7:54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Quite a contrast. When all the chips are on the table and there is nothing left to lose it becomes obvious who is who and what is what. Stephen plays all his cards not in an effort to save himself or prove he is right. Rather he is trying to help these rulers of Jerusalem to see what they have done to the One who is their only hope. His concern is not for himself but for them.
Opposite him are a group of men. They have already voted for and then carried out the execution of Jesus. These men are both the church and the law in Jerusalem. The only power higher is the Romans but when it comes to religious matters the Romans pretty much let them do as they please.
When I was younger I thought evidence and proof mattered. I thought if the plain truth were exposed for all to see that consensus would be reached and reason would prevail. I have since discovered that is not the case. Too often people enter a conflict with only one goal and are blind and deaf to any other option or point of view.
Stephen went as far back as Abraham in his presentation of sacred history. He could have gone back further. The first murder was Cain killing his own brother for the singular goal of silencing the truth in an attempt to escape his own conscience. God himself had tried to intervene and reason with Cain but a mind made up can't be reasoned with.
The council that held Stephen prisoner had no interest in seeking truth. The truth Stephen spoke only infuriated them more and fueled their anger to the point that all sense of decorum, propriety, and proper procedure was lost. They just picked up stones and murdered him in cold blood right in the street. The Bible says they ran at him with blocked ears. They weren't trying to kill Stephen really. They were trying to prevent the sounds of truth from penetrating their uncircumcised ears.
Meanwhile we have Stephen. He is neither angry nor panicked. No cry of self defense is heard. No plea for mercy or his own safety. No accusing or angry outburst. Instead he has his eyes fixed on Jesus and does the exact same thing Jesus did when He was dying. He prays for them!
Next time you observe a conflict I encourage you to look beyond the arguments and words and watch the characters. Truth resides where character is. We have been taught through countless stories and movies that heroism is fighting back, escaping, self-preservation. It takes far more character to care more for your enemies than for yourself. Isn't that the path that Jesus blazed and then said "Come follow Me"?
I will leave you by pointing out an odd, seemingly unnecessary, and meaningless detail in the story. Stephen's murderers put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
God promises that His Word never comes back to Him empty. Stephen, filled with God's Spirit spoke the truth powerfully but apparently for nothing yet God says that is impossible...
A life given to God is like a seed. It always bears fruit. See you tomorrow...