Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:54-60(NLT)
In yesterday’s devotion we left Stephen at the mercy of the Sanhedrin; it’s not hard to figure-out there wasn’t much mercy to be found that day. The religious elders were white-hot with anger against Stephen for telling the truth about how prophets sent from God were never listened to, and always beaten and put to death. Stephen added the final straw; God sent His Son, Jesus, and they pinned him, naked, and spread-eagle to a cross on the town garbage dump. That was too much for the proud Pharisees, and Scripture records they pelted him with stones until his body was lifeless.
It’s not much of a Hollywood movie ending is it? Let’s face it; The Hallmark Channel would not use the seventh chapter of Acts for a sequel to The Easter Bunny Meets Abbot and Costello. There’s little to work with for a feel-good ending to the story of Stephen’s life! He stands for truth and gets clobbered with no support from Heaven’s angels – I mean…where are Roma Downey and Della Reese[ii] when you need them?
Now, if you were listening closely, I said there is little to work with for a happy ending. The part of the account of the stoning of Stephen that gives us hope, and gives meaning to Stephen’s life and ministry, even though he is literally discarded on the garbage pile outside the gates of Jerusalem, is almost a throwaway line Luke included at the end:
His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:58b(NLT)
History tells us the young man was nothing much to look at, small of stature, weak-eyed, bowlegged, and troubled with some kind of medical ailment that kept him in chronic pain. We can also read that he was a brilliant scholar, had the best training in Scripture and Jewish law. He was a natural leader and, without doubt, a rather single-minded powerful debater who didn’t mind getting in your face to prove a point.
This young Saul had a name change that followed a heart change on the road to Damascus. Saul met Jesus, was knocked to his knees, and the man who thought he saw everything clearly, got up from the encounter with God physically-blind as the proverbial bat, but seeing more clearly how wrong he’d been to persecute God’s people, including Stephen. We call it repentance; and we know this man as Paul the Apostle.
It seems Stephen’s life was not discarded on that day after all – look what his faithfulness to the testimony of the Word of God, even at the cost of being stoned to death, has meant for all of us.
The question to contemplate today is rather simple; would it be worth giving your life to turn the world upside-down for Christ?
Short answer from my perspective: In a heartbeat!
I Title image: By Matthew Woitunski, via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] Roma Downey and Della Reese were co-stars in the TV Series Touched By an Angel©