Yesterday we heard a story from the Book of Acts about how Stephen, a brand new leader in the Christian church, preached about Jesus in a way that enraged the crowd around him. We spent some time exploring the reasons why.
Today we’ll see where their strong reaction went, and why we’re calling this week’s topic Pioneer Pain.
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:51-60 ESV)
They took him outside the city, as the Jewish law said must happen for an execution, and killed him in a violent and excruciating way, being pelted with stones.
This horrible act brings him to his death, what the early Christians almost universally describe as falling asleep. In so doing, the make clear that death is a temporary, not final reality for them, because of Jesus Christ and his transit through death into life once again. In describing Stephen this way, they show the futility of the mob’s actions, faced with the power of Jesus.
The description makes it clear that Stephen’s death was an impulsive, enraged act with no small dose of mob mentality.
This is also evident in how swiftly they bring him to his death. Normally, as we saw in the case of Jesus’ death, the Jewish authorities would have to gain Roman permission to execute someone. Either they didn’t bother this time, taken up in the moment, or they took advantage of what may have been a brief interim period where a Roman governor had been recalled, and a new one not yet installed. Either way, they acted quickly.
What I really want us to notice, however, is how Stephen dies as a witness to Jesus. I don’t just mean the speech that gets him in trouble, I also mean the manner in which he dies. He dies just outside Jerusalem, like Jesus. He dies having been denied by a violent mob, like Jesus when his people yelled, Crucify Him! He willingly dies, verbally submitting to God’s plan, even if it is painful to the point of death. Most importantly, he dies at the very same time as he forgives his murderers. Jesus said, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”
Question: What impact do you think Stephen’s final words had on the crowd? In a less dramatic and violent death, how can someone like us die while pointing others to Jesus?
Meeting with a Group? Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide[permalink append=”#comments”]Discuss the Challenge[/permalink]