This is a case of jealousy that leads to rage (that leads to murder). We should be appalled that civilized people would go so far…but frankly, it is all too commonplace. So instead of being shocked at the actions of some, I find myself forewarned of my own potential to be them.
Stephen is one of the seven Greek speaking Jewish believers ordained by the apostles to serve in the ministry to widows. The problem of Greek speaking widows not being served equally with the Hebrew widows has been resolved by the full congregation having chosen seven Greek speaking believers to be the administrators. (I am amazed at the wisdom and faith the new church exercised – such a brilliant and simple solution can only come from knowing God can be trusted to lead His church!)
Stephen is a man full of grace and power, openly exercising these gifts via signs and wonders, to bring the message of Jesus to his peers…very likely the Greek speaking Jewish community. It seems they eagerly entered debates with him – I’m thinking like the discourse that takes place in any synagogue.
The problem arises when the hearers could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. They are threatened, frustrated, ticked off and in my mind, jealous. (Let me stop to acknowledge to myself the temptation to go there! I want what the other guy has but on my own terms. I’ve stopped any open listening in order to win at any cost. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to no place good.)
Unchecked, their jealousy escalates as they secretly instigate lies and false witnesses to twist Stephen’s words. They seize him and bring him before the Council. (I guess they had “citizen’s arrest” privileges.)
“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”
Here is the charge against Stephen. (And oh, how great would it be if someone charged me with never ceasing to speak about Jesus of Nazareth!)
Confronted with an unjust arrest, a terrifying crowd, angry lies and the looming power of an unfriendly Council, Stephen should be panic-stricken, right? But no…gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. I can only conclude this means he was perfectly at peace.
The Holy Spirit brings to mind this verse: You [God] will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Is. 26:3). Stephen was not focused on fear, or winning, or even himself – his attention was fully focused on God.
Part 2 – Murder – stay tuned.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. Ps. 2:12
Jealously is a smoke alarm. Get out fast.
About the World?
Observing peace when the normal response would be panic – now that’s worth investigating.