Stephen is known as the first Christian martyr, and a man described as "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" and also "full of grace." He was performing signs and wonders, scripture says. He wasn't a troublemaker, nor was he a criminal. Rather, he was this really decent guy assigned to help take care of society's vulnerable and overlooked (Acts 6); he was walking in the Spirit and demonstrating the supernatural as he brought God's kingdom to earth.
For this, Stephen becomes Target Numero Uno for the kingdom of darkness. Under false accusations, he's dragged before the Council. Asked to testify, Stephen offers a lucid, thorough recant of their own history and presents a reasonable argument for Jesus as the Messiah for which the world had waited. He also points out that their stubbornness has prevented them from seeing what is in their own scriptures.
Ouch. Getting a bunch of these thrown at you would be
a pretty lousy way to go.
This vivid illustration in Acts of the Council stuffing their ears, gnashing their teeth, and rushing at Stephen with stones is such a picture to me of our current spiritual climate in the United States. The stones until now have been largely figurative and have been thrown where opinions are offered that are not in compliance with the world and the way it thinks, as dictated by the Ruler of the World (John 12:31). Personally, I have been "stoned" on many a forum in which a simple, gentle observation was given that contained a Christian worldview, even if Christ wasn't mentioned. It is amazing the outburst of unrestricted rage and profanity that an innocent remark can draw when it is has a root in Biblical truth.
Non-Christians who go against the philosophy of this world, however, are also finding themselves under persecution. Remember what happened when someone affiliated with the Smithsonian dared to mention the words "intelligent design in an article? Perhaps you've read of the backlash churning on blogs towards the steadily growing number of scientists who have formed the group "Dissent from Darwin." (More likely, you've never heard of this group before today because it's simply not being reported).
The message of the cross
draws and it repels.
No one is wholly
indifferent to it.
The reminder to myself is to follow the example of Stephen in the rest of his conduct. To be at rest and in a state of calm when denounced and falsely accused. To be able even to smile, knowing that those who are lashing out are subject to Christ as King. Stephen, according to Acts 6:15, had a "face like an angel" according to those who saw him. When the Council turned on him in rage, he didn't look back at them, but rather gazed intently into Heaven (v. 55) . And when these children of wrath were in the very act of murdering Stephen, Stephen cried out to Christ not to hold their sins against them (v. 60).
Stephen is such an example, because Stephen imitated Christ himself. In no way do I want to be riled or dismayed by attacks made on me and my character over communication, nor do I want to take the bait in social media when non-Christian loved ones and acquaintances post ideas that are preposterous or passive aggressive. I want always to be reminded that it is my privilege to pray for them, and that I am co-heirs with Christ. In this, we rule in the midst of our enemies (Ps 110:2)!