Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Job 3-4; Acts 7:44-60
51 “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. 52 Was there a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you’ve betrayed and murdered him! 53 You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”
54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died. (Acts 7:51-60, Common English Bible)
I preface this by saying, I know by our sins we all killed Jesus. I have blogged about that more than once. When I say here that the Jews and Romans killed Jesus I am speaking of the literal event, not of theology.
It has gone on many times in history. We have seen it happen in our own day. It happened to John the Baptist at the hands of the Romans. Jesus was killed by the Jews and the Romans. In our lesson, Stephen is killed, by the Jews. The Book of Acts also lists James, the son of Zebedee as one martyred for the faith.
If we keep following the steps of history there were others. There were many, many others. There was James, the brother of Jesus according to the early historian Josephus. Tradition also claims Peter, Paul, Mark, Phillip, Andrew, Jude, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Simon the Zealot.
As time passed, Christians started martyring other Christians. We can see that in King Edward the Martyr, Thomas Beckett, John Huss, and Joan of Arc. The sad tradition still exists. In 2016, Father Jacques Hamel, a French Roman Catholic priest was martyred at the hands of men pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq. Father Hamel was celebrating the Mass when he was martyred in his church in Normandy.
Stephen falls into the earliest period of Christian martyrs. He was drug from the city and stoned to death. People have said there is no worse way to die than crucifixion. People have said there is no worse way to die than by stoning. We can safely say, these are without question two of the worst ways the human creature has devised to take the life of another person. I would guess burning at the stake would fit into the same category.
Stephen was truly amazing. Knowing he is about to face death in such a terrible way, looks up at heaven and sees the glory of God, asks for God to accept him (somehow I don’t think that one would be a problem), then, in the same way the Lord did while hanging on the cross, Stephen asks for Divine forgiveness for those who are killing him.
To me, Stephen is the symbol of a man we can look to emulate. Yes, Jesus said the same thing. But when many of us find it difficult to emulate one who lived a perfect life, Stephen was a sinful person just like us, and yet he not only forgave, he asked God to forgive as well.
At times in my life, I have found it difficult to forgive and these people weren’t killing me. When I need to forgive, I think we can probably find just such a person in most any of the martyrs. I know we can find that strength in Stephen. May God strengthen us all with a better ability to forgive.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
With Joy and Thankfulness,
Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved