28 October 2013

Stephen was Stoned (Stephen's Story, Day 28)

The Bible tells us Stephen was full of faith and power as well as the Holy Spirit, even working miracles.  When a group of scholars tried to dispute with him, "...they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake."  Acts 6:11
He was eloquent, and always ready to give a reason for the hope which he had.

Which made his opponents incredibly angry with him, to the point of gathering a mob, catching Stephen by force, bringing false witnesses against him, and accusing him of blasphemy (which meant a death sentence if "proven" guilty).

Does it sound familiar?  Perhaps exactly the same tactics they used against Stephen's Master?

"And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel."  Acts 6:15

Then they give Stephen a chance to speak for himself, and starting with Abraham to the present time he traces the entire history of Israel, right up to the murder of the Messiah.  In the face of certain death, he spares them nothing.  Although it hardly seemed possible, his sermon brought heaven's conviction to their hearts, but instead of humbling themselves before the throne and mercy of God, they get even angrier.

Humanly speaking, I'm sure Stephen knew it was over.

Yet Jesus doesn't leave Stephen without light in his last great fight against darkness, and Stephen is not the least bit afraid.

"But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.'"  Acts 7:55, 56

 In the radiance of that light, accused falsely like Jesus, dragged out of the city designed to be a holy city on earth like Jesus, subjected to an unjust murder like Jesus, Stephen responds exactly like Jesus responded from the cross.

"And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.'  And when he had said this, he fell asleep."  Acts 7:59, 60

That's what it means to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  No matter how we are treated, we are to carry with us the love Jesus had on the cross, the love that wants nothing more than to see our enemies cleared, forgiven, saved, and converted before God. 

Stephen died in the most glorious heavenly light a human being can see, shining down to him directly from God's throne.  While Jesus did not rescue him from death in that moment, Stephen "fell asleep" in the hope of the resurrection and life everlasting.

From the place of Stephen's dying prayer, a young man went out bent on destroying Christianity from the face of the earth.  He was a well-trained man, highly intelligent, and like Stephen, exceedingly eloquent.  What he didn't count on, however, was a God who could answer Stephen's prayer for the salvation of his persecutors.

It took a long time, but the light of heaven shone on Saul as it had on Stephen.  It blinded him, yet it was also the means of opening the eyes of his heart to the truth about his Savior Jesus.  Then through Saul become Paul, the heavenly light spread to the world.

Stephen's calm faith under intense persecution amazes me, but in a way, I think it shouldn't.  After all, it's only consistent with Jesus' instructions, and isn't that what a Christian's life should be like anyway? Shouldn't it feel totally predictable that Stephen and so many other martyrs down through the centuries staked their whole hope on promises like these?

"And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do."  Luke 12:4

"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer:  behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days.  Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."  Revelation 2:10

Indeed, let us be faithful, no matter what the test.

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