The Stoning of Stephen
Acts 7.54-8.1 (New International Version)
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.
And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
First, the context of this passage is that Stephen had been accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God, and against this holy place [the temple] and the law. They also accused him of saying that Jesus would destroy both the temple and the customs delivered by Moses.
Stephen begins his defence that wasn’t actually a defence by recapping the history of the Old Testament, Stephen was reminding them of what they knew and emphasised some things they might not have thought about such as the Israelites had a habit of rejecting the people that God sent them. He also stated that God is a pilgrim God – not settled. Even writing that, makes me feel astonished that humans could think God could be contained in one place, and that he can’t be found in other places, in other church buildings, in the countryside, in prisons, schools, shops, people we like and don’t like!! Stephen, it seems was alert to the fact that things needed to and were going to change, especially in terms of the Temple.
Context given, now we move on to Stephen behaved in the passage.
Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. Imagine every fibre of your being, filled with the Holy Spirit, no part of him was empty…He was how every disciple of Jesus can be, if we follow the commands of Jesus and give every part of our lives to him, no keeping anything back. He saw the glory of God, with Jesus there, while he was in the middle of a very angry storm. Reminds me of the eye of a tornado, where everything around is deafening chaos, there was Stephen in peace, silence and most importantly the presence of God. Wow… God’s presence can turn chaos, hurt, anger, violence into his Shalom.
Stephen prayed that God would not hold the crime of killing him against them, and then went to sleep – or died as we usually say.
Again, I say Wow…
He is asking God to forgive people for killing him, that is what the power of God does when filled with the Holy Spirit. Can you even start to grasp what that looks like? Forgiveness for those we don’t like, for those who have hurt us (physically, spiritually & emotionally) for those who have said wrong things about us, for those…. You see where I am going? And I know it isn’t easy, believe me!!! but forgiveness and love are Kingdom imperatives.
Then we see whose feet those killing Stephen laid their coats at, Saul the one we know as Paul. Had God not forgiven those people we would have had no writings of Paul in the New testament because he would never have converted from Judaism to following Jesus.
What does this mean for us? A) God cannot be contained, B) we need to say yes to everything from God and be filled (fully) with the Holy Spirit, C) Keep inside God’s Shalom, D) forgive, forgive, forgive and E) forgive even more & LOVE
God of mercy and compassion
Fill us with your Spirit, every moment of every day,
keep us held within your Shalom.
Teach us how to forgive & love for your sake and the sake of the gospel
this day and all days.
In Jesus name we pray.
(Prayer by Rev Dot Gosling).
Team Vicar and Hub Leader
(Church Wigan/Central Hub)