The Conversion of Saint Paul, Part 2

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 This week’s lessons help us to prepare for Easter by showing how Paul’s conversion provides proof for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Theme: The Martyrdom of Stephen

In his classic treatment of the evidences for the resurrection of Christ, Who Moved the Stone? Frank Morison calls attention to Paul’s undoubted knowledge of the fact that the tomb of Jesus Christ was found empty. Everyone in Jerusalem would have known this, and Paul in particular must have known of it. “One can hardly imagine a considerable body of people going about Jerusalem and declaring quite openly that Jesus had risen, side by side, as it were, with the phenomenon of the empty tomb, without the two circumstances being very widely and publicly connected. The authorities might attempt to ignore the disciples’ claim, but the fact that the body of a first-class political prisoner had disappeared in mysterious circumstances could not in any conceivable circumstances be unknown to them. And if the authorities knew, Saul would know also.”2

What would Saul have thought of this and of the disciples’ explanation? He did not believe it, or at least he did not want to. If Jesus had not risen, the only other plausible explanation of the body’s being gone was the official one promulgated from the first by the authorities: that the disciples had stolen it in order to feign a resurrection (cf. Matt. 28:12, 13). But if this was how the tomb came to be empty, then the whole thing was a deliberate deceit. A deception of this scope called for one thing only: Christianity’s utter and ruthless extermination. So Paul put his career behind this great cause. Paul became an enemy of the faith, and it is this that makes him so significant as a witness for Christianity after his conversion. Morison says that from this point of view it was “fortunate” that this determined young enemy came upon the scene just as Christianity was taking the first full measure of its adversaries.3

There was just one problem with the official explanation for the empty tomb, and that was the way the Christians lived and, even more significantly, died, for their convictions. The first was Stephen, though, since Paul later spoke of persecuting “the followers of this Way to their death” (Acts 22:4), there must have been others. Christians did not die like those who were attempting to deceive others.

Three things were striking about Stephen’s testimony. First, he showed as much familiarity with the history of the Jewish people and their Scriptures as Paul had. Perhaps in his anger at what he believed to be a damnable and damning deception, Paul may have regarded the Christians as ignorant though wicked people, the kind that might easily deceive and be deceived. But it was hard to put Stephen in this category. In his speech Stephen reviewed the history of God’s gracious dealings with his people in spite of their repeated rejection of his ways, and he did so perceptively. This was no ignorant man. Stephen was informed, earnest, wise, articulate, and devout.

The second striking thing about Stephen’s martyrdom, which Paul observed, was Stephen’s vision of Jesus as he died. Paul did not see Jesus, of course—not yet. But Stephen called out, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). If the alleged resurrection of Jesus was a deception, then this was a deception upon a deception, and it was made in the very moment of a man’s departure from this life to stand before the great Judge of us all. How could this happen if there was nothing to Christ’s resurrection?

2 Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1969), p. 136.
3 Ibid., p. 132.

Study Questions
  1. What was the official reason given for why Jesus’ tomb was empty?  What problem did that explanation have?
  2. From the lesson, what were the first two striking observations that Paul would have made regarding Stephen’s martyrdom?  Why were they significant?

Reflection: What are some reasons people give today for disbelieving the resurrection of Christ, or even the Bible in general?  How would you try to answer those objections?

For Further Study: To learn more about the nature of disbelief, download for free and listen to the audio address, “The Psychology of Atheism,” by James Boice, available from the Alliance.  (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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