"Then the Chief Priest said,' What do you have to say for yourself?'
"Stephen replied, 'Friends, fathers and brothers, the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was still in Mesopotamia...and told him, 'Leave your country and go to the land I'll show you.' ........
"And you continue, so bull-headed! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you're just like your ancestors. Was there ever a prophet who didn't get the same treatment? Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you've kept up the family tradition -- traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God's Law handed down to you by angels -- gift -wrapped! -- and you squandered it!" Acts 7:1-53 (The Message).
No wonder Stephen got the better of his opponents! He not only knew the Scriptures. He understood the Scriptures. With great skill and insight he opened the Scriptures; one more nail in his own coffin. The men he was standing before were supposed to be the experts in the Scriptures but here was a man, on trial for perverting the Word of God, who accurately and skilfully summarised the entire Old Testament with one aim in view -- to put them on trial for their treatment of Jesus and His followers.
Stephen, like Jesus and His apostles, had no thought for his own skin. He was bold to proclaim and defend the truth and, in doing so, he signed his own death warrant. Once again the accusing finger pointed at the religious leaders and once again they shrugged off responsibility by removing the accuser.
Stephen was not as gentle with the men of the High Court as the apostles had been. Although they indicted them, the offer of forgiveness was woven into their accusation which the Sanhedrin neither heard nor heeded. They did not want forgiveness -- they wanted power and the money that came with power! They had passed by their opportunity and Stephen spoke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with deadly accuracy.
What message does this incident hold for my readers? One of the clear messages of the Bible is the mercy of God extended to anyone who will listen and heed His invitation to repent, return and lay down their arms against God. He cleared the way for reconciliation and graciously gives it to anyone who will receive His gift.
But there is another side to the coin. He has endless mercy for those who will receive it but His wrath remains on those who refuse His offer. God will never force His love on anyone. He respects His gift of free will too much to go back on it. He will always give us what we want even if we destroy ourselves in the process. On judgment day no one will ever be able to accuse Him of being unfair.
No matter how unfair man's treatment of man may be, God's justice is final and impeccable. Stephen put his life on the line by delivering the message but it had to be done to serve God's purposes for the Sanhedrin.
But why should Stephen have to pay for delivering a message they refused to receive anyway? God is painting His picture on a canvas much bigger than we can see or understand. It is not our place to question but to trust because He is trustworthy
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