Thursday 26 December 2019

Bible Book:

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' (v. 59)

Acts 7:51-60 Thursday 26 December 2019

Psalm: Psalm 13


Christian imagination is enriched by linking Jesus’s birth (in a vulnerable place at the edge of mainstream society) to Jesus’s death and resurrection. How appropriate that Stephen’s death is remembered the day after Christmas! For, in Christian experience, nothing comes closer to Jesus’s death and resurrection than the martyrdom of a disciple of Jesus. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. The author of Acts, closely related to the author of Luke’s Gospel if not the same person, makes the links abundantly clear between the deaths of Jesus and Stephen.

Today’s passage concludes a very long speech put on Stephen’s lips. It surveyed the whole history of God’s people and the ways God had chosen to reveal the divine will, namely the law and the prophets. Stephen’s conclusion was that Solomon’s decision to build a temple in Jerusalem was a mistake. God cannot be contained in a particular place, especially in a building constructed ‘by human hands’. God’s presence as Holy Spirit, always elusive, is with God’s people wherever they are in the world. But God’s people have habitually resisted the Spirit’s guidance, even when it has been as clear as can be (in the case of Jesus). The high priest and the council are held responsible for Jesus’s death.

The anger that Stephen’s speech provokes in the Jewish hierarchy leads directly to Stephen’s death by stoning (in compliance with the law, Leviticus 24:16). Stephen, however, full of the Holy Spirit, remains sublimely close in his heart to the risen and exalted Jesus, the Son of Man in heaven (v. 56 cites Daniel 7:13). His death parallels the death of Jesus. In verse 59 Stephen cites Psalm 31:5, as Jesus had (Luke 23:46). His prayer for God’s mercy to be accorded to those killing him (v. 60) echoes the prayer of Jesus (Luke 23:34).


To Ponder:

  • In many countries today Christians are harassed, persecuted, discriminated against, even killed. How can Christian people in the UK best support them and express solidarity with them?
  • What challenges and guidance do you believe the Holy Spirit is giving to the churches today that are being resisted or ignored by Christian people?
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