“Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58 KJV)
The testimony that Stephen gives, I think, is one of the most powerful recorded in the book of Acts. Stephen brings a history lesson to a very fine point and delivers his message right to his audience. So powerful in fact that it sparks something in the crowd such that it turns the audience into a lynch mob. A mob not just determined to kill him, but determined to bring great persecution to all the Church in the area. This however brings a very troubling question to my mind. Why did no one step in and either rescue Stephen or somehow get a handle on the audience turned mob? By this time the Church in the area had reached a population in the thousands, so they had the numbers to do it. Perhaps this is a question of tolerance verses purity. On the one hand the tolerant might think the guy is an idiot, but they would not kill him for being a raving lunatic (see Gamaliel in Acts 5:34 – 39). Whereas a people passionate about what they believe want no remnant left of anyone teaching against the established institution of the day. Yet I think that regardless whether the Church was unwilling or unable to help, the audience was not tolerant (and perhaps over zealous), or even if it was part of God’s plan to spread the gospel outside of the immediate area; the heart stopping realization is that God just may call us to testify in circumstances that we will not be exiting from. We as Christians long to testify to the grace, goodness, love, and healing available in Jesus; and we do well. The additional challenge in surrender is that we usually want the end of the situation to be better than the present circumstances and we want to be around to experience what is yet to come. Laying our life down for someone not only involves the ultimate act of surrender, but it leaves 100% of our trust in Jesus that despite all odds He will accomplish His purposes through it.
Much of the beauty of Stephen’s last words recorded in Acts 7:60 is that there is no evidence of bewilderment that his audience has turned mob. There is no questioning why the Church did not come to his aide. There is no reminding the executioners of the coming judgment and the possibility of his appointment to such a heavenly bench. The text clings to the trust he has in Jesus. “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60 KJV) While not all of us are to finish our lives in the same way, it is an echoing reminder that we must follow the voice of the Sheppard and present a testimony with genuine Love no matter what the outcome.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 KJV)