Here is the amazing thing, Stephen was the one with God’s peace! The religious leaders are gnashing their teeth at him. Stephen sees heaven open up and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. He is given an amazing vision, the skies opened up for Stephen while those around him were suffering. Doesn’t Jesus say there will be much gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness? This is not a condition that the religious leaders expected to find themselves in.
Their response to Stephen sharing his amazing vision is to cover their ears and yell. Was it so amazing that they couldn’t stand it? Were they so terrified by their own sinfulness that they couldn’t look? Or were they so far from God that they couldn’t even see what Stephen was seeing?
So they dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him. Yet, amidst the violence Stephen prayed. He must have remembered Jesus’ prayer on the cross. He asked Jesus to receive his spirit before falling to his knees. Stephen’s last words were asking God’s forgiveness for those who killed, no murdered, him! How like Jesus Stephen was!
The death of Stephen is our introduction to Saul. Luke is careful to say that Saul watched the stoning and approved, but did not participate. Why is this important? Maybe so that we, the readers, know that he persecuted the church but did not kill anyone. Perhaps that makes it easier to accept the change that happens later.
But first, Saul toke matters into his own hands. Being a good pharisee, he set out to destroy the church. The followers of Jesus scattered, just like the Israelites in the past. I wonder if they felt fear similar to their ancestors as they mourned Stephen’s death, hid and ran.
Who do you relate to most? Is it Stephen with faith, peace and forgiveness? Or is it Saul, watching and approving, but not participating in destroying someone? Or do you feel like the early followers of Jesus, scattered, running and hiding in fear?