Ethos Blog

Shopping Cart


Growing Pains: Saul, Stephen and the scattered saints

Wednesday, 12 July 2023  | John Kidson

This is part two of a two-part series on. You can read Part 1: ‘No Ordinary Election’ here.


Tragic victory!

I am glad for a new day! So much has been happening lately – most of us are 'on the run'. I hardly know where to start writing. I'm still in shock I guess. I shouldn't have been so surprised. You see, God gave Stephen, one of our appointed assistants, great miraculous power that amazed us all. He had become an excellent speaker too. But pretty quickly some men, who styled themselves as belonging to the 'Free Synagogue', started to debate with him. They were no match for his obvious God-given wisdom. They resorted to lying and were able to have him dragged up to face the council on false charges of dishonouring Moses and the Temple.

When the high priest asked for his side of the story, Stephen remained calm and resolute. Some said he was angelic – I reckon God's Spirit was filling and shining through him! He was able to refute all their accusations. Showing great respect for Moses and the Torah, he delivered a concise history lesson.

He concluded his defence by pointing out that Jesus, only weeks ago, had suffered similar mistreatment as the prophets. When he said Jesus died at your hands, well that was it. Talk about rage! The response was a riot. Stephen, calm as ever, waxed lyrical and knelt. He then described a vision of Jesus standing at God's right hand: ‘Lord Jesus, please welcome me!’ he called. He then seemed to pray for his murderers, but in the noise, turmoil and flying rocks, I missed what he said. Of course I was a bit keen to get away too. Strange what you remember. ... My lasting image of the day was people handing their cloaks to a young approving pharisee, Saul by name. I just wanted to wipe away those images of Stephen's execution.

Pretty soon I had the sad privilege of helping with his burial. Burying and mourning Stephen helped me cope. As we reflected on Steve's life and faith, we were comforted by the memory of his request to be welcomed. Over the next few days our pain eased, our sorrow began to fade, as we believed that Jesus had indeed welcomed him. Next we needed to get out of Jerusalem. It was getting more and more dangerous. Except for a few of the leaders, like John and Pete, we just took off - Samaria, Judea, just away and right now we're still on the run.

Being fugitives is giving us some good opportunities to talk about Jesus. Everywhere we go people want to know what's news. Many have heard of Jesus. Some have even heard him teach. The news of his execution has mainly two responses. A few just shrug, dismissing him as some sort of 'political activist' or just another rabble-rouser. Others are genuinely disturbed, believing he was a 'do-good-er'. When we say, 'Jesus is risen! - Death is defeated!', that's when the real discussion starts! Everyone finds it extremely difficult to decide what to do with that – if he is living again, he can't be ignored! When we explain some of the old prophecies and tell them how Stephen died, they either walk away shaking their heads or want to hear more.

Some other good news …

Has filtered through. … Firstly, we were excited to hear from some brothers that Philip had an excellent time with one of Queen Candace's officials. Being quite the athlete, Phil was able to catch up with a chariot in which an officer was returning from worship at Jerusalem. He was reading one of the Isaiah scrolls and invited Philip up to join him. Pretty soon they started talking. This gave Phil a great opportunity to explain the Scriptures from Isaiah on. I reckon he would have emphasised that bit where the prophet urges eunuchs not to think of themselves as 'dried trees' - the culmination, of course, was the top news about Jesus! Philip so convinced his listener that, when they came across some water, he wanted to be baptised. Philip naturally obliged. Then the Spirit whisked Phil away and the official went on his way with a smile that no rabbinic prayer shawl could wipe away!

Of course, this news pretty much made our day as well. Then we could hardly believe the second rather disturbing report that came to us from Jerusalem. Demas is still shaking his head. It's quite amazing, but I reckon I believe it! - Saul, the persecuting Rabbi has switched sides! He was a major reason we left Jerusalem! Not content with Stephen's murder, Saul had very quickly started going house to house, arresting and gaoling any of Jesus' followers he found. This latest news story is a bit patchy. My understanding is that it happened like this:

Saul procured official letters of authority so he could legally arrest any followers of 'The Way'.

So armed and determined, he set off for Damascus. But then the twist:

On the road, suddenly a really bright light flooded the area. The whole party was dumbstruck – they heard a loud voice but could see no one!

Saul, completely blinded, later claimed that Jesus had spoken to him! He remained totally blind and had to be led by hand into Damascus.

Well, we sat around with open mouths as we tried to take all that in. I must admit, initially the thought of Saul becoming blind appealed to me. I could still see his nodding approval watching Stephen's death. But the rest of the news was even better. I was amazed: Saul was now saying that Jesus was the Messiah! I mean, Saul speaking for Jesus! That's enough to put any Pharisee's phylacteries in a spin.

Apparently one of our number, Ananias, was living in Damascus when God gave him a specific task. He baulked at first, but then obeyed. He found Saul of Tarsus in Judas' house on Straight Street. Ananias then placed his hands on Saul, in welcome. He told Saul that Jesus, who'd met him on the road, wanted to restore his sight and give him the Holy Spirit. Immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes. He could see again! He stood and, after being baptised, shared a meal. Then he was back to near full strength.

It really hit me how Philip and Ananias had each obeyed the Lord's command. Surprisingly now, at Jesus' direction Saul was no longer the 'persecuting Pharisee' but a 'preaching Apostle' - he was sharing the good news of Jesus. This was startling and quite a few of the brothers had difficulty accepting it. Those still in Jerusalem had the most difficulty. Happily, good old Barnabas was able to assure most people that Saul was a changed man. Hearing that Barny was supporting Saul almost convinced Demas. It was 'leaven in the dough' for me! Now I'm looking forward to hearing Saul debate with some of the older leading scribes and pharisees. Such a profound change! I recall a promise from somewhere in the prophets or perhaps from one of the Psalms: 'I will give you a new heart', or something; or a new song in your heart?

My personal need ...

It seems Jesus is being talked about all round the country. Even merchants tell us how people are healed in Samaria - by a man called Philip! At the mention of his name we were keen to hear the details. They told us how Philip had outplayed a locally famous magician with healings and cures. Then, along with several changed men and women, the magician himself was baptised. This news really encouraged our group. The merchants went on to say he was last seen riding in one of Queen Candace's chariots on the road to Gaza. We were glad to have Philip's experience sort of confirmed. We thanked God for this, asking for blessing on Phil's next opportunity.

These reports are becoming our highlights, otherwise we only hear bits of news about more trouble in Jerusalem. Saul's been replaced. Others are now making arrests and dragging people off to gaol. When Demas and I were talking, I shared my initial disappointment at not being elected as one of the Seven assistants. But then how glad I was that it wasn't me facing the Council. I could never have spoken as well as Stephen. Demas talked of his hope of becoming a carpenter and wondered aloud: how long could we keep living like this? We both admitted to feeling quite guilty, and scared, when Stephen was killed.

As we finished sharing, my heart skipped a beat at the noise of people arriving. Thankfully it was only the sound of more merchants. Dem's question started me thinking: how long can we live like this? We started dozing in the afternoon sun. I had been encouraged hearing about Philip's experiences, so different from Stephen's! And then Saul! I wondered what changes and work God had in store for me. I thought too of Peter's encouraging words: ‘Hey! Any trials we face show our faith is real. Worth much, much more than gold! Faith will last forever!’ But I tended to agree with Demas ... keeping our heads down for a bit. Seemed a wise move.

What troubled me was the difference between two of our group, each called Ananias. One bravely welcomed Saul. Had the other just been keeping his head down? Or was he, as Peter had declared, a liar and a cheat? I was really torn! Split! Obviously, Stephen hadn't kept his head down. But neither had Philip nor Barnabas. Stuck in a mix of fear and hope, could I declare myself a true follower and still keep my head down? I hadn't spoken Greek for a while! I reckon the Spirit certainly gave Steve strength and peace to face ... and Phil was of course equipped by God for his encounter in the chariot. Could I join this handful of believers? Declare myself for Jesus? I'm just so aware of my hollow stomach every time unannounced merchants arrive.


John Kidson is a former youth worker and uni chaplain, and recently retired from parish ministry in Grafton diocese. He is a regular contributor to Engage.Mail and you can read the review of his latest book here.


Image credit: John Martin - The Stoning of Saint Stephen. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Got something to add?

  • Your Comment


Online Resources

subscribe to engage.mail

follow us

Latest Articles