26 December 2010Acts 7:51-60
"But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."(v. 55)
Today is St Stephen's Day and this passage from the Acts of the
Apostles is the account of his being stoned to death as the first
Stephen is one of the seven appointed to serve the new Christian community in Jerusalem by helping in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-6). However, he soon becomes known as a powerful preacher (Acts 6:8-10), and it is this which brings him to the attention of the Jewish authorities and leads to his being hauled before their Council (Acts 6:12).
In his speech before the Council (Acts 7:1-53), Stephen charges their leaders with persecuting and killing Jesus in just the same way as they mistreated the prophets before him. This rouses them to a fury, even more so when Stephen goes on to bear witness to Jesus' resurrection, saying, in words which echo the prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14), that he sees the heavens opened and "the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (verse 56). Enraged, they rush out to stone him, the legal punishment for blasphemy.
However Acts also records that the witnesses to his stoning lay their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul (verse 58) who, it is said, "approved of their killing him" (Acts 8:1). This is the same Saul who will shortly undergo his own conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Much of the rest of the Acts of the Apostles is taken up by accounts of his subsequent missionary work, but now known as Paul, the 'apostle to the Gentiles' (non Jews) (Romans 11:13).
Stephen dies bearing witness to the death and Resurrection of Jesus and his saint's day comes the day after we celebrate Christ's birth. How important is it to hold together both Christmas and Easter in our faith?
Saul is a witness to the stoning of Stephen. How might this have affected his own future experience of conversion and ministry?
Are there experiences in our own life and faith which we have only come to make sense of, and in some sense to bear fruit, many years later? What are they?