Monday

26 December 2016

"But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him." (v. 57)

Psalm: Psalm 13


Background

Today's verses help us to celebrate the Feast of Stephen - the first Christian martyr.

This is a brutal passage.

It starts with a deeply-aggressive family argument. What begins as a heated debate escalates into a full blown account of domestic violence.

Stephen was a Jewish follower of Jesus. He was an insider to the Jewish authorities and an equal to those with whom he is debating. What began as a defence of his faith and an explanation of the love and hope that Jesus has brought into the world, quickly descends into a piece-by-piece blow against the law and Jewish customs. Stephen has the confidence of the Holy Spirit in his proclamations, and yet his words are received (quite rightly so) as antagonistic and profane. In verse 51 Stephen resorts to name-calling, and offends his hearers by suggesting that they are "opposing the Holy Spirit". In the flow of Acts, the last people to be accused of this - Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) - died as a consequence of their faithlessness. Stephen, in engaging in the philosophical diatribe of the day, is not an innocent recipient of the ensuing events.

This is a brutal passage.

As the situation escalates, there is a shocking clash of responses

  • For Stephen he recognises that Jesus is with him. He has an epiphany which enables him to know and trust that Jesus will remain with him. There is an overwhelming sense throughout the narrative that for Stephen, a deep peace overwhelms him in the midst of the impending events.
  • For the Jewish authorities and hearers, they show a blatant disregard for human life and they start to yell. The mob begin to deliver mob justice. Voices are raised. Dignity is abandoned. Fists are raised. Stones (literally) fly.

As Stephen's response seems to slow in pace, the Jewish audience become more frenetic.

This is a brutal passage.

In the midst of the violent brutality of Stephen's martyrdom, the conclusion is surprising. In the heat of the moment, with the mob mentality of the crowd, Stephen's experience is one of glorious serenity (verse 59). Stephen both offers forgiveness to those involved in his death, and finally in a moment of reality rather than euphemism, "falls asleep" (v. 60).

All of this is overseen by Saul, whose introduction here indicates his increasing importance throughout the rest of Acts. Saul's acquiescence to the stoning of Stephen makes him complicit in this brutalisation of the very people he is soon to call friends.


To Ponder

  • When have you seen or experienced the glory of God? What happened?
  • How do you respond to violence in this passage? How do you respond to violence today?


Bible notes author: The Revd Joanne Cox-Darling

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you