“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ The psalm does not pretend that evil and death do not exist. Terrible things happen, and they happen to good people as well as bad people. Even the paths of righteousness lead through the valley of the shadow.”
Frederick Buechner from Listening to Your Life
Acts, chapter six ends, Stephen is arrested. Thus begins the longest address in the whole of Acts, chapter seven. And one of the most important.
Then the hight priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?” Acts 8:1 NLT
Stephen’s reply grabs attention, all eyes are on him. “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God,” and on it goes. Stephen reviews the history of Israel and the contributions made by their revered leaders; Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon.
This address was more than a recitation of familiar facts. It is also a refutation. Stephen refutes the charges against him, bringing to light their own national sins. Recalling and reminding them through their own scriptures, the Jewish nation is the guilty party here. In fact, saying they are guilty of worse sins than the ones they are accusing him of.
You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One-the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels. ~Acts 7:51-53 NLT
The leaders were infuriated, shaking their fists at Stephen in rage. Holding their ears and shouting terrible things at him.
But Stephen, oh Stephen, your next words bring me to my knees.
But Stephen, overtaken with great faith, was full of the Holy Spirit. He fixed his gaze into the heavenly realm and saw the glory and splendor of God-and Jesus, who stood up at the right hand of God.
“Look!” Stephen said. “I can see the heavens opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God to welcome me home!” ~Acts 7:55&56 TPT
Did you notice Jesus is standing? Standing to honor Stephen.
Fix your wild beating heart on that.
Stephen looking up, Jesus standing at the right hand of God, looking down, waiting to receive his humble servant. Wow!
In the dark of night when sleep alludes, worry and fear overwhelm, fix your heart on that picture. Jesus standing to greet Stephen. If I could sing (which I can’t~smile) I would be singing Mercy Me’s, I Can Only Imagine.
Stephen’s death, a brutal one, as the officials rush him and dragged him out of the city, stoning him.
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 7:59 NLT
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Jesus, The Messiah, hangs on a cross, stripped and striped, beaten and bloody, not worried about himself, but them, us, me, the sinner.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” ~Luke 23:34 ESV
Not only that, Stephen prays. I cannot begin to fathom my reaction to such persecution. Would I pray?
Do I turn to prayer today, when, in my everyday life, the smallest blip on my radar screen sends me screeching in annoyance?
Before we leave the page today, I want to introduce you to our fire breathing dragon. A man named Saul. He breaths fire with threats of death and persecution at the believers, dragging them off to prison, women and children alike.
Saul was present at Stephen’s death.
Now, Saul agreed to be an accomplice to Stephen’s stoning and participated in his execution. From that day on, a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem began. ~Acts 8:1a TPT
With Stephen’s brutal death, Saul breathing fire and persecution, things began to change.
The winds of change scatter seeds, God longs to grow.
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