“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55 – 56)
Religious fervor – it can both blind us and open our eyes. Did Stephen see that his speech was enraging some members of the council? Maybe, but it did not stop him from preaching and testifying to what he knew to be true. Did the members of the council and the witnesses at Stephen’s trial consider the influence of group dynamics, and the consequence of false witness? (See earlier verses in this chapter.) Maybe, but it did not stop them from committing murder – under the guise of supposed religious purity.
“But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Verses 57 – 58)
Let us step back for a moment. Religion in Jesus’ time was as binding (or divisive) a concept as politics is to us now. In fact one can say that religion then was their politics, just as today politics is our religion. On both sides of that statement are exceptions! That humanity espouses life beliefs as if they were life & death dogmas is not new. New belief systems are quite often born during times of turbulence and unrest. In fact, studies show a new belief system will take stronger root if it is challenges than if it is accepted without opposition. That’s not to say, beloved reader, that Jesus’ ministry was false and spread only because of those who opposed it. But that it spread so virulently because it was opposed. To discover if a new belief system is as good as it billing, listen to the content of the belief and the lives of those who believe in it.
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” (Verses 59 – 60)
Yes, Stephen was a radical. And yes, he probably shot of his mouth more than he should. But then that was one perspective on the example that Jesus’ disciples said he laid down. Pay attention also to the young man who had a front row seat to Stephen’s martyrdom . . . or just punishment, depending on your perspective. At this point in the book of Acts, this coat-watching young man’s life could have gone in several directions. It all depends, I guess, how you respond to the message and the medium in which it is displayed. Selah!