Acts 7: 55 – 60
55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
A week of last words.
A couple of Scottish icons’ last words today. Firstly Robert The Bruce who on 13 June 1329 as his family gathered around him said, “Now, God be with you, my dear children. I have breakfasted with you and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ.” Nearly four hundred and fifty years later on 21 July 1796 a ploughman and excise man as well as a colossus of literature otherwise called Robbie Burns lay nearing death at an age far too young and instructed those at his bedside “Don’t let the awkward squad fire over me.” when one of his fellow Volunteers visited shortly before his death, whether it was from a desire for ales, pretentious funeral, or a fear of their capability with loaded muskets is open to speculation.
There are not a lot of deaths other than Jesus’ described in any detail in the New Testament but one that is, is the martyrdom of Stephen.
Stephen had upset the powers that be by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ many heard him and were persuaded by what he said. Even when he was on trial for his life he preached the Gospel message. This enraged the crowd to such an extent they dragged him out of the city so they could stone him to death. In his pain Stephen echoes Jesus’ words on the cross asking that his Spirit be received (like The Bruce all those centuries later) and a final pray for forgiveness of his killers.
Why does Luke record in such detail this act of martyrdom? Well the clue lies in verse 58 where he tells us those doing the stoning left their outer garments with one Saul who we now know became Paul. The death of Stephen and his resolute faith in Jesus had a great effect on Saul that prepared him for his conversion of the road to Damascus so much so that he remembered all the little incidents of the day. Stephen’s death and his prayers were not wasted, they impressed Saul and without them would he have become the great Apostle he did?
No life is ever wasted and no death either, Stephen was the first to show Paul the power of the Christian faith which meant he would eventually spread that faith all over the known world.
We may give thanks that out of Stephen’s tragic murder great blessings flowed.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, your ways are not ours, we often fail to see how your glory can arise from the most desolate of scenes and yet it does. May we trust to put our faith in you and walk in your ways.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,