The early Christians to whom the book of Acts was written could identify with the opposition and senseless execution of Stephen. Many of them were experiencing the same struggles. Stephen might have been the first Christian martyr, but there were many thousands that followed him. The details of Stephen’s stoning carry a powerful message of faith and hope.
The events that led to Stephen’s death are similar to those that preceded Jesus’ death. The false testimony, unjust accusations and actions of the authorities were all experienced by Jesus. Stephen was following the path first walked by his Lord. Facing the hostile crowd Stephen sees the glory of God with Jesus standing at the right hand of God. There is the assurance of God’s presence in this horrific event and the promise of life after death. The final words of Stephen echo the final words of Jesus—words of love and forgiveness. The power of love will ultimately overcome the power of domination.
We may not face the level of persecution or the dire consequences of living out our faith that the early Christians did, but we still face times of violence, injustice and despair. Like our ancestors of the faith, we too can be encouraged, comforted and receive hope from the account of Stephen’s execution. We can see our lives in God’s hands and we can see our lives from the perspective of eternity.
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 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. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 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. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 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.
And Saul approved of their killing him.