But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, Who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the Name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them to Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the Name of the Lord. Acts 27-28
Barnabas the encourager takes Saul to the apostles, Peter and James (Gal. 1:18-19) and declares he or she who has been an enemy to the Truth ought not to be trusted until he or she gives proof that they are changed. They have their proof that Saul is a converted soul by witness Ananias, three years of preaching Christ Resurrected in Damascus, and countless souls saved, Baptized, and integrated into Christian community.
The believers remain under tremendous persecution from the Roman government and Saul continues to be targeted for death by the Romans. The apostles take in Saul, accepting the introduction of Barnabas and affirmation of witnesses. Peter is not yet convinced that Christ is to be offered to the Gentile world but Saul has been given that clear intent by Jesus.
Saul is living with conviction in obedience to Christ our Lord. Unwavering. Unrelenting. The Holy Spirit is motivating him and the Holy Spirit motivates you. Holy Spirit makes you strong when you are weak, clear minded within our Lord’s purpose, and gives you words to speak when you open your mouth to witness in Christ’s love to save souls.
After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill I’m, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; but His disciples too him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. Acts 9:23-26
Saul leaves Damascus by the believer’s putting him into a merchandise basket and lowering him down the walls to avoid the plotting Jews wanting to catch him and kill him. Three years later he comes to Jerusalem for a first visit (Gal. 1:15) so Saul’s time with the Christians in Damascus has entailed solidifying friendships in Christ, fueled by the Holy Spirit preaching in the synagogue, listening and learning from Jesus, and heartfelt conviction to his purpose to preach to the Gentiles the victory of Christ’s love.
Were you to set a three year goal to prepare for the purpose in Christ what would you choose? Immersion and learning of the Scriptures, forming Christian oneness in community with Christ’s loving acceptance as foundation, discovering the depth of trusting our Lord to strengthen you in faith to go forward each day, or would it be all of these and added to these the practice of solitary and community prayer that is like the rudder on a boat. Trust in Christ as you are readied for something next.
Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the Word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the Good News to many villages of the Samaritans. Acts 8:25
The first Samaritan convert was the woman at the well with Jesus https://atmyfathersdesk.com/2017/05/04/come-and-see-the-man/ Now after Jesus’ Resurrection the work of the Holy Spirit converts the Samaritans village by village and town by town. This event is marvelous. Let us rejoice in this view of the sweeping fire of the Holy Spirit and also take a forward look together at something excellent next in Acts.
In chapters 8, 9, and 10 three conversions are given to us. In chapter 8 is the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, the son of Ham. In chapter 9 is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the son of Shem. In chapter 10 is the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, the son of Japheth. Remember that the entire human family comes from these three divisions of people after the flood.
Ham, Shem, and Japheth were the sons of Noah. Thus we see that the Holy Spirit is reaching out to all of humanity; available. Also, in each of these three conversions there are three factors: 1.) the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead a person to witness so that the conversion opportunity is opened (go where the Holy Spirit is moving you in your prayer life for another individual), and 2.) the Holy Spirit uses things of Christ the Word of God through a person (use the Scriptures of Christ to witness), and 3.) a person is needed to speak what the Holy Spirit places on their heart for the other’s conversion.
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.” Acts 8:20-24
The Holy Spirit usually comes at Baptism (Acts 2:38, 19:5-6) and here the Baptized Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit through apostolic anointing by Peter and John. After this, Simon the magician orders Peter to give him anointing Power, offering money to pay. The Scripture today shows how Peter rebukes him.
Peter’s instructions will lead him to New Birth in Christ. Simon the magician can choose to humble his heart and repent allowing the Holy Spirit to transform him yet he chooses self involvement instead of Christ involvement. New Birth occurs when we give ourselves wholly and completely to Christ and then we turn our back firmly on anything that is not of Christ. The New Birth continually enables Christ to transform us to be like Him.
Your heart softens and conforms to Christ’s love and you bow humbled because you are His dear one. You choose selflessness compassionate friends and together look outward to others needs instead of inward to just your needs. As you are growing in Christ-like love joy is found through immersing yourself in the Scriptures. You speak to affirm and encourage the Promises of Jesus into other’s lives and hold fast to them.
And Saul approved of their killing Stephen. That day a severe persecution began against the Church in Jerusalem, and all except the Apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the Church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Acts 8:1-3
Viscous persecution of the Christian believers begins that day. Christians are singled out because of the revolution of the Holy Spirit’s Power — Spirit Wind blowing within hearts of new believers like a hot brushfire on open dry grassland. All who speak to Him discover Him and love Him. The Holy Spirit’s Power today is just as fiery, Spirit strengthens you to do faith, do forgive, and do forge ahead in Christ.
Early believers and we today memorize and do what Jesus says: This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14 Go ahead and bear fruit my friend, bring others to Him. He assures you that ‘My Heavenly Father will give you whatever you ask in My Name.’ John 15:16 Fruit bearing and prayer are both dependent on obeying His commands to love.
You fan the fire of the Holy Spirit fueled to burn brighter as you love others like Christ. Love within you frees you to prayerfully enter into the Holy Presence of our loving Almighty God. As the Holy Spirit’s Fire burns brightly within them these early Christians firmly love even their enemies and are imprisoned, tortured, injured, and martyred for our faith. These dear ones show you that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. Romans 8:31-39
Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. Acts 7:58-60
Stoned unjustly for his Spirit filled words about the Israelites turning away from God and rejection of God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ, the witnesses who were legally required to cast the first stones at the offender (Deut. 17:7) murder Stephen. Our hearts are filled with sadness as the first martyred believer is treated so cruelly. We may blame this on mob mentality or closed minds yet the Scripture alerts us that the stoning is a direct result of uncircumcised hearts and ears, rejection of the Holy Spirit.
Those on the council would not bow their necks to God’s yoke nor draw near to the Word of God. The miracle of extreme extraordinary assistance, like Ezekiel 8:1-4, lifts Stephen’s suffering to the throne of God as both Christ and God stand ready to receive him. Before any sentence is passed they rush at Stephen, laying their cloaks at the feet of Saul– Saul who Jesus would later knock off his high horse and speak redeeming Grace, this Saul who cannot guess right now that he too would be stoned for the same cause of Christ.
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” as Stephen prays aloud, worshipping Christ in the very manner in which Christ worshipped our Heavenly Father on the Cross. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” as Stephen like Christ requests that our Heavenly Father continue to pursue the hearts of unbelievers even in the midst of their unrighteous unspeakable evil ways. Look to the Cross then also use, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” as the blessed Holy Spirit enables us to draw the lost ones to Christ in all ways we can and at all times we can.
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into Heaven and saw the Glory of God and Jesus standing at the right Hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the Heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right Hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Acts 7:54-57
Stephen is completely filled with the Holy Spirit as he speaks to the council, so much so that when he looks up into Heaven he sees the Glory of God and Christ. This was not his imagination nor a emotional event prompted by the tense situation he was in for this is the fullness of his witness in Truth. In reaction, the men on the council cover their ears not wanting to hear about Resurrected Jesus standing at the right Hand of God. They cover their ears as their hearts are vacant of all faith, causing them to grind their teeth in anger.
Some may think ‘poor Stephen, he is about to be murdered because he was just one person standing against so many angry men.’ Yet Stephen would say, “Not poor me; please rejoice with me for I stood fast in faith in our Resurrected Christ and witnessed to these unbelievers and murders of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was and is victorious!” Even if you are just one person speaking the right things for our Resurrected Christ stand fast and strong in the Holy Spirit and fear nothing of this world that may hurt you.
Each witness for Christ receives the victory! We do not fear death. Our fear is that our witness will shrink us into background-people because when we are put to the test-of-our-faith by anyone in this world we choose to be afraid to stand firm in our faith and rise to the challenge set before us. Take Stephen as your template to witness for Jesus and speak boldly about Jesus Christ. “Be not afraid,” Jesus says, “I have overcome this world.” He has and this world cannot harm our faith in Him anywhere, anytime, or any believer.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the Prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become His betrayers and murders. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53
These men were physically circumcised but not circumcised in their hearts and ears. In other words, they would not listen to God nor to the Son of God. They missed much of what God gave them because of their stiff-necked self serving ways even though the Prophets had given them every opportunity to expect Jesus Messiah Savior. Empowered by the Spirit, Stephen speaks before this cold hearted council and they hear not by their own choices.
Choice can lead to you Jesus or lead away from Jesus. What choices are you making my friend? By that I mean is your heart stayed in the Holy Spirit and your ears filled with Jesus Christ’s words from Scriptures? Is prayer to Him your first thought when you listen to others tell you of their struggles. Prompted by the Spirit of Truth (John 14:15-17) do you take action to do what Spirit prompts you to do to help, to answer with support and encouragement, and to give of yourself to the lost, lonely, and the ‘least of these’ children?
To be circumcised in heart and ears is to experience New Birth in Christ (John 3:1-21) and become a Holy Spirit Baptized Christian. This is the glorious beginning for then the Spirit of Truth will guide you in all things as you yield yourself to Spirit. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus Christ has come to fulfill the law, show us God Almighty, and and give us Spirit. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus allowed evil to put Him to death and then burst evil’s grip of destruction on our hearts and ears by His Resurrection as the angels rejoiced. Spirit shows the one way to God through Jesus Christ is open and stays open.
But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet (Isaiah) says, ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. What kind of house will You build for Me, says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Did not My Hand make all these things?’ Acts 7:47-50
With the power of the Holy Spirit and the face of an angel Stephen points out that the Prophets have tutored that God dwells within our hearts, our souls, and is the center of our being. The Holy Presence of God is within believers through Jesus Christ. God Most Holy originated the news that He does not require a temple building in which to reside (Isaiah 66:1-2).
What does Almighty God want? Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father wants our Holy Spirit-circumcised hearts and ears, our humbled lives, heartfelt obedience, and desires believers love Him dearly. Stephen is one of the best examples in Scripture of a bold response to what our Heavenly Father wants. He gives himself fully to the Holy Spirit and so much so that he appears to be all of Jesus Christ standing before the council speaking.
It is interesting that the Spirit takes the peaks of the council member’s historical memories yet does this not to give a timeline as such, but rather shows these men before Stephen that their habit has been to turn away from Almighty God and refuse to follow. They have killed the Prophets whom God’s Handiwork directed. They have killed the Author of Salvation Jesus Christ who offered love, mercy, justice, and uncomplicated redemption
Whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him (Moses) from them and in their hearts turned back into Egypt, Saying to Aaron , Make us gods to go before us; for this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their hands. Acts 7:39-42
Sitting before Stephen are a group of father and brothers on the council who disrespect Stephen. Stephen points to a group of our heritage fathers with Moses who stirred up some of the people when Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God –they were impatient, self-serving, and had determined to return to the Egypt slavery-oppression. Preparing for the journey back they made a golden calf to worship then make god figurines. God can get angry and He did. God turned from them in anger.
Sitting before Stephen are a group of father and brothers stirring up trouble for Stephen. They do not want him to succeed in leadership, refer to Christ Resurrected, nor do they want Stephen to refer to their faith failings. These are proud self-loving men who sit before Stephen. They are ‘suits’– what they show outwardly is not what they are inwardly. Jesus knows and cares. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Heavenly Father except through our Savior Jesus Christ.
You have given yourself to Jesus and He gives you the same Holy Spirit which is within Stephen. Stephen’s witness in Acts 7 is awesome. Holy Spirit is not a spirit of cowardice but a Spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Stephen shows you how to use faith, speak with power, and to love even the toughest to love by relying the self-discipline of union with Holy Spirit. And sitting before Stephen are a group of withered hearted souls who anger God again.