I didn’t grow up in the church, but I was always being drawn by God. This caused me to read lots of religious texts growing up. Some were more biblically sound than others.
I once read a book on the saints of the early church and quickly looked up what would be considered my patron saint based on my birthday. As the title of this post already gave away, that would be Saint Stephen. Stephen’s feast day being on my birthday is not the point of this writing.
Stephen is known as the first martyr of the church. We find his story in the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. He was a deacon in the church but was also a mighty preacher. I don’t necessarily believe in patron saints, but I have often identified with the story of Stephen.
Stephen was made a deacon in Acts chapter 6 and was quickly known to be performing “great wonders and signs among the people.” That’s who I want to be, but the similarities don’t end there. Some people didn’t like this and started to debate Stephen. The Bible reads that “they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”
This is where I really start to resonate.
Young Angry Preachers
In my youth, that sounded like a win. Stephen made an argument they could not counter. As I grow older, I read that and cringe. Stephen was completely in the right, but he failed as a communicator. He was unable to communicate the resurrection of Christ in a way that resonated with his audience. It’s possible that they never would no matter what he said, but the fact remains, he left the people in a situation where they could not cope with his oratory.
I imagine that Stephen thought that he could throw so much knowledge at the people by exegeting the scriptures and pointing to the move of God among them in such an overwhelming manner that they could not do anything but agree that he was operating within God’s grace. Stephen soon found out that’s not how things work.
It’s been my experience that when you fail to comprehend the ignorance of your accuser, everything you say will be weaponized against you. They almost never point to their lack of understanding; they see their confusion as the byproduct of your scheme. The temptation is to give even more information, to overwhelm the doubt with a preponderance of the evidence showing that there is no other conclusion then the one you put forth. But ignorance is nothing if not long-suffering in its ignorant host. This does not produce introspection and contemplation; it produces anger, and ignorant anger must find a scapegoat. When this angry ignorance multiplies in a crowd bad things happen.
As true as all that is, that is not why I am sharing this story today, the day of the Feast of Saint Stephen.
The Mob of Fools
The ignorant people became an angry mob and angry mobs magically produce liars to gain the acceptance of the mob. By the end of Acts 6, the same chapter that had Stephen elevated to the role of deacon, liars were on the scene reinforcing the accusations of the ignorant.
A kangaroo court is quickly assembled, and Stephen puts on his defense. He gave a survey of the Old Testament and concluded with showing the crowd how they were just like the people written about in the Scriptures. But instead of comparing them to Moses and David, he equated them with every person who led the people of Israel astray. An interesting tactic considering he was accusing the people who would determine his fate. And as fate would have it, they found him the bad guy and ruled his life would end.
This is the part I want to point out.
Grace That’s Only Revealed in Suffering
As was the law, they took him outside the city to murder him. Here, for the first time, a Jew cried out to the exalted Jesus as the author of his salvation. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” He then prayed to Jesus that they not receive judgment for their murder and died.
I am left to wonder how the witness of Stephen’s faith in death ministered more powerfully than his words of wisdom and study. We know that Paul would be converted after this event though we don’t know what part this played. But still I wonder.
How many times do we do everything we know to do to succeed for Jesus even though our efforts produce nothing? How often does our real witness come from how we suffer for Him?
Stephen preached the Scriptures to the crowd. He knew the story. Yet in his final moments he saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father and chose to cry out to Jesus. How did the Holy Ghost manifest in the hearts of the murderers in the days after that trial? How did Stephen’s suffering and death bring glory to Christ? Am I willing to suffer, in some small incomparable way, long enough for Jesus to get glory from it? Or will I continue to avoid all conflict that might bring pain in the name of pragmatism?
I hope on this day, we think about the sufferings of this world and the people enduring it the most and consider how it points to the glory of God.