Have you ever thought of what it would be like to take Stephen's place and experience the last few hours of his life? For many of us that would be rather disturbing.
Stephen himself probably had little opportunity to ponder why this was happening to him. The events unfolded too rapidly. He was accosted by a group of hateful men with a pre-established agenda and was in up to his ears before he knew it.
On the negative side, here are a couple of the things we could mention. First, he experienced the pain of a violent death (although it almost seems like the grace of God so powerfully flooded his body that he was impervious to the beating). And second, he missed the spectacular expansion of the Gospel from Jerusalem on out into the world.
However, when we switch over to a different perspective, the scene doesn't seem quite as ugly.
Even as he felt the rocks hit, he was seeing the One who gave it all meaning. Jesus, the Lord, the Origin of life itself, was making eye contact with him! Apparently, a few saints down through history have been granted a similar privilege.
But most are called to die by faith.
And then, as he slipped into the presence of the Holy One, he instantly gained a vantage point from which to watch the rest of the story from the first row of Heaven's balcony. Wow!
Furthermore, even as the rocks go still and the martyr's body stops breathing, the Holy Spirit turns our attention to a different man. This surprising shift of focus is designed to remind us all of a wonderful and comforting truth, one that is just as true today as it was in Acts 7.
God is always doing more than we think He is.
Again, He is ALWAYS doing more than we think He is!
And He loves to surprise.
Nobody was paying too much attention to the young man who watched the clothes. Surely Stephen hadn't noticed him--he was looking up at the right hand of God. The eyes of the violent religious men were looking for stones and taking aim. If there were Christians nearby, they were focused on Stephen and praying for help. Saul himself was observing, with a smug sense of satisfaction, the permanent silencing of an extremely vocal and powerful opponent.
Little did anyone know, but a pair of heavenly eyes were looking down at the young zealot. There may even have been the hint of a divine smile.
Saul would soon be changing his name.
But back to the Stephen...
Sometimes God takes away loved ones suddenly and without explanation. The shock and loss are excruciating and there is no avoiding the pain, or explaining it away. But God doesn't ask us to do that. Instead, He addresses the perplexing topic in a subtle but undeniable way.
Notice how He strategically sprinkled throughout the Bible certain stories, each with their silent and anonymous sufferers. These all experienced the torture of tragic surprises, and they may not have immediately been given a measure of understanding.
Think of Abel's mother, Eve. Think of Naboth's wife. Think of Uriah's siblings. Think of John the Baptist's friends... and there are others.
Each of these deaths brought piercing pain to those closest to them. Undoubtedly, tears were shed, questions were asked, and hearts were stunned.
But what occurred to them happens all around us today. Indeed, they are part of the same family, the family of godly Christians who die or suffer in what appears to be random, meaningless, and painful ways. Surely as you read these words a name or names come to your mind.
The message from God, in the example of Stephen, seems to encourage us to remember a few things. First, every Christian life is a tiny part of a very large picture. The picture is not only huge, but it is eternal. Second, God is always doing more than we think. Stephen leaves the stage at exactly the right moment for Saul to make his entrance. At the time, neither one understands the significance of the other.
But the Lord did.
He is the Author of the grand story of grace, the story that spans every continent and every age. It is the story that links every believer and the details of his life directly to the Cross. No death is insignificant, no matter how short or unknown or unappreciated it was by other people.
This truth makes it all worth it and can give comfort when we or loved ones are hit with unexplainable hurt.
Dear Father, how important to keep in mind Your view, the real one, and to know You guide every single event towards Your glorious purpose. Please use these words to encourage someone who is hurting. Amen.