First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
The Consequences of Words
Have you ever said something you knew would cause controversy? Why did you say it? What happened?
55 God’s Spirit filled Stephen. He stared into heaven and saw the glory of God. He also saw Jesus who stood right beside God. 56 “Look! I see the sky open up. The Son of Man is standing next to God.”
57 The members of the Council who judged Stephen erupted into a loud commotion. They covered their ears in protest. Together, they grabbed Stephen 58 and threw him outside of the Jerusalem. They began to throw stones at him. Many of them took off their jackets and set them at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They kept throwing stones at Stephen, but he prayed out loud, “Lord Jesus, take my soul into your Kingdom.” 60 He fell on his knees and shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.” Then, Stephen died.
55 Being full of the Spirit, having stared into heaven, (Stephen) saw the glory of God and JESUS having stood at the right of God 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens completely opened and the SON OF MAN having stood at the right of God.” 57 Having shouted in a loud voice, they covered their ears and rushed upon him with a single intent, 58 and, having thrown (him) outside the city, they (kept) throwing stones . The witnesses set off their (outer) clothing at the feet of a young man named Saul, and they (kept) throwing stones at Stephen, calling out (in prayer) and saying, “LORD JESUS, welcome my spirit.” 60 Having fallen to (his) kness, (he) shouted in a great voice, “LORD, do not let this sin stand against them.” Having said this, he slept.
7:56 “Look! I see the heavens completely opened and the SON OF MAN having stood at the right of God.” With a reference to Daniel 7:13, Stephen’s statement inferred the end times were at hand. Because of his accusations against the religious leadership and implicit declaration of Christian faith in 7:52, Stephen clearly equated Jesus with Daniel’s Son of Man in his heavenly vision.
7:57 “with a single intent” is literally “with the same mind.”
7:57-58 “They” were the members of the Sanhedrin. When they heard Stephen’s words, he members clearly understood Stephen’s intent and reacted to what they saw was blasphemy. With a quarantine mentality, they covered their ears not to here the words, removed Stephen from the room of his judgment, then threw him out of Jerusalem to stone him. Their actions were meant to take away the speaker and his words, so the community could be protected from what they believed was not clean. However, the haste Luke presented in this account implied more mob justice than a deliberated judgment against Stephen.
7:58 “The witnesses set off their (outer) clothing...” At the time of Jesus, men wore three layers of clothing. The “witnesses” removed their outer tunic so they could throw the stones more easily.
7:60: “...he slept.” Sleep was an early Christian metaphor for death.
Words have consequences. Sometimes, these consequences are explosive.
These few verses described the end of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Acts 6-7 narrated the witness of Stephen, one of the first deacons in the community at Jerusalem. Opponents conspired and had Stephen arrested. Before the judges of the Sanhedrin, Stephen implicitly answered the charge they made against Jesus himself in Mark 15:58 (Jesus would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days). He reviewed the early history of God’s activity with Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon to point out who was really in charge of the people. While he was charged with blasphemy, Stephen accused the Sanhedrin of presumption. Clearly stated, Stephen equated the leaders with those who opposed the prophets when they crucified the “Righteous One” (7:52). They, not he, sinned, for in killing Jesus of Nazareth, they received the Law (that is, revelation) but did not understand or act on it. Stephen implied they replaced faith in God with their own brand of religion.
Then, Stephen made a profound statement. He witnessed to the end time vision: the Son of Man sat at the right hand of God. By equating Jesus with Daniel’s Son of Man, he struck a nerve. The assembly rushed him, dragged him outside the city, and stone him to death. As a side note, Saul of Tarsus was introduced to the reader. Stephen prayed to Jesus for salvation and the forgiveness of his executioners. Then, he died.
Sharing our faith can be controversial, especially in these polarized times. The people who hear us can presume ideas and intents that we might not hold, but, nonetheless, use against us. The words “I follow Jesus” can make us friends, but they can also make us enemies. We cannot control the reactions of others. However, we, like Stephen, can remain true to ourselves, despite the consequences. If we remain true, we, too, will undergo death, but find God and eternal life.
Those consequences are worth the risk.
Plan to witness for your faith this week. Pray for those who oppose your faith or who have caused you pain because of your witness.