As we recall from part 1 of the story, Stephen was one of seven men from the church to be placed in charge of a needful ministry. He was to help make sure the widows from the Grecian Jews had food at the time of distribution.
This responsibility must have been a somewhat publicly visible position, as it took him out into the streets of the city. It was there that he had opportunity to conduct some miracles in the name of Jesus Christ and preach His gospel message.
However, in doing so, Stephen angered several groups of the Jewish community. They trumped up charges of blasphemy against him and dragged him before the Sanhedrin.
Now as we take up the story once more in chapter seven, we find the high priest asking Stephen if the charges brought against him are true. It is here that he begins a rather lengthy account of Jewish history.
He speaks of the time from Abraham in Mesopotamia, to Issac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, up to the time of Moses. He recounts how Moses was a special child born at a time when a new ruler in Egypt was ordering the death of all male Jewish newborns.
Stephen recounted how Moses was spared death, being taken in by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as her own son. Then he told the story of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, and how he was commissioned to lead the Jewish delivery out of the land of Egypt.
Yet, despite having been a part of their own freedom from bondage after some 400 years, and having seen a great many miracles from the Lord God in the process of that exodus, the Jewish people grew tired of waiting for their promised land. They turned away from God and began worshiping idols.
Apparently, Stephen in related all of this history was leading up to one final point. Just as their fathers had disobeyed God, these “sons” who made up this Jewish council were as hard-hearted and unwilling to believe in the scriptures as their fathers were!
This led to the harsh words which Stephen spoke to them in our story text from verses 51-53. Again, in these words, Stephen condemned them as resisting the Holy Spirit just as their fathers had. They also persecuted the very prophets who predicted the coming of the Righteous One, (Jesus), collaborating to put Him to death, refusing to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
If the long summary of the Jewish history had no effect on the Sanhedrin, Stephen certainly got a response from them with his closing accusations! The scriptures pick up in verse 54 by saying that when they heard this they were furious and began gnashing their teeth at him.
It was then that Stephen looked up into heaven and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, verse 55. Then he incited the council even more so with his response in verse 56, as he spoke out loud about what he was seeing.
In verse 57, at these words, the scriptures tell us that the Sanhedrin covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they dragged the “blasphemer” out of the city and began to stone him. Interestingly, the verse goes on to say that these witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul…
Yes, Saul of Tarsus was there watching over the entire proceedings and death of Stephen, giving his consent to it all. Apparently Saul, (the same man who would later become the apostle Paul), was of some importance in the Jewish hierarchy and lived to destroy anyone who was a member of “the Way,” and preached in the name of Jesus Christ. But Saul’s conversion is another story which can be found beginning in Acts chapter nine.
But now, getting back to the stoning of Stephen, before his death, this faithful disciple of Christ prayed for two things in verses 59-60. They were very similar to things which Jesus prayed to God before His death on the cross. Stephen asked the Lord to receive his spirit, and not to hold this sin of murder against the perpetrators.
Stephen was a great example of Christian faith. He was not afraid to speak up for the Lord, nor give his life in defending Him. This should make us all wonder if we would be as brave as him under life or death circumstances. Certainly we’d like to think we would be…
For the things of this life hold nothing when compared to the hope of attaining heaven when we pass away. It would be fruitless to give up that hope just to live in this life a little longer. Stephen knew this, the apostles knew this, and all well-grounded Christians today also know this.
May the story of Stephen and other great believers be our inspiration in this world!
Refs: ~Google~ biblegateway.com~ “The NIV Study Bible, copyright 1995, Zondervan”~