Stephen, the first martyr

Acts 6:8-8:8 shares the story of Stephen, one of the first church elders, and gives personal flavor to the beginning growth of the church.  We are still in Jerusalem and people are flocking to this new dynamic for it has not differentiated as a separate entity yet but miracles are happening. Stephen, “full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.”  We have become very skeptical of faith healers for many have been proven to be charlatans but in that day, miracles by the disciples drew crowds.  Crowds draw jealousy from established groups like the Jews and Stephen is arrested. 

         Interestingly, Mark gives us a report on the sermon Stephen gave when asked by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, to account for his actions.  Stephen’s sermon is quite different than Jesus’ sermon on the mount that uses many little stories and similes. Stephen does not defend himself or try to explain.  Stephen gives an oral review of Jewish history.  We get a little insight into the early people thinking as they begin to piece together their narrative of how history is unfolding.  Abraham was called out of the familiar and not given a new country but a covenant.  He is telling our epic story and explaining how or epic hero works.  First God calls and then he promises but the step forward is up to us to take in faith.  Again God calls Moses and the people of Israel out of Egypt.  He promises to raise up a prophet like Moses and to lead them to the Promised Land.  The tabernacle is created and eventually the Temple by King David and King Solomon.  God is calling and fulfilling promises but the people are slow to believe promises of a coming Messiah.

         The Jewish leaders are incensed by the sermon and stone Stephen to death.  Overseeing this stoning is a man named Saul, who will appear in our story later as Paul, after he has to confront himself and his role in the story and then find peace with God.

         The sermon is factual but the emotional response is extreme anger and defensiveness. One of the words we use to describe anger like this is “scapegoating.”  I have a hard day at the office and come home and kick the dog or grump at the wife about the food or yell at the children.  Perhaps your coping strategy is speeding, alcohol or drugs.  If we’re honest, we know what it is like to get faced with something we don’t want to admit, struggle to blame someone else, and finally admit our mistake – if we’re honest.  It is hard to admit when we are wrong.

         Secondly, change is hard.  New ideas challenge old traditions and habits.   We like comfortable.  I believe we say, “There is no place like home.”   “A man’s house is his castle.”  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  This new religious movement is challenging the status quo and very strong Jewish traditions.

         So… is there someplace in your life where you are struggling with anger?  Perhaps the true struggle is between God and self and the need to submit to his authority.  Likewise are you experiencing challenges to some of your traditions that are causing friction?  Perhaps God is drawing you forward into a new phase of life.  God was faithful and there with Stephen through his ordeal and God will be walking by your side also.  The Holy Spirit wants to use you to build His kingdom.  Blessings.

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