In Acts 6 we read of the appointment of “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (verse 3). They were to assist the Apostles so that they could devote themselves “to prayer and the ministry of the word” (verse 4). Stephen, one of the seven, was particularly zealous in preaching and challenged the Jewish visitors to Jerusalem. They “disputed with Stephen”. Some of these came “from Cilicia” (verse 9), Paul’s home town, and he was to prove the most aggressive opponent of them all.

Stephen is brought before the council and the High Priest asks him, “Are these things so? Stephen replies, giving them a history lesson to illustrate how God had acted in the past in raising up men like Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David who though initially separated and opposed by their brethren went on to do great service before God. Finally Stephen challenged them, “you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (verse 51). God sent “the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (verse 52).

The believers had “multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (6:7). Was there an expectation of some remarkable deliverance for Stephen, as has happened in Acts? But there was none!

Stephen’s last words were similar to those of Christ at his death. Jesus had said that his message “should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47), but they had not gone beyond Jerusalem – but now events made them do so. Acts 8 tells us, “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (verse 4).

Most of all, look at the later impact on Paul, who it says, “approved of his execution” (8:1) and who, when he was dramatically converted did his utmost to carry on where Stephen left off. Truly God makes “all things work together for good … according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul came to know “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19).