’s prayer yours: “God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honor and glory.”
When you are Stephen, there is a “young man named Saul” watching you. Always.
Note: My latest booklet, Half-full or Hopeful? Five reasons for optimism in a pessimistic day, is available on our website. I hope you’ll read it and be encouraged by the good news of God at work in our world today.