This morning I was reading the inspirational account of the life and death of Stephen (Book of Acts 6 & 7). Stephen was chosen by the twelve apostles to become one of the seven men who would take over the distribution of food among the believers so the Twelve could concentrate on preaching the Word and spreading the Gospel. He performed his duties well and was said to be “a man full of God’s grace and power, [who] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” This brought him to the attention of the jealous Sanhedrin who railroaded him in a kangaroo court of public opinion with lies and phoney witnesses, so they could get rid of him.
During his savage stoning, Stephen kept his eyes on the Lord and is said to have had “a face like an angel.” When he told his accusers, “Look, I see heaven open and the son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” they actually covered their ears so as not to hear his testimony while they killed him. While large rocks and rough, heavy stones hit his head and face, his back, his shoulders, his arms, the fragile bones of his hands and feet, and as his lifeblood flowed from his many wounds, Stephen responded by praying, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” Even as the stones rained down, and possibly speaking through broken teeth, his last words before succumbing to his injuries were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Just as Pentacost is seen as the birth of the Church, the stoning of Stephen was the beginning of the persecution of the Church, first from the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah, then by the Romans, and finally by the progressive, liberal, atheistic and LGBT bullies of today.
Stephen set the pattern for the Christian response to persecution:
- Be faithful in our service to God and our fellow believers
- Speak out, unashamedly, for the faith
- Keep our eyes on Christ and Heaven
- Trust the Lord with our spirit
- Pray for those who persecute us