10 May 2011

Acts 7:51 - 8:1a

"But filled with the Holy Spirit, he [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." (v. 55)


Every teenager knows about peer pressure. It is one of the most powerful influences upon their lives. For many it is also a constant pressure in adulthood. To resist strong peer pressure takes courage and assured conviction. Today's passage is one such instance. Stephen, a leader in the early Church concluded a long speech (Acts 7:2-53) using uncompromising language to accuse Jerusalem's Jewish authorities of dereliction of duty. To speak in this way was blasphemy to the ears of the Sanhedrin, the court of the elders. They were, not unsurprisingly, enraged with his claims. The result was Stephen's death sentence by stoning.

Stephen was not someone who conformed to peer pressure. He would rather die than compromise. His last words (verses 59-60) were a prayer for himself and for his executioners. His words echoed those spoken at Jesus' death (Luke 23:34) one significant difference. Whereas Jesus committed himself to God in the words of Psalm 31:5, Stephen committed himself to Jesus. These were the very early days of the Church and Luke (the writer of Luke's Gospel and Acts) recorded the name of Jesus being invoked in a way usually associated with God.

Stephen was the first known Christian martyr. Since then there have been many more. On the west front of Westminster Abbey. there are ten statues of Christian martyrs of the 20th century. They include Maximilian Kolbe from Poland, Janani Luwum from Uganda, Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Germany and Lucian Tapiedi from Papua New Guinea. In the centre of London they are a silent reminder that followers of Christ still resist pressures to conform.

But not all is doom and gloom. Luke now introduces Saul (verse 1) as one who observed and agreed with the execution. Many have wondered what impact seeing the death of Stephen might have had on Saul. Did it lay the seeds towards his later conversion? How much did the words of Stephen strike home within the heart of Saul? It is perhaps worth considering what would be different if Stephen had given in to peer pressure.

To Ponder

What advice would you give to someone who is feeling undue peer pressure?

It is not always easy living with people who will not compromise. What are the things that are not worth fighting over?

Why do you think Stephen committed his Spirit into the name of Jesus and not God?

Bible notes author

The Revd Tony Morling

Tony ministers in the Methodist Forest Circuit of London. He has a particular interest in making connections between faith and contemporary culture.