This afternoon I sat for a while to read my Bible.
I turned to Acts 6 and 7 and read about one of the most courageous men in history- Stephen.
This man served and loved others and told people the truth, yet he was killed by those he was trying to reach.
Often when I have read this passage I have focused on Stephen and his courage and his faithfulness and obedience to God.
Yet what struck me in my reading today was not the courage of Stephen, but the stubbornness and spiritual blindness of those who killed Stephen.
Acts 6 reveals to us that Stephen’s job was to serve the widows as a waiter on their tables, ensuring that when it was time to eat, the widows weren’t left out. We can also see from this Chapter that Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit and he was wise.
So, here you have a wise, nice guy who feeds people and helps people whose husbands have died. You’d imagine he would be pretty likeable.
To add to his attractiveness and credibility, Acts 6 also shows us that when threatened on one occasion, his face looks like that of an angel. Acts 7 shows us that he is also master of history, can tell a great story, and be the centre attention for quite some time, holding everyone’s interest in his words (no one interrupted his speech). Stephen is also very gracious and peaceful, praying for the very people who are killing him.
Let me complete the profile (and no, I never met Stephen, but I pray I will, and I am no great theologian or historian, I’m simply drawing a few conclusions from the text)- Stephen is a nice wise guy who feeds people, and helps widows. He has the Holy Spirit with him and is well educated in his nation’s history, and is also a phenomenal communicator who shows grace to those who hate him and is peaceful and calm in the midst of a crisis.
Sounds like he was the kind of guy everyone would want around, not dead.
Yet despite all of this, his amazing character, and genuine nature, people ignored the obvious things of God that were right in front of them and killed him!
How could anyone have been so blind and hardened as to kill him even as he prayed for them and also while his face appeared like that of an angel!?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know what this text tells me. It tells me that regardless of all that I may do, and even the miracles that God does in and through me, there are those that will choose to harden their hearts or have their hearts hardened and who will not accept the grace I, or God, offer them.
It is only by an act of their will and by the grace of God that these people will realise the opportunity for repentance and relationship with God that stares them straight in the face.
Why is this important?
It reminds me of two things-
1. Other people’s actions are not my responsibility, although I may have a part in their reaction to me, I am ultimately not responsible for it. Stephen did ‘text book’ love and evangelism. He showed love, spoke love, and even demonstrated the supernatural. Yet the people rejected him and the God he spoke of. From this I can see that my responsibility is to do my best, but I must then have the discipline to leave it at that. If these people could be so blind to the love in front of them, surely people will be this way around me to. It is up to those who see, hear and experience Christ’s love to respond, I do not have to carry the burden of their disobedience, nor should I take the credit for their obedience. It is by Gods grace alone that anyone will respond and by our stubbornness alone that we won’t. There is a saying I’ve heard, “I don’t need to die for the church, Jesus already did, and I can’t save it either, that’s Gods job.” There is no point in stressing out when Christ already has it covered.
2. No one is beyond Gods grace, if they will only choose Him. As Stephen died, he prayed that God would forgive them (his killers) for the sin they were committing. This therefore means that Stephen truly believed that the people rejecting God and him were still forgivable, which means they were redeemable. No one is beyond a Gods grace. This encourages me to never give up on anyone. Although I must realise my limits and let God and my fellow man take ultimate responsibility for themselves, I can always be available to be an agent of love and a signpost to God. I can always be available to point people to The One who gives unending and undeserved grace, Jesus.
That’s what i’ve been thinking about today… Now to live it out.