Last night I led some study on Acts 7:54-60, the stoning of Stephen. I have to admit I went off on a bit of a tack but I found the parallels between Stephens ‘trial’ & death, and modern day treatment of Christian prisoners in other countries quite staggering. It is quite almost unbelievable for us in the West, that in the 21st Centruy, some 2000 years after the death of Christ (and St. Stephen) people are still being treated in this way for their faith. Organisations like Voice of the Martyrs, CSW and Open Doors show many current cases where Christians have been imprisioned without proper trial, without appeal, and in appalling conditions, simply for their faith.
The Stoning of Stephen
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 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. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 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 think sometimes people are just not in a position to hear the truth, they aren’t capable, the time is not right or they are just not ready. As the Priests covering their ears in this passage above, it reminded me of my children when they don’t want to hear what I am telling them. And if they really don’t want to hear they shout too… Usually this is when I am telling them a painful and uncomfortable truth, like ‘don’t play with that you will hurt yourself’ or ‘you can’t have another cake because it is tea time’. They don’t want to hear it but they still need to.
In the King James version of v 54 above it says: ‘they were cut to the heart…‘ And isn’t that how God speaks to us? right to our hearts… And when hearing the truth in this way, there are really two outcomes. Either one accepts it, submits to it, to the spirit; or one gets angry and refutes it. And we see how the Priests in the high council react when they hear the truth, and it’s really not all that friendly…
So when I look at the cases of Christians being persecuted around the world and the horrific treatment they get, the torture and so on, it seems so similar to the way the priests reacted with Stephen. They cover their ears, yell and drive him out of town and kill him. Now we see in accounts of Christians persecuted in recent times; Judges, guards, and people in authority reacting in extreme anger to those brought before them. I understand that often the reasons people are arrested is due to blasphemy against the religion of that specific country but either way is it natural for their to be such extreme reactions?
It does put everything in perspective though doesn’t it? People talk about the persecution of Christians in this country, for not being able to wear a cross to work, or having a palm cross in their van (and I am not saying we shouldn’t address these things) but that isn’t real persecution is it? These people are not at risk of their lives or their family lives… They are not having to be on the move, to watch their every step… We are so lucky that in this country we can openly go to church, we can openly wear a cross (even if not at work), we can offer to pray for friends in need without fear of real persecution. I have friends who have gone to be Missionaries and I know that they are putting their lives on the line and living in secrecy., every day. I have huge and new found respect for them and what they are doing.