Day 178 – Stephen, Stoning, and Saul

I love the story of Stephen’s stoning. It’s so redemptive.

Yep, the story of one man’s brutal death elevates me.

First,  there’s the fact that Stephen spoke the truth without fear. He is so committed to preaching the truth and possibly to leading members of the council to repentance, that he essentially signs his death certificate with his last indictment:

Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.  Acts 7: 52-53 NIV

Then, there’s Stephen’s composure, his peace. He starts lecturing the court with a “face like an angel” (which I discussed yesterday). Right before the stoning starts, Stephen has a vision:

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.”Acts 7: 55-56

I’ve heard of folks getting a glimpse into heaven before they die (I’m not talking about the bright light, but of people who see Jesus). I wonder if Stephen so longed to join Jesus that the stones seemed far way. And he says, “look.” It’s almost like nothing’s going on around him. He’s focused on Jesus. Perhaps he even wants his accusers to see Jesus and repent.

Of course, there’s Stephen’s miraculous mercy. As he endures the pummeling stones, he prays “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Then [Stephen] fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. vs. 60

He forgives them!

What a contrast to the Sanhedrin’s fury, their gnashing teeth, their murderous rant, their rush to drag Stephen off and stone him.

Saul holding coats as Stephen is stoned (guild of St. Stephen web site)And finally, there’s the young man Saul.  I almost think I like this part the best. Who held the coats of the murderers? Who approved the horrific stoning? The zealous Hebrew, the righteous Saul.

The same Saul who by God’s overwhelming mercy and grace became Paul, the evangelist to the Gentiles, who would one day call himself the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), perhaps remembering the day he approved Stephens’ stoning. Who would also one day say:

…whatever gain I had [all of Saul’s legalistic righteousness], I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… Philippians 3: 7-9a

Now, that’s a great ending to the story.

I’m glad that Stephen was stoned. After all, Stephen left earth to join Jesus with the Father.

And we got to see the unbelievable transformation God wrought in the life of Paul.

 

Today’s Readings: 1 Chronicles 15:1-16:43,  Psalm 78:9-16, Proverbs 19:22-24, Acts 7:44-8:1a. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts. Your daily blogger, Holiday Longing (Reproduce with permission only).

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