Stephen was a man filled with the Holy Spirit and a bold witness for the Christian gospel. I imagine that he was probably one of those fellows that people sometimes find annoying. He just kept bubbling over in good works and words about who Jesus is and what Jesus means to him. He just probably kept telling others his story of how Jesus changed his life. More than that the Bible tells us that, “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” God manifested miracles through Stephen’s life. All of this brought Stephen into conflict with certain people, who had him accused of blasphemy, and put on trial. This didn’t stop Stephen from delivering a fiery diatribe against those who were missing the whole point of what God had been doing.
Then they closed their ears, rushed him, and put Stephen to death by stoning him. That’s disturbing. Stephen is listed as the first in a long line of Christian martyrs. His death brought to bear the fact that being a Christian was not necessarily going to be easy, and the message of life would sometimes be responded to with violence.
Also, equally disturbing as Stephen’s death is the fact that Saul stood watching what was happening and was in agreement with the brutal actions he surveyed. This was so true the Saul even took up the work of persecuting anyone who claimed Jesus as the messiah. Violence beget violence.
However something else was at work as well. Stephen didn’t die in anger. Rather he knelt in prayer to God and asked for forgiveness for those lifting their hand against him. He died with an assurance of heaven being opened to him. His death reflected Jesus own sacrifice as Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
I sometimes wonder if I would take the same road. Perhaps, or maybe I might grab a rock thrown at me and send one sailing back in the opposite direction for just one last act of defiance. I would hope that I shouldn’t every see such injustice and simply stand by in agreement.
But here is another thought, perhaps God did forgive, but maybe he didn’t forget. The heavens opened to Stephen, but this was not the last time the Heavens opened or the Lordship of Jesus was made known. Saul later was on the road to Damascus to persecute the church in that Northern territory and the heavens opened upon him. The one who once stood in agreement with Stephen’s death was forgiven, but God also made of him the voice that he perhaps saw taken away. Saul became the Apostle Paul.
Maybe one way to see this is that through all the good and bad of life, we do not live as independently as we might sometimes believe. Those stoning Stephen had not hardly heard the last of the message he was preaching. Stephen’s life was being removed from this earthly existence, but being taken up into a heavenly realm that he saw ahead of time. Jesus authority although sometimes cloaked from our eyes is ever real. Finally Saul’s destination in life was going to be no where in the direction he initially set for himself. We are not alone.
If you imagine yourself in this story what person would you be standing next to? What would happen to your life after this event? Does the time and place matter? Maybe God is at work in your life today.