The Stoning of Stephen
Acts 6:1 to Acts 8:2
As Stephen is stoned, his courage did not fail. He raised his eyes toward heaven and prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"
|HE NUMBER OF
disciples, or believers in Jesus, had now reached many thousands, and among them were Jews from different parts of the world. Some were called Grecians because they lived in countries where the Greek language was used, which they also spoke, and others were called Hebrews because they used the Hebrew language and lived in Palestine.
There had been an unfriendly feeling between the Grecian Jews and the Hebrews for a long time. Now in this great company of believers in Jesus this unfriendly feeling tried to show itself. Among the poor widows it seems that the needs of the Grecian ones were being overlooked. Their Grecian friends saw this, and began to complain that they were not being cared for properly.
The apostles heard this complaint, and at once they called the multitude of believers together, and said: "It is not right that we should spend all our time looking after the needs of the poor. We must preach the gospel. There are other faithful men among you who can attend to this matter of caring for the needy ones. Choose out seven wise men who are filled with the Holy Spirit, and let them do this work, that we may have more time to pray and to preach."
This plan pleased all the people, both the Hebrews and the Grecians, so they close seven faithful men to divide the money among those who had need. These men they brought before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands upon them.
Stephen was the first man whom they chose for this work. Another man was named Philip. These two men were also preachers of the gospel. About the other five we hear but little.
From the first Stephen's great faith in God showed itself by the miracles he performed among the people. And he spoke boldly about Jesus to those who hated the believers, for the Holy Spirit gave him courage to do this.
In Jerusalem was a synagog where the foreign Jews met together to study the Scriptures. Here Stephen went to preach the gospel. And certain men who were leaders of the synagog argued against this teachings and tried to prove that Jesus is not the Christ.
But they could not prove their argument, for God gave Stephen great wisdom to declare the truth about Jesus. When these evil-minded men saw that Stephen had spoken wisely they were angered, and at once they planned to destroy this faithful man.
Calling some friends who were not careful to speak the truth, they hired them to publish among the Jews that Stephen was teaching against the law of Moses, and was speaking evil words against the temple.
As soon as the rulers and scribes heard this report they caught Stephen and dragged him into the council-room where the apostles had been tried. There they surrounded him, and questioned him about the things they heard.
Stephen was not afraid to speak bravely to these enemies of the truth and right. He talked very earnestly to them about their fathers who had lived long ago. He repeated to them the familiar story of the Israelites, beginning with the time of Abraham. He showed them how their fathers had disobeyed God's laws and refused to listen to God's prophets, even when God had blessed them so much.
As Stephen talked, his face began to shine like an angel's. Those who stood in the council-room saw the heavenly light, but they gave no heed to it. When he told them about the sins of their fathers, the rulers grew angry. Their eyes flashed wickedly, and Stephen knew they were even then thinking how to kill him. Still he was not afraid.
Looking up, he saw the heavens open and Jesus, the Savior, standing by the great white throne. God permitted him to see this wonderful glimpse of heavenly glory that he might have more courage to face his enemies.
Then he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God."
These words filled the rulers with great fury, and they rose from their seats, stopped their ears, and cried out against him. Then, like blood-thirsty animals, they rushed upon him and dragged him out of the council-room, and outside the city gate.
Here those who had spoken false words against him took off their garments, threw them down at the feet of a young Pharisee name Saul, and picked up stones to hurl at Stephen.
But even here Stephen's courage did not fail. He raised his eyes toward heaven and prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then he knelt down, and while the stones struck his body he prayed, just as Jesus prayed when he hung on the cross--"Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."
And after this he fell asleep in death, the first one to be killed by God's enemies in their effort to destroy the church of God.
Some men who had known Stephen heard about his death, and they took up his mangled body and buried it tenderly. Then they mourned for him with loud and bitter cries, for they had loved this earnest young man who gave up his life to defend the gospel.
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