February 7, 2013
Today, we are reading Acts Chapter 7, the stoning of Stephen. If you haven’t read up to this point, just to recap Chapter 6, Stephen was appointed as a servant in the Church and was a man filled with the Holy Spirit. He was so filled, he performed miracles and wonders and taught. There was a conspiracy to stop his teaching of the Word, because it placed guilt on the Jewish leaders, for the crucifixion of Christ. In the beginning of chapter seven, the high priests are asking Stephen to address his charges. Basically, “How do you plead?” And Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gives them a history lesson. I think part of the reason for this history, was to let the Jewish leaders know he was “schooled” in the Word. He KNEW Jewish history, it was part of his history. He reminded them of the power of God through this history. He reminded them of the consequences of the chosen people turning away from God and not following Him. The Jewish people knew this all too well. This was the life of the ones who had come before them. But then Stephen brings it home, brings it to that time in place, brings it to them and instead of answering the question of his guilt, he plainly tells them of their guilt.
Verses 51-53 read: “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” This description is pretty self-explanatory. Stephen was letting them know that they had followed in the folly of their forefathers, but even worse, because their forefathers had persecuted and killed those who predicted the coming of Christ, but they had actually killed THE CHRIST! And they were so angry at this “accusation” they gnashed their teeth at him, but Stephen, being filled with the power of the Spirit, didn’t react in withdrawal or fear. He didn’t respond in anger, he looked up and saw Heaven open. He saw this one who was crucified standing at the right hand of his Father. And in that moment, he told them of his vision. And they covered their ears. They could not stand to hear the truth. They wanted to quiet the truth. They couldn’t stand the accusation and reality of their guilt, and they stoned him.
Still filled with the Holy Spirit, he prayed that God would forgive them. I have to wonder if that took any of them back to the cross? Were any of these same High Priests there when Christ pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?” Did it resonate in their minds? And when he had committed such a selfless act of asking for THEIR forgiveness, he died. The scripture says, “he fell asleep.” I just picture this man, full of exhaustion from the power that had just been in him, full of exhaustion from the persecution, full of exhaustion from this life, full of exhaustion from this pain and stoning, laying down, closing his eye, and now, resting in the presence of God and the Savior that made it possible.
My prayer is that we learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us, and not try and erase history or change history, but change the future because of Christ’s redemptive love for us. I pray our hearts and ears are circumcised with the Word of God, that we may hear, and live, and learn. I pray that we can “hear” and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit when we are faced with the truth of our sin. I pray we can love the one bringing the message of our sin. I pray that when faced with opposition because of teaching God’s Word and being filled with the Spirit, we can have enough love for them that we can pray for their forgiveness. I pray that we have such a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that when the life we have been given in this world become exhausting, and painful, and heavy, we can rest in the presence of an Almighty God that knew us before time existed.