8:1 Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Just in these few verses there is so much. The pain and grief of those who loved Stephen. The inner turmoil of trying to process why God didn't intervene. The trauma of seeing the men they used to trust and look up to as their spiritual leaders now being their enemies and murdering someone they loved and respected right in broad daylight. The terror in the midst of all of this of having Saul and the authorities going house to house and dragging friends and loved ones off to prison simply for believing in Jesus.
Jerusalem. It means City of Peace. Ironic isn't it. There might not be another city in the world that has experienced more bloodshed over the millennia.
Now once again it has been thrust into a scene of violence and turmoil. You can be certain that when society for whatever reason descends into brutal conflict it begins and is always worst in the cities.
There is another conflict going on as well. The conflict inside Saul himself. He is both convinced and confused. Convinced that the establishment is right. Convinced that these followers of Jesus are a threat to the stability of Israel and that God is behind His people, not this radical uprising. The movement must be stopped. At the same time he is confused by what he saw as Stephen died. Never before had he seen a man behave in such a way. It was surreal. How could he be so peaceful, so disinterested in his own safety and survival? Why was he the way he was?
In an effort to quiet the storm within himself he redoubled his efforts to silence the storm in Jerusalem. Whatever this movement was it must be squashed. Perhaps he convinced himself it was a cult and Stephen was experiencing mind control. Whatever reasoning Saul uses to explain away what he saw, the end result was a resolve to end this new religion at all costs.
There is nothing more dangerous and often deadly than two opposing forces who really believe in what they are doing. We look at ISIS and wonder how they can be so insane. We forget that perhaps it is more about belief than insanity. Belief is a powerful force. Stephen believed enough to die without a fight. His murderers believed enough to kill and imprison. All around the world people have fought and continue to fight for what they believe in.
The odd and unavoidable truth/dilemma is that believing doesn't equal truth or right. Passion does not mean a person is correct yet try and tell them that...
Let me make it as simple as I know how. There are only two forces in the universe. Good and evil. God is good. Satan is evil. Good believes in others over self. It believes in preserving life, not snuffing it out. It believes in freedom, not force. If you want to evaluate a belief system use those simple criteria. If a belief system can't tolerate any point of view but its own and would love to see any all other points of view silenced it is a demonic belief system. Love is never like that. Jesus never defended Himself. He never forced anyone to follow Him or submit to His worldview. Stephen was a true follower. He too died not defending himself. He died more concerned about the lives of his murderers than about his own. He died with a quiet confidence that preached more than any words ever could. It rattled Saul so badly that at first it caused him to turn with renewed passion against the followers of Jesus but beneath the surface that passion was fueled by the turmoil within himself. A turmoil ignited by the unexplainable peace of Stephen.
This world is headed for turmoil such as we have yet to see. The Bible describes it as a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. Worse than the dark ages. Worse than the holocaust. Worse than Stahlin's Russia. Already the cracks are starting to show. Anger is rising. Extremism is rising. Force over freedom is starting to rear it's ugly head even in America, long known as the land of the free and the home of the brave.
If you want to know where truth is look for the peaceful ones. Storms only scare those who are more concerned about survival than anything else. The peaceful ones know self-preservation is not the most important thing. Love is and love wins.