"It is Not the Final Call"
Today's reading: Acts 7:54-60 (NIV) 54When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56"Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
57At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.
The curtain rises for the climatic ending of Stephen’s ministry and the scene begins with the Sanhedrin men gnashing their teeth. The crowd went wild in response to Stephen’s testimony, fierce gnashing of teeth in anger and rage. Stage right we see Stephen, looking up, ever so confident in what he is seeing in front of his eyes; he goes on to announce to everyone “Look, I see the heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” What a power declaration in front of the entire audience that had gathered. Every last individual present heard his words and the men of Israel would not tolerate this claim.
What if, for 20 minutes, every ear in our houses of worship listened to every word of the sermon? What if, the good news was received by open hearts? Would the reaction of the people be as dynamic as with the scene at the end of Stephen’s life? Would the ones that hear rush with urgency to share the message? Or do many ‘cover our ears’ so to speak by nodding off during worship, or not opening our bibles to read the scripture, or write notes to the person next to us about where we are going to lunch after church?
The sand and dirt covered Stephen’s feet most likely, his clothes were torn as they drug him outside the walls of Jerusalem, cuts and wounds were gaping open as each stone hit his body. A familiar story is unfolding in front of the people’s eyes once again.
There is a difference this time; Stephen spoke of seeing the Glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen declares the divinity of Jesus and affirms his resurrection! The Sunday sermon should be so powerfully filled with this message! Our lives must live in response to this message!
In center stage Stephen turns, looks at the men stoning him and spoke to Jesus. As you watch him fall to his knees, he speaks again to the Lord asking ‘do not hold this sin against them’ and falls asleep. A peace-filled ending to Stephen’s earthly life, but the curtain hasn’t closed on the message; the characters are you and I. The story lives on and we have Stephen to thank, God to answer to and Jesus to praise!