Yesterday, in Acts 6, some men who couldn’t win a debate with Stephen decided instead to shut him up nefariously. They accused him of speaking against the temple and the law of Moses, and of saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and the customs passed down from Moses. (Interestingly, some of the same accusations that couldn’t be proved against Jesus during his trial).
In reply, Stephen gives an incredible speech; more of a sermon, actually! He recaps the history of God’s dealing with his people, showing them how again and again God is the one who is faithful and true.
To start, nothing he said would have upset anyone. Until he started reminding them also of Israel’s history of faithlessness. Even though he never spoke against the temple, he reminds them that God doesn’t live in the temple – he isn’t so easily controlled by humanity.
Finally, Stephen levels the final historical marker against his people. In keeping with their history of killing the prophets, they killed Jesus, the Messiah. Even though they had God’s law, and should have been ready for Jesus, they deliberately disobeyed God’s law (Acts 7:53).
At this point, the leaders are in a rage. But then Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looks up and sees Jesus standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand. Announcing this to the leaders drives them to murder.
My question is this: why did God choose to show Stephen this vision of Jesus at this point of time? Because it was that that led to his martyrdom. Would they have killed him otherwise? I don’t know. Certainly everything he had said before was historically inviolable. Regardless, Stephen would not have got off lightly – the crowd was almost a kangaroo court.
God showed Stephen a vision proving that what he had been saying to him. God strengthened Stephen. He provided him with the solace that no matter what the leaders did to him, the one he trusted was true, and would look after him. I wonder if it was that vision from the Spirit which enabled Stephen to, after calling on Jesus to receive him, beg that the Lord not hold the sin of his murders against them.
Oh Lord, give me a greater understanding of you, and a larger vision of you. I need to remember that you have always been faithful. I need to remember that I – like your people of old – am so often exactly the opposite: lacking in faith. By your Spirit renew me so that I would have the courage of Stephen and the certainty of Stephen. When my trust in you is challenged, please add to my historical certainty a personal revelation of who you really are.
Thank you so much for bold men and women like Stephen. Thank you for their witness to your truth. May I be as bold today in passing on what they saw.