Our last sermon-study concluded
with the religious rulers exploding
into a rage, ‘furiously gnashing their
teeth’ as Stephen wrapped up his
speech. Once again, the spotlight
shone brightly on them as the ones
who had killed the Messiah. Their
anger was so great that they didn’t
even talk about taking Stephen to
the Roman rulers with a request for them to carry
out capital punishment on this ‘rabble-rouser’, they
were determined to take Stephen out themselves,
once and for all.
Stephen’s commitment to the Cause of Christ was
the result of the Holy Spirit that had come upon him
and enabled him to perform wondrous signs and miracles.
Acts 8:8 says that “He was full of God’s grace
and power” and try as they might, the religious leaders
could not convince him to stop preaching about
Jesus and healing people in His name. So once again
we have a trial. Although Stephen was only asked
one question by the high priest, his answer covers
52 verses of Acts 7.
The reaction that the Pharisees, Sadducees and
chiefs priests had to Stephen’s lengthy answer was
to drag him out of the city to stone him. This method
of death was torturous to say the least. The prisoner
was placed on a level some 10-15 feet below where
the executioners stood. Then the first stones that
would be used were usually as large and heavy as
one of two men could lift and carry.
These large stones would be dropped onto the
victim with the intent to knock him down so that subsequent
stones could be aimed at his head and his
chest to knock the breath out of him and cause him
to lose consciousness. This process would continue
until there remained no evidence of life and the executioners
were satisfied that their task was finished.
The graphic nature of this form of death sentence is
rarely described in scripture, however, historians
have preserved the details to help us understand
just how horrible it truly was. With their successful
execution, Stephen became the first Christian martyr,
killed for the crime of telling about the teachings,
death and resurrection of Jesus. Throughout this
ordeal, the power of the Holy Spirit through
Stephen’s ministry was on full display for the Glory
of God and the expansion of the early church.
These men and women who faithfully carried out this
mission of Jesus were no different from us. They
worked as they did because the Holy Spirit brought
the power. That Spirit is still available to us today.
Warmly, Pastor Phil