“And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” (Acts 7:58, AV)
I have served as a juror on several courtroom trials. One was a robbery. Another was an assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. Yet, the most major trial was that of a murder. In the murder trial, the accused blasted away at a car with a semi-automatic pistol. One man in the car was shot dead and another escaped. The one who escaped got a good eye to eye view with the shooter. He was an eye witness and what he saw indelibly influenced his life.
Witnesses are observers of events. In many cases the events they see leave an indelible imprint on their lives. These imprints change their lives. Yet, their witness can also change the lives of others. Here in this passage, we see the martyrdom of Stephen. This event marked the severe escalation of the persecution of the church. The Scripture tells us that there were witnesses to the stoning of Stephen and that one of these was a man named Saul.
Saul was an up-and-coming Jewish religious leader or the sect of the Pharisees. Luke points out that this man Saul, approved of the execution of Stephen (Acts 8:1). This man, Saul of Tarsus, we also know as the Apostle Paul. Something happened that day to Saul, that left an imprint on his life. He would never forget that he stood there and approved of the martyrdom of Stephen.
Saul became a leader in persecuting the sect we know as Christians. The text records that he ravaged the church, going house to house, dragging off men and women to prison (Acts 8:3). Later while he was in pursuit of believers who were fleeing, Saul had an experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He becomes Paul the believer in Jesus and an apostle. Later, Luke records that Paul mentions his part in the stoning of Stephen as part of his witness to the truth of the life transforming power of the gospel. “And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him” (Acts 22:20, AV). It is evident that what Paul saw in his participation of Stephen’s martyrdom had a lasting imprint on him.
The word witness in the New Testament is the Greek, martus, it is a word that is also translated as martyr in the book of Revelation. “And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration” (Revelation 17:6, AV). In Stephen’s case, he was a witness of the truth of Jesus that resulted in his persecution and martyrdom. His enduring persecution for what he believed was in itself a witness to those watching. It had an influence on one person that we know in particular, Paul the apostle.
In this life, godly people will endure some form of persecution (2 Tim 3:12). The persecution may be minor or it might be major, even leading to martyrdom. Remember this. How you handle persecution is a witness to others regarding the reality of your faith. We do not like persecution when it comes. However, in it we must seek to be filled with the Spirit, as was Stephen. It is only by the power of God’s grace working in us that we will hold firm and be the witnesses that will have an indelible imprint on those who are watching.