IT HAD TO HAPPEN!
"At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls, whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed -- he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all His glory with Jesus standing at His side. He said, 'Oh I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God's side!'
"Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of the town and pelted him with rocks. The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them.
"As the rocks rained down, Stephen prayed, "Master Jesus, take my life." Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, 'Master, don't blame them for this sin,' -- his last words. Then he died." Acts 7:54-60 (The Message).
It had to happen! The crazed mob, led by men who had long since made their choice and sealed their judgment, turned on Stephen and carried out their "sentence" with the same vicious hatred that had driven them to sentence his Master to the cross.
But when we read the story from Stephen's perspective, as Luke so masterfully describes it, Stephen was in a realm no other human being had ever experienced. Not even Moses, the greatest of the Old Testament characters, had been welcomed into the presence of Jesus with a standing ovation! Before he even stepped over the divide, he had seen them, both Father and Son, waiting to receive him into their eternal presence.
This was too much for the howling mob. Without even so much as considering their verdict, they sentenced and executed their sentence with extreme viciousness. Just as surely as Stephen glimpsed heaven, so the mob which was stoning him was experiencing hell.
In Hebraic thought, hell is a boundary less place, and here we have evidences of the horrors of hell. So great was the vehemence of their hatred of this godly man and the God he represented that they dropped all boundaries of justice and decency and let rip with the venom of hell itself.
The contrast between Stephen and his tormentors is glaring. As with Jesus versus the Sanhedrin, so with Stephen, it was the same situation. Who was on trial? The Sanhedrin again, and again they were found guilty. It was Stephen's scathing indictment that tipped them over the edge. It was his verdict that cooked his goose. But what did it matter? His future was secure and his entrance into it glorious.
Eugene Peterson's version of this incident in The Message highlights the grace that Stephen experienced as he slipped out of his earthly tent into his permanent eternal dwelling. This was his coronation day and we are privileged to catch a glimpse of it.
But we have to ask: Is it possible to live our ordinary lives in a realm where we are unaffected by the ups and downs of everyday life? When we watch Jesus, we have to conclude that it is possible. But He was the Son of God.
The Apostle Paul said something that alerts us to the possibility for us ordinary humans. "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV).
Just as Stephen was oblivious of what was happening to him because his eyes were on Jesus, so can we be in the rough and tumble of living if we set our vision on Jesus who went before us to show us the way and is utterly reliable to keep His promise to see us through every dark valley.
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