26 December 2012Acts 7:51-60
"... filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'" (vv. 55-57)
Today we leave the celebration of Christmas and jump to a time after the life, death and resurrection of Christ - one of the defining moments of the early Church. Jumping in right at the end of Stephen's powerful sermon to the Sanhedrin, we would need to look back at the whole chapter to see how clearly he has set the ministry of Christ in the context of Jewish history - the story of God's people from the time of Abraham. What we find at the verse we join the sermon at though, is that Stephen chooses not a polite summary of his main points, but rather ends with a denunciation of his audience as "betrayers and murderers" (v. 52). This is clearly not what his audience were wanting to hear and their reaction is only unexpected in its ferocity, not its emotion.
The account of the execution by stoning is preceded by Luke's (Luke wrote Acts as well as the Gospel that bears his name) inclusion of Stephen's vision of God's glory. The way he describes this is important, for Stephen is "filled with the Holy Spirit" and sees "the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God". This rather Trinitarian account of God's nature is worth noting as one of the new occasions in the New Testament where we find the three persons of the Trinity being defined separately yet within the context of the one event. Stephen's words that he saw "the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" were clearly the final straw, and confirmed to the crowd his guilt as a blasphemer.
Worth noting too is the presence of "a young man named Saul" (Acts 8:1). Luke is setting us up for a surprise within the next couple of chapters when we will reintroduced to this complicit murderer as one who is to become the greatest of all missionary Apostles - with a new name, and a whole new life. But for the time being, the stage belongs to Stephen - the first martyr for the faith, and thus a defining moment for the early Church.
- What price are you willing to pay for the sake of Christ?
- How much do you know about Christians in countries where they can expect persecution of their faith in Christ today? How can you find out more? Try looking at the Barnabas Fund website.