Any Christians reading the title of this post may probably think this post is talking about Jesus. I mean what human apart from Christ would even think about love when they are suffering a violent death apart from Jesus. And He was the Son of God.
And non-Christians who may be reading this may think anyone suffering a violent death would be either thinking about revenge or more likely, be so full of fear or hatred that they don’t know what to think.
But in both counts they would be wrong because there is another man who suffered a violent death and yet in his suffering his thoughts were not fear, not hatred, not revenge, not anger but love for those who were in the process of killing him. That man was Stephen the martyr.
Stephen had just finished his defence before the Jewish leaders where he made it quite clear that they had missed the point concerning Jesus and where he showed that Jesus was and is the Christ that the Jewish nation had been waiting for. They got it wrong…again!
Stephen then showed also that they were fully at fault for the death of Jesus and that His blood was on their hands. They had killed the Author of Life, the king of kings, The Lord of lords and the Son of God. Despite their attempts to wriggle out of it, they were in the wrong, Stephen told them as much and they did not want to hear it.
They hated it because they knew he was right!
So what did they do? They lost their temper! Verse 54 says,
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
They allowed the human, evil passions of their flesh get the better of them and they rushed together dragging Stephen out from the city where they stoned him to death. There was no thought about this, it was mob thinking and given they had recently killed Jesus, they continued their mob mentality and killed Stephen.
What is interesting in this event though is the reaction of Stephen. Not fear, not terror, not hatred but unconditional love towards these same men who were in the act of stoning him to death. Stephen’s last words were of love asking God to show compassion, mercy and forgiveness to the men who were killing him. He said,
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
In his death he chose to speak to God on behalf of those who were killing him. Jesus said that we as Christians need to learn how to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-36). Stephen in his actions and words as he died, battered, bruised and bleeding was the epitome of what Jesus was talking about.
Stephen showed mercy where none was shown to him, he showed forgiveness where he received judgement, he showed compassion where he received only hardness of heart and he showed love where he was hated. That is the aspiration we need to all aim towards as we live our life. When we come across the daily difficulties in relationships, families and interactions with the people in the world around us, we need to find that same love that Stephen chose to show to his tormentors.
And there was another who was there at the death of Stephen who saw these things and must have wondered. Saul who became the apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament and whose words define much of the process of the New Covenant explaining what it is, how it works and what Christians need to believe, was there at the stoning of Stephen.
Saul/Paul was on the other side at this time and he was approving of the execution. He watched this event unfold listening to the words Stephen spoke and his actions and reactions to the event as it unfolded but was cold to it and most likely filled with the same rage as the rest of the people at the time.
But I don’t doubt it left a mark on Paul which affected him deeply. He said himself in 1 Corinthians 15:9,
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
And the death of Stephen was just one of the times when Paul fulfilled those words. Paul was rejecting Jesus against his own better judgement for Jesus told him as much when He appeared to Paul on the Damascus road.
Paul learned the power of the love of God and he saw it in action first hand in the death of Stephen. And the example did not go unnoticed by Paul for later he wrote much about the love of God and developing that love within each person. The love that Stephen showed to his enemies was a prime example to those who stood there and I am sure it was not lost on Paul.
Likewise we have the benefit of Stephen’s lesson and Paul’s words to guide us as we learn to love as they did. Stephen in his violent death found and showed a love that we need to find today. Ad we have the teachings of Paul who was there to show us the way. Let us learn the lesson and become the same role models and examples to the people around us.
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