“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. NLTActs 7:51-60
This short segment contains many remez, clues as to what is going on here at a deeper level. There are a number of little details hidden in this text by Luke which leaves us in no doubt as to where the guilt lies. By Roman law they were not allowed to put anyone to death without permission of the Roman occupying forces. The things Stephen said to them undoubtedly made them lose their ability to reason. His comments pushed them over the edge and caused them to get so angry that they lost control and killed him. Stephen was yet another one in a series of people who challenged their world by claiming Jesus was the Messiah and had been resurrected. Besides which he held them accountable for Christ’s death in the same way Peter had done. However Luke records for us a number of little elements in the story which add weight to the case against them, not Stephen. The fact that they gave their clothes to Saul indicates they themselves were guilty. This is a hint to the fact that they were the lawbreakers in this incident. At a stoning, the only clothes which were stripped and handed to someone to keep, were the clothes of the accused, the one to be stoned, not the ones doing the act. Just who is it who is guilty here?
Another little element included in the story is the fact that Stephen sees Jesus in heaven standing in the place of honour, power and judgment, at God’s right hand. In cases concerning the death penalty, the judge stood. It is interesting that Jesus the judge was standing in heaven. When Stephen made that comment it was an indication that heaven considered them guilty and the heavenly Judge was standing to pronounce judgment in Stephen’s favour. As a result, it pushed them over the edge and they refused to listen to anything more that this upstart had to say. There is no way they are going to hand this case over to the Roman authority to judge. They know what Pilate’s statement at the end of the case against Jesus was. They did not want to risk that again. So they take matters into their own hands and are willing for Stephen’s blood to be on their hands.
The fact that Jesus was standing also had another inferred meaning – that He was standing to receive Stephen into His presence. Read back over all I wrote on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16. (Gems 1072 –1084) In the Lazarus story, the Pharisees were shocked to hear Jesus telling them things which contradicted their view of how it would be in heaven. By telling them that Jesus was standing in the courts of heaven to perhaps admit Stephen into God’s presence added weight to his claims. It also strengthened the possibility that God’s Glory was upon him as they had seen and heard. It all just got too much to handle and so they snapped. These little remez were enough to push these leaders to lose control and stone him, despite the fact that they knew he was innocent. We might put it this way in our modern cultural idiom, that Stephen’s bold stand before his accusers and his willingness to call them out for their hypocrisy resulted in Jesus giving Stephen a standing ovation to usher him into heaven. Remember Jesus is generally described as being seated in heaven at God’s right hand. But on this occasion of Stephen stand for Him against the challenge of the Sanhedrin Jesus stood. What will you do to elicit a standing ovation from the Son of God?
“We have already been told in the flow of the story that these leaders”couldn’t stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.”Act 6:10-11
Notice too that Luke has set the story up for the next phase of what is to unfold. By introducing us to Saul (soon to be Paul) at this stage, places Saul firmly on the side of the perpetrators of this crime against Stephen. Being named as the one holding the clothes of those who stoned Stephen to death implicates him in the action. This is the first instance where Saul of Tarsus is mentioned. The law of first mention in Scripture is important for setting the scene for what is to follow. This then is our introduction to a major player in the story ahead. It is a very significant introduction. Take careful note of what follows. Remember also that I told you in Gem 1336 that the speeches in the Book of Acts are important and that Stephen’s speech is the longest of all speeches, making it highly important. Let that percolate in your thinking for a moment. In fact, go back and read Gem 1336 – Speeches are a feature of the Book of Acts. It would be in your best interests to read it again now.
Finding your purpose isn’t a door you walk through, it’s a path you follow which sets your life course.Ian Vail
It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our knowledge or our abilities.Ian Vail
Your responsibility is NOT to preserve previous generations traditions but to uphold God’s truth in every generation.Ian Vail
Without dreams we reach for nothing. Without truth we have nothing. Without God we are nothing.Anon
Never fall into the mistake of believing that you are persecuted whenever you are contradicted.Anon