They were embarrassed. So they looked at each other with an evil glint and a nod of their heads. Their pride had been slashed with a sword. A sword of truth. "None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke."
So they went after him. Stephen, this wise truth-teller who was selected to help run the early church because he was "full of faith and the Holy Spirit."
Their pride wounded, they persuaded men to lie about Stephen, saying he was speaking against the law of Moses, the Temple "and even God"; the people, including elders and teachers of religious law, became so angry they arrested him.
They dragged Stephen before the high council, but all they could do was stare at him "because his face became as bright as an angel's."
Finally, the high priest asked Stephen, "Are these accusations true?"
"Brothers and fathers, listen to me." Stephen lovingly implored.
He recapped their history starting with Abraham and including other important figures in their story: Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David. He described the actions of "our glorious God."
And in a turn they probably didn't see coming, he described the rejection they were accusing him of.
"And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us. But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. They told Aaron, 'Make us some gods who can lead us'…they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made." (Acts 7:38b-41)
He put an exclamation on it by quoting the prophets twice, as they so often liked to do. Stephen must have seen their hard-hearts glaring at him through their squinted eyes. In wisdom and in love for Father God, he took it to the next level, hoping to pierce through their hardness.
"You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That's what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn't persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God's law, even though you received it from the hands of angels." (Acts 7:51-53; NLT)
Have you ever been in that situation? Where you are left with just having to spell it out? The soft-pedal is not landing? I have, but I don't think I have always done it with the others' best in mind.
I'll never forget the day my sweet brother enveloped both of my small arms with his hands as we stood in the kitchen, looked me in the eyes and gently shook me and said, "You are a brat!"
It woke me up. He was right. It changed me. But did truth change these people?
Did their eyes open to this truth Stephen spoke? Their hearts enlighten like the sun's rays turning ice to slush?
"The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen's accusations, and they shook their fists at him in rage." They took off their cloaks, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him.
Instead of letting truth destroy the sin wrapped so tightly around their hearts, they destroyed the truth-teller, wrongly thinking this would solve their problems.
As the sharp stones ripped at his flesh, broke his bones, Stephen, who had seen Jesus in the heavens at God's right hand moments before—a love gift specifically for him—prayed for Jesus to receive his spirit.
And in an act so unbelieving, as he fell to his knees moments before his last breath, added, "Lord, don't charge them with this sin!"
Unimaginable. This man moves me. Stephen wove courage, love, and truth together like a sailor's rope of strength. A braid few seem able to weave. He was so filled with God that his face shown and liquid gold love poured out over even those who stole his last breath.
Stephen understood that truth is love. That he was fulfilling the two greatest commandments, to love God and others (Matthew 22:37-40). He didn't put approval from others before God's approval. He didn't speak words of flattery or half-truths so people would like him. He didn't speak politically-correct words which Christians are too often confusing with being loving. Not letting people know they are walking on a path of darkness and destruction is not loving.
Knowing what his truth-telling would most likely result in, he did it anyway. And then he forgave.
Lord, may I in humility sit before you long enough so that your light transforms me like it did Stephen.
Those who follow Jesus should attract the same people Jesus attracted and frustrate the same people Jesus frustrated. – Shane Claiborne
"The most loving thing we can do for others is love God more than we love them. For if we love God most, we will love others best." Jon Bloom