Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, … But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
…So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.”
… and when they questioned Stephen, he answered with some hard truth:
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them. When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Stephen did great wonders and signs… but the restless mob didn’t want to see.
Instead, they bribed false witnesses.
They accused and questioned.
They fumed at his fervor.
They ignited at his vision.
They let him speak just long enough until the truth found them out.
And then, unable to look at themselves, they stoned him.
But Jesus stood, watching, waiting, holding his holy breath until he heard Stephen’s last cry, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Slow exhale… “Well done, Stephen, my good and faithful servant.”
And Jesus was standing, watching. Stephen was posturing himself to die for what he believed. That’s a big deal… and Jesus was there for him, no doubt.
But here’s what I wonder:
Stephen knew where he was going. He was going to join Jesus in His kingdom, whether he forgave his killers or not. His final fate was a glorious, done deal.
…But, his accusers?
These men were not “bad” men from the pit of hell. Jesus died for them too. Yet they were stiff-necked. And they “could not stand up against the wisdom” that the Spirit gave Stephen as he spoke.
Meaning they had tried – and failed.
Meaning their honor was at stake.
Meaning they looked weak and out of date – yesterday’s news.
Prestige. Power. Position… All had blinded their hearts, and deafened their ears.
The simple honest truth is they had stopped looking for real Truth a long time ago, if indeed they ever had.
And maybe, just maybe, Stephen could show them the way.
Maybe, just maybe, if they heard the Truth and saw someone die willingly for it with hope and even joy.
Maybe, just maybe, it was for the accusers that Jesus stood too.
Stephen didn’t have to forgive. “Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven, Whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in heaven.” ... Sounds like, at least in part, it could have been up to him.
But I imagine Jesus rising to His feet and coaching intently, “Remember what I did, Stephen. Don’t forget why I died. Remember my last words, You can do it. Freely you received, freely give. You can do this!”
And WHAM! Stephen hit them with his last breath of words, given to heal… spoken to set them free.
Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them. When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
… and the crowd of One went wild.
Jesus, it’s not Us and Them. It’s not the good guys verses the bad guys. It’s YOU yearning for all, seeking all. Lord, I want Truth on my lips, yes, but more than anything I want love and forgiveness in my heart. Help me never forget how many stones I’ve picked up in my life… so I can lay them down now, forever, as crowns at your feet.