As I read of Stephen detailing the Gospel, from nearly Creation to Christ, I longed to memorize his speech, so I, too, may be prepared to give an answer to those who ask about the hope I have. Following the death of this man of bold words, we read, "And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem . . . Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison" (Acts 8:1,3). And I cannot help but notice how similar these words sound to my own ears, accustomed to news from the Middle East of Brothers and Sisters taken in chains and enduring much worse than mere imprisonment, though relating to Stephen in their deaths.
And I am filled with hope.
Because we know how this persecution story - the one in which Saul plays his horrible part - ends.
We continue to read how he is surprised by a bright light and the voice of none other than Christ Himself on the road to continue in his work of persecution. And his heart is changed. Changed so drastically that he runs full force in the opposite direction - becoming one of the strongest voices in this movement he so opposed - against the people of the cross.
And all I can breathe is, "Do it again, Lord!"
Because only God, not politics, not retaliated violence, not even witnessing believers, ONLY GOD can so thoroughly change the hearts of those dead-set against His Way.
And God then sends Saul/Paul to the Gentiles "to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:18) - because who better to tell others about this life-changing Man than one whose life was so drastically changed?
And all I can think is, "Do it again, Lord!"
Change the heart of this "chosen leader" bringing death upon Your followers to one turning hearts from Darkness to Light.
Do it again, Lord!
And there are those working alongside and in partnership with Paul, proclaiming Jesus in boldness even among those who wish them harm and plot their deaths, yet they will not be persuaded.
Do it again, Lord!
And there is Paul, before the tribune, about to be flogged, yet again, for daring to stand in opposition to Jewish leaders who stand in opposition to the Resurrection, revealing his Roman citizenship and there is great fear by those carrying out this judgment against him, "The tribune answered, 'I bought this citizenship for a large sum,' Paul said, 'But I am a citizen by birth.'" (Acts 22:28).
And have we not, now, been born into a much greater citizenship than any on earth? We are citizens of Heaven! What can man do to us?!
"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24)
Do it in us, Lord!
Yes, in us, who are Gentiles, to whom this book of Acts - following an Old Testament and Gospels of Christ brimming with foreshadowing of the coming salvation to us, those not born of blood into His people, but now born of Blood into His people - is as precious as that promise to Abraham, to those who would be called His. This book that declares, over and over, of the salvation that has come for ALL people - even us.
Where for the first time, it is declared by those proclaiming his name, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18)
Those who emphatically repeat, "For the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:17), who recognize that "we [the Jews] believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they [the Gentiles] will" (15:11), "that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each of us" (17:27).
So beautiful is this Light for Revelation to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32) - how great the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.
And, we His people, dared to speak with boldness this Truth, "for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
And He, our God, changing hearts we cannot even fathom to be able to be changed.
Do it again, Lord!