A Reflection on Acts 7:55-60
Death has become something that many people have had to face during this time of pandemic. While it has always been real, and something that we ultimately must contend with, we often choose to look at other things, think of other things, not allowing this to be our reality. However, we now all get the opportunity to understand this is a reality many of us have had to deal with, either our own mortality, or the suffering and death of a loved one or someone close to us. Another reality that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is that we are a part of a dying world that is crying out for an answer to suffering and pain.
God reached out to a world that was dying, and gave His Only Son sacrificially to save the world, to save you and me. This Mother’s Day, I am reminded of many mothers that have given sacrificially to give their children, either biologically or not, love, joy, peace, and hope. Many have come beside us and loved us unconditionally, so that we have had opportunities far beyond our own abilities to succeed, and thrive, in spite of our own selfish actions. We have fallen and hurt ourselves, and the mothering love has picked us up and cleaned out our wounds, and allowed us to get up again. We also see the example in our world of so many mothers stepping up and providing the compassion and caring for a world that is suffering.
God is the author of this type of love, and God offers it to us in the darkness of the world. Stephen, in the Book of Acts, experienced this love, and when he faced his own death, he looked to the heavens and saw Jesus Christ, the embodiment of that love, and was as peace, and realized that even though his life on Earth was over, he had a reason for hope, and he could share that hope and peace right to his last breath.
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.”Acts 7:55-60 (NIV)
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.
Those that attacked Stephen were not open to hearing the message of hope that he was offering that they covered their ears and yelled trying to drown out this hope. Hope in the form of a conquering Savior, and a compassionate God, stand in stark contrast to the message of a dark and dying world, and that contrast creates friction that leads to an angry response. Stephen, however, through the power of the Holy Spirit, responds to this with a peaceful acceptance, and yielding to God. He didn’t raise his voice louder to try and speak over the screaming, but rather he allowed his actions to embody the peace that God offers.
This same peaceful response is the type of response that we as the Church must offer to the world. Right now, there is so much noise in the world, many have even resorted to screaming and yelling and covering their ears, just to drown out any message other than the one they believe. Unfortunately, many Christians have also been those trying to scream over the top of all this noise. When the church does this, it contributes to the chaos, which contradicts the peace God offers to us. Stephen understood this, and sought to allow his action to speak peace into the anger and rage of the crowd.
In the midst of getting stoned, the crowd’s attempt at squelching his voice, Stephen responds with a prayer to God to accept him and his sacrifice, and a prayer for his persecutors. Stephen’s last words were a prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of his murderers. It was this type of peace that spoke the truth of God’s salvific grace. In a world that has been plagued with protests, and counter-protests, and counter-counter-protests, the attempt to speak over one another does not lead to any dialogue. However, if the church looks at the world, the way that Stephen looked at his killers, with compassion, and offers up a prayer for the world, we can contribute to the solution, and embody God’s peace, compassion, and hope to a dying world facing an uncertain future. God has given us a reason to have hope, and a purpose to bring peace to our world.