Posts Tagged ‘Stephen’

ACTS 7:55-60

55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Stephen goes down in history as the first Christian martyr – or more accurately, the first martyr of the messianic Jewish sect that proclaimed Jesus as God’s long-expected savior. Was this claim the deciding accusation that justified putting Stephen away? Not exactly.

According to the previous chapter, Stephen was a gifted apologist and wonder-worker who had made some enemies in his own synagogue by his charismatic and well-argued defense of The Way (as the sect was initially called). In their frustration, his opponents stirred up rumors and had Stephen put on trial with trumped-up charges and false witnesses. They accused Stephen of preaching a Jesus who would completely undermine the authority of their religious tradition.

Well, that part they got exactly right.

What we see here is what has been seen countless times throughout the history of religion, Christianity included. When the gospel of Jesus is heard in all its revolutionary power and implications, a very typical reaction is provoked in the hearts of those committed to upholding the supremacy of tradition. His vision for the world can never be realized, since it would involve the dismantling of everything religion tends to become: separatist, exclusive, arrogant, dogmatic, and moralizing.

When this way of doing things is dutifully handed on to the next generation, it becomes tradition (from tradere, to hand on).

As long as just one person is awake and courageous enough to speak out for spirit, dignity, love and freedom – for all people and not just “our own” – the rest of us are in danger of waking up as well. And then what? What the hell would we do with a world full of awakened, liberated, fearless and joyful people?!

In his last breath Stephen forgave his murderers, just as Jesus had done on his cross. The spirit of unconditional forgiveness had set them free, too, even if their righteous convictions could not accept it.