April 16, 2020 – Thursday
Acts 7:51-53 NIV
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!
52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him—
53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
The above is the end of a speech of by Stephen to the Pharisees. Stephen is described as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit in Acts 6:5 and a man full of God’s grace and power who performed great wonders and signs among the people in Acts 6:8. He was not one of the twelve apostles, but an appointed deacon in the early church at Jerusalem.
At the end of his speech the Sanhedrin, 54b 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.
The reaction of the those who heard Stephen say “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” clearly demonstrated their hearts and ears were still uncircumcised. As with Jesus they ignored the great wonders and signs Stephen performed, all made possible by his being filled with the Holy Spirit. We are not told what the wonders and signs consisted of, but they were likely like those of the apostles who healed people and forced demons to depart from people while teaching the good news of Jesus.
Stephen was also correct when he asked “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” Then only moments later they made Stephen the first Christian martyr. Of interest also, consider they left their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. Saul would later have a meeting with Jesus and become known as Paul, an apostle to the Gentiles. He too would eventually become a martyr after facing much persecution while spreading the good news of Jesus throughout the known world, but at this time he approved of the killing of Stephen.
In the first three verses of the next chapter we read after Stephen’s stoning: 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. Saul was completely opposed to the good news of Jesus until on his way to Damascus, he has a personal meeting with Jesus. Then everything changed for him.
Pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution as a part of everyday life.
Riley D. Driver-Pastor
Calvary Chapel of Dayton