While they were listening, the men of the council became furious and ground their teeth at him. But he (Stephen), full of the Holy Spirit, gazed up to heaven and saw God's glory and Jesus standing at God's right hand. "Look!" He said, "I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."
But they yelled at the top of their voices, held their ears shut, and all together rushed at him. They threw him out of the city and started to stone him. The witness had laid their outer clothes at the feet of a young man - his name was Saul.
While they were stoning Stephen, he called, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then, kneeling, he called out loud, "Lord, don't hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul approved of their killing him... Saul was trying to destroy the church.
I don't want to talk about Stephen and his incredible speech and sacrifice today. Instead, I want to talk about Paul. Big surprise, right? It's always one or the other. This is an awesome portion of Scripture (it's all awesome, truth be told), and people use it all the time. It's one of my favorites. Here we see this young man, smart, respected, well-versed in theology. And not only is he OK with killing this man, he goes the extra mile to lock up every Christian that he can find.
And yet... God still had plans for him. Despite all the evil that he did. Despite his hatred of Jesus and his followers, God still wanted to use him. So Jesus interrupted Saul en route to Damascus, forever changing this villain into a devote and dedicated man of God, newly christened Paul.
So, Jesus sent Paul to Ananias in Damascus, and God warned Ananias in a vision that Paul was coming to see him. Ananias was so concerned as to protest, "Lord, I've heard many tell how much this man has done to Your holy people in Jerusalem, and he's here with authority from the ruling priests to put in chains all who call on Your name."(Acts 9:13)
When God has placed a call on someone, its not our place to refuse to help them. It doesn't matter who they were or what they've done. In situations like this, we have two options: Despite our misgivings and protestations, we can follow God's direction, like Ananias, or we pull a Jonah, running in the opposite direction of the person that God wants saved, because we know the evil that this person has done and that we don't want them saved. We all know the right answer, its no surprise.
It doesn't matter who or what these people are or have been. We like to forget our own sin, while remembering the evils that others have done. If Jesus has thrown their sins as far as the east is from the west, who are we to go looking for them? Who are we to remember them? Even as Christians, we all make mistakes - who are we to judge someone who isn't saved, or even another Christian, for what they do wrong? Be like Ananias and don't condemn any for the sins of the past, or like Stephen, who didn't even hate the people who were killing him.