July 30, 2009

One of my favorite stories, 2 extraordinary men, and what they mean to me.

My bible reading this morning has me in Acts 6 and 7, one of my favorite stories in the bible. It is not a warm fuzzy story, it is not a feel good story, it is a gut wrenching, tearful, I pray that I would stand up for Christ that way story.

The stoning of Stephen, he is seized at the end of Chapter 6,.."Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose..." V. 11 "They secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God."".."They produced false witnesses who testified...."
V. 15 "All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel."

After questioning Stephen and allowing him to speak in his defense he gives us a wonderful Cliff Notes version of Abraham and Moses' life touching on Solomon and the temple, then reminding the Sanhedrin that their fathers persecuted the prophets and that they resist the Holy Spirit, and that they themselves just had Christ crucified....

This was their reaction: Acts 7:54

"When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep."

I have never been able to read about Stephen's stoning without crying. There are so many precious moments within the savagery. I love that Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit looked up to heaven. He was so full of the Spirit that it was his reaction to lift His eyes to God, and what did God do? He lovingly opened the heavens so Stephen could see that Christ was on His feet, standing at the right hand of God. Oh to see Christ standing, what a gift, I wonder if Christ had tears, I wonder if His Spirit said, just a moment longer and this will be over, stand strong my brave Stephen. This is the only place in scripture that Christ is depicted standing while in heaven. When one of His children was being persecuted on His account He stood up. This might be the only time in scripture that we read this, but I believe that it is not the only time Christ has stood as His followers are being tortured or dying on His account.

And then Stephen asked that the men's sin not be held against them. Christ said that on the cross, but He is Christ right? He is so powerful that He can be in immense pain and still be full of grace for others. Ah, but Stephen full of the Spirit had grace too. This reminds me of when Christ has shown himself to his disciples after the crucifixion, during his 40 day time on earth before He ascends to heaven. The disciples didn't want to see Him go, but He says, I must go so One greater than Me can come. In Acts 1:8 Christ says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

That is the Power that keeps Stephen strengthened.

Then this is the first glimpse we have of Saul a man who stood by and watched Stephen be stoned to death, Saul who in his own words said he would hunt Christians down and kill them... Who in a short time would be blinded on the road to Damascus, then a holy meeting between him and Christ, this man would become one of Christ's most dedicated followers and preachers, who God used to pen so much of our New Testament scripture. A man who gives us an example of living for Christ in so many ways.


I love this story for many reasons, I would like to say that I invite the Holy Spirit to dwell in me in fullness, but I know that I still have a long way to go on my journey, although my heart is opened, soft and seeking towards Christ and that is all He asks, to allow Him to mold me into His creation. I also love to see Saul before Christ renamed him Paul. For in him I can know that no one, not even myself is too far gone for God to redeem, and not only redeem but live a victorious life in Christ, a life that is convicted that without Christ in me there is only darkness and these are truths that both Paul and I have experienced. And truths that need to be shared with others. Paul's awakening started on a dusty road, mine on the floor of my bedroom 18 years ago with tearstained eyes and no hope left, only darkness, and 4 words...Jesus please help me.


Lest we think that the times of murdering and persecuting Christians is over........ pray for boldness, and incredible filling of the Spirit, so they can lift their eyes to God, and their families can stay strong in Christ.


Anonymous said...

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

I think these may be two of the most dramatic sentences I can imagine showing the power of the encounter with Jesus!