Sunday, 13 September 2015

Bible Reading: Acts 7v54-8v4

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But 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. 56 ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.  1 And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
As you read the account of Stephen's trial and subsequent stoning you can't help but be struck by a number of things.  Firstly, Stephen is not able to do this because he is some subhuman man, he is able to take this stand because he was "full of the Holy Spirit".  That is encouraging because it means that we too can stand like Stephen when we face persecution, maybe it won't be a mob with rocks but it might be a group of friends ridiculing your faith, or people attacking us for being bigoted because of our beliefs about marriage.  It might be because our family simply don't get why we have made certain decisions or simply don't see why we needed that 'Jesus stuff'?  Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit so that his people can stand, not just so this like Stephen could, but so that we can too as we trust his word.

There are many other things that might strike us as we read those verses; the similarity between Stephen's words and Jesus words as they face death, the fact that Stephen prays to Jesus, his vision echoing Daniel 7v13, the amazing prayer he prays and it's answer, as yet unseen, in Saul's conversion, God's sovereign overruling of persecution to spread the very gospel it was designed to stop in its tracks.  There are all those and more.  But one other thing has particularly struck me, it's the little detail about "Godly men buried Stephen and mourned for him deeply."  Who are those godly men?  If all the church has been scattered throughout Judea and Samaria(v1) then it isn't his fellow church members.  If it was the Apostles we would have been told.  I wonder if it was those Jews who feared God were deeply impressed with the church and had heard about Jesus but as yet had not chosen to trust Jesus and join the church.  Those people the Apostles, by God's sovereign will and plan, were in Jerusalem to reach with the gospel.  Isn't that encouraging, it isn't that everyone in Jerusalem is against the church or even against Stephen, there are those outside the church who respect God's people and show subtle disapproval of the actions of others in killing him.  It's a reminder that not everyone is opposed to the gospel, when we face opposition at work or in the family it may not be everyone who is opposed.  There will be others who have watched us and to whom our life has given pause for thought.  Those whom God has for us to reach and for whom the way we deal with persecution is in itself a witness that flavours the gospel we speak.

God gives us everything we need to stand for him as he pours out his Spirit on us, and the situation is often not as bad as it looks and God sovereignly puts his people where his gospel is needed.

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