Now, upon hearing these things they were so deeply wounded that they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, was intent with looking into Heaven to see Jesus standing at God's right hand as he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the son of God standing there at God's right hand!" And shouting loudly they blocked their ears and with one action mobbed him to expel him outside the city (gates where) they stoned him. And the witness to this execution laid their garments at the feet of a young fellow named Saul. And, as they stoned Stephen, he invoked (God) in these words: "Lord Jesus, receive my breath!" And kneeling down and with a loud shout (he said): "Lord do not count this sin against them, please!" With this saying (on his lips), he fell asleep. And there was Saul (standing there) consenting to his killing. (Acts 7:54-8:1/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne)

EYES ON JESUS: Stephen was stoned after he saw Christ standing at God's right hand in Heaven. PICTURE: José Gregorio Sánchez Duarte/www.freeimages.com


IN A NUTSHELL

The last part of Stephen's story is his dying words. This is all about how God used the death of Stephen as part of the work of His Son. There is something intensely victorious here, even as it is so sad because of the devilry that is involved.

This is the story of Stephen's last hour. Luke draws for us the full extent of the council's inability to take what he had said seriously. The council is depicted as frantically denying themselves, their history, the meaning of their life, the law of God, their customs. In their defence of the temple, they wilfully ignored that it had become the historical pawn in the jealous hands of rival groups. Those whose special pre-eminence was threatened made their appeal to the temple as the place where God was supposed to reside.


It is likely that the writer of the Letter of James later became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. His letter identifies himself as Jesus' brother. He wrote this: "Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom that is above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And those making peace sow the harvest of righteousness in peace."


James, Jesus' brother, had taken some time to accept that this Jesus was indeed Lord and Christ, his Lord and Christ. But when he did, he realised he could not run away from the kinds of problems that he knew were part of his make-up - bitter jealousy, selfish ambition and so on.


Stephen called on the council to come to terms with their bitter jealousy and selfish ambition - they should take a lead and work to bring the entire nation of Israel to their knees in adoration and love for the God who triumphs so fully that not even His people's rebellion can be any barrier to their restoration. This merciful God offers full forgiveness and full restoration. This is what He has always promised for His people. Stephen proclaimed this triumph with His dying breath. His calm prayer contrasted with the fanaticism of those who wanted him dead.

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