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Saul, a young Pharisee who hated Jesus' followers

November 6, 2023

Daily Scripture

Acts 7:54-8:3, 9:1-2

Acts 7-8
54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One [or Son of Man] standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died.
8 1 Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.
At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. 2 Some pious men buried Stephen and deeply grieved over him. 3 Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.

Acts 9
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, 2 seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

A man with the Hebrew name Saul first appeared in the story the book of Acts told as almost a bit player, holding other people’s coats. He quickly became prominent as a driven, deadly persecutor of early Christians. Tomorrow we’ll read a longer account of his testimony at a trial later in his life. At that time he said, “I really thought that I ought to oppose the name of Jesus the Nazarene in every way possible” (Acts 26:9—cf. also Galatians 1:14).

  • In Saul’s background and education, nearly every person he respected, from the high priest down, rejected Jesus and saw Christians as a threat to God’s truth. No wonder he set out, with great passion, to destroy a faith he saw as seriously wrong. Did your background and training make it easy or hard for you to believe in Jesus? How well are you able to understand and relate to people with backgrounds different from yours?
  • Those who killed Stephen (with Saul’s full approval) “shrieked and covered their ears…. charged at him” and “battered him with stones.” Paul remembered and said, “My rage bordered on the hysterical.” What is the danger of letting that kind of rage fill you, even in defense of what you believe is right? How can Jesus’ example, as well as Paul’s more life-affirming mature defense of his faith, guide us in finding more constructive ways of standing for what we believe?

Lord Jesus, your life offered all of us grace and a place with a God who loves relentlessly. Help me never to distort that message by denying grace to people who aren’t just like me. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Emily Stirewalt

Emily Stirewalt

Emily Stirewalt is an ordained Elder in the Missouri Annual Conference and has served since 2007. She is thrilled to be specializing in pastoral care of elderly adults as Resurrection's Silverlink Pastor. She is married to Randall, a special education teacher. They have two daughters, Elliott and Marlowe. When Emily is not in a care home sharing communion or with her family on another Kansas City adventure, you can find her curled up on the couch at home binge watching "Friends" or "Golden Girls."

When I was a junior in high school, a new choir teacher started at my school, following a long tenured, beloved teacher. Looking back now as an adult, I can see that the push back my classmates and I gave that new teacher on every piece of music he picked was really about our own grief over a teacher we loved moving on. To say we were critical and uncooperative is an understatement for sure.

When he handed out a piece of music called “Saul” for our upcoming contest season, we were skeptical immediately. There was no discernible start to the piece. It said on the front page that every singer was to pick a different time to come in, with no pitch the same and to pay attention to the breathing of those around them so as not to come in at the same time. The only thing that really mattered was the phrase we were to enter with: “Saul breathing threats and murders against disciples of the Lord…” We thought the beginning sounded awful and were certain our long time ONE rating tradition at state was on the line. 

I am not sure how he found the patience with us to explain that we were missing the whole point of the song. I remember him saying, “If everything in this song was tied up in a neat bow, we would not realize just how terrible Saul was acting and then we would certainly make the audience miss his miraculous transformation.” 

Saul was doing what he thought was just and holy. He caused mass chaos. God called him out of that chaos, he became Paul and now here we are, some two thousand years later, learning how much Paul has shaped our faith journeys with his own. 

What chaos might you be missing God’s saving work in because it seems indiscernible to you? There is likely a surprise in store for you. 

Click here if you’d like to hear a video recording of a choir performing “Saul.”

By the way, we got a ONE rating at contest that year and started trusting our teacher a lot more. 

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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.