26 December 2015

Acts 7:51-60

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (v. 60)

Psalm: Psalm 13


This passage has been selected because in many traditions today commemorates the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As chapters 6 and 7 in Acts indicate, he was a vigorous advocate in Jerusalem for belief in Jesus as Messiah, and was accused in court of perverting the Jewish faith, particularly in playing down the importance of the temple. His long speech in defence in chapter 7 illustrates both God's calling of the people of Israel and their frequent disobedience, and ends with verses 51 to 53 which are the first part of our reading. What follows is not a formal verdict of guilty, but a mob reaction leading to Stephen being stoned to death.

Verses 55 to 60 echo Luke's account of Jesus' death. Stephen sees Jesus exalted in heaven (verses 55-56, compare Luke 22:69), he prays for his persecutors (verse 60, compare Luke 23:34), and surrenders his spirit to the Lord (verse 59, compare Luke 23:46). Luke (the writer of Acts) is emphasising that Stephen is a true follower of Jesus.

Verse 58 draws our attention to the presence of Saul, later to be called Paul. How much did the experience of that day prepare him for his conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-19)?

In reading verses 51 to 53 we should beware of treating them as applying to the many varieties of Jewish faith and practice today.

To Ponder

  • How far do you think you would be able to go to profess your faith under hostile pressure?
  • In what ways might verses 51 to 53 be an indictment of the Christian Church's record, past and present?
  • Would you be able, like Stephen, to pray for your enemies? If not, why not?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..