So tonight we read Acts chapter 7. Long chapter--60 verses I think it was. The chapter is of Stephen telling the legalistic crowd about the Jewish history. At the last 10 verses or so, he switches gears and starts telling them that they were no better than their anscestors. The pharisees and Jewish crowd had just about all they could handle, dragged Stephen outside the city and stoned him.
I suppose this could really go along with chapter 6, where it starts out with Stephen and the Jewish leader and people fussing with Stephen. The thing was, the Holy Spirit was giving Stephen the words to say, so it was hard to talk against him. Not a people to give easily, they talked some folks into lying about what Stephen actually said. So, in chapter 7, Stephen sets the record straight, and gets himself killed.
What really gripped my heart and made me tear up each time this was read, was at the very end, Stephen prays for God to not hold this sin against the people. The he went to sleep and died. Personally, I happened to read this myself several times, and had the same, "punched in the gut" feeling each time. Could I ever be so full of the Holy Spirit that I could actually pray that God have mercy on the people trying to hurt me? I don't know. I wish I could say an emphatic YES, but the truth is, I simply don't know.
What I do know though, is that of here late, I've had anything but patience for those who were against me. It would be over stupid, silly, doesn't-amount-to-a-hill-of-beans kind of stuff. What was the difference? What made the people of old able to pray and keep going until death about the love God had for mankind? I considered the following:
- Stephen was indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
- I was also indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
- Stephen was a child of God
- I'm a child of God.
- Stephen was active in the local church, waiting tables and feeding the widows and such. (See Acts 6:2-4)
- I'm not really involved in a church. A group of friends and I "sort of" "do church" on Sundays, but we didn't have to do near the work that Stephen did, or even that Paul did.
Now I know that one doesn't have to be busy in a local congregation--often, if we're not careful, we wind up so busy working 'for' God, we don't spend time "with" God. Big difference.
Through all of this, I'm reminded of a passage a preacher friend of mine once said, "When, and if God decides we need to be used in a certain manner, or go through a certain trial, He will give us the grace to go through it". In other words, God's grace is sufficient for us. Always.
Tonight was a quick talk through, but Stephen's words still ring out in my ears...
Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:57-60 NKJV)