PART 4 THE FACETS OF DEATH
PART 4 THE FACETS OF DEATH
COULD STEPHEN’S VERBAL WITNESS BEFORE HIS MARTYRDOM HAVE INFLUENCED SAUL’S CONVERSION TO CHRIST?
I have wrestled with this story in my mind for many years. For me, the question I have entertained is one that I have brought up to God on several occasions. God, how could you have allowed this wise Spirit-filled and gifted believer/deacon to be taken home so early in his walk with You? I understand that the early church was under intense persecution but couldn’t you have somehow got involved and saved him from physical demise?
There is a lot more to this story. Please go to the book of Acts and find out what else we can learn from it.
Suggested Reading: Acts 6:1-10; Acts 7:58-60
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
Grecian Jews (Jewish immigrants to Palestine - those who spoke Greek) were complaining against the Hebrews (the native Jews who spoke Aramaic and Greek) because their widows were overlooked in the daily administration of money and food. The apostles came up with a suggestion to address this matter. They recommended that the brethren look ye out among you seven men.
But before these men were chosen and appointed, the apostles conveyed to the assembly of believers the qualities of the Holy Spirit that they should have witnessed in these individuals. These qualities were of an honest report [of an authentic testimony of being known by the assembly for being full of the Holy Spirit (those whom the Holy Spirit directs; those who are spiritually minded)] and wisdom (skill or aptitude for practical affairs). So, seven males were chosen, but there was one in my mind that stood out. His name was Stephen.
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
He was a Christian, full of faith (grace; richly blessed by God) and power (supernatural power), who repeatedly worked (evidenced) wonders (miracles) and miracles (signs). When I read this, it caught me by surprise. I thought that only the apostles were used by God to evidence miracles and signs. Wait, there is more.
9-10 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
The next thing we learned about him was that he was in a synagogue where questions were being asked, and answers brought forth from him that turned the venue into intense arguing. One of the groups that were present came from Cilicia (a Roman province) within whose confines was the city of Tarsus, where Paul of Tarsus, an unbeliever at this time, was not only from there but was in attendance. And none of them were able to answer the wisdom (his knowledge of the scriptures; …his acquaintance with their sacred writings, opinions, etc.12) and the spirit (the Holy Spirit) by Whom he spoke.
Wow! Learned in the Old Testament Scriptures and led by the Spirit. Are you kidding me? I’m sure God was going to use him in a mighty way to spread the gospel and the new truths of the faith throughout the world.
Acts 7:58a And cast him out of the city, and stoned him:…
And then what happened next? Not only did I not want to happen, but how could God have allowed this to happen? These disputers bribed certain men, who spoke falsely against Stephen, saying that he blasphemed against Moses. These false accusations quickly spread among the people, the elders, and the scribes. He was apprehended and brought before the council (the Sanhedrin - the supreme Jewish court of justice), who questioned him in respect to these falsehoods.
As he gave a response, at some point, they couldn’t continue to listen to what was being said any longer. It so infuriated them that they didn’t even pronounce sentencing upon him but immediately grabbed him and took him to the edge of the city, where everyone in attendance picked up stones and threw them at him until he died. Say it was not so. In my imaginative thoughts, I would say to God, please prompt the Spirit to evidence a miracle that would rescue him from this assault.
Acts 7:58b-60 …and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
I had heard fellow believers say that his pronouncement of forgiveness before he died could have had an impact on Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, an adamant persecutor of Christians by possibly softening his heart so that later on in his life, i.e., when he was on the road to Damascus, he was ready to respond to Jesus invitation for salvation. This could very well be so.
2 Timothy 3:12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
What came to my mind was a couple of things. This verse in the book of second Timothy says that all that will live godly (live in devotion to Christ; live righteously) in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (will be persecuted). Here is my question in this regard. Will this consequence of death be the case for every Christian who proclaims their faith? Persecution can come in different forms. Who knows what, how, when, and where Christians will be subjected to rejection?
The other thing that stood out in my mind was Stephen’s prayer as he was being stoned. You think he might have said, God the Father save me if it’s your will. And if it’s not, then lay not this sin (hold not this sin) to their charge (against them to exact punishment; the hope that the wicked should return to a sound mind, that they may not perish; and endeavor to promote their salvation13). I wonder what the rest of the stories would have been told to us about his walk of faith had he lived.
I am still left with a lingering question concerning the death of Stephen. And that is, is there a story in Scripture where God the Father decided to save a believer’s life because there was something that this believer said or did to get His attention? If there is, then could whatever this was have saved Stephen from death had he responded to God in the same manner? We’ll find out in the next chapter.
13Calvin's Commentaries Pc Study Bible version 5, 2006, 08 March 2018 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
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