Death

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Death

Acts 7:55-8:1

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

And Saul approved of their killing him.

Stephen would have made a great preacher.

He was willing to serve with his hands and feet, but he was not afraid to stand up and speak his mind when he was given the opportunity. In fact, I think his single greatest characteristic was his courage. He was also a foreigner. I think that gave him a huge advantage over the twelve apostles, who all hailed from Galilee and had much more distinguished Jewish roots. They were battling over 500 years of captivity and the political theology (yes, it is a thing) that plagued their worlds. For them, you could not talk about how God could be good and powerful without questioning why Rome still ruled Jerusalem. For Stephen, who grew up in the Roman culture, perhaps in a Roman family though, he did not see the problem.

So when he confronted the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, trying to speak truth into their lives on their home turf, they would not stand for it. He, a tainted foreigner could never understand what they had been tackling for generations. He, an undereducated, Greek-speaking servant could never teach them. He was as bad as the carpenter that they had crucified just a few weeks earlier. This time, they did not have to deal with the politics of Passover and winning the crowds over. This time, they had the upper hand… and they lifted up and heaved stones at him until he was dead.

Instead of keeping Stephen safe to teach a new generation of disciples (and possibly due to Stephen’s own rash nature) God took him home after that first sermon. Perhaps It was so good, there was no act to follow it. But something happened that day that was more important than a sermon and more important than Stephen himself. Luke tells us that there, in the midst of those angry Jewish scholars and leaders, a certain man named Saul was watching over the proceedings. Saul was also a passionate man who had been taught and groomed from a young age to become the next president of the Jewish Sanhedrin. (That is like the Jewish Pope, so to speak). Paul would have been excellent at it as well. He was well versed in the Jewish scriptures, but he also had a bit of Greek background himself. He probably stood the best chance of anyone at bringing peace to the Middle East in the constant battle between the Jews and Rome because he could stand in both worlds and speak both languages. Luke tries so much to tell us this in the Book. of Acts and sometimes we westerners miss the crucial fact of Saul /Paul’s identity.

This Saul, would have an encounter with Jesus just a few days later that would change the history of the world as we know it, and Luke shows us that this occurred in part because of Stephen. It was not his words, or presentation. In fact, there was nothing about Stephen’s last act that inspired Paul enough to even try to save his life. It was his death, in fact, the way he died, that I think left the biggest impression on Saul. He was a man who understood conflict, and one who would not have been surprised to face execution by the Romans himself if things got out of hand. He saw his job in part was to prevent things from escalating that far. But looking into the eyes of this dying man Stephen, Saul saw none of the fear he faced himself. Instead he heard these words:

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

No anger, no bitterness, not even a cry for relief. Instead, he saw compassion for Stephen’s enemies… for Saul himself.

We all face enemies. We all will face death. Every single one of us. How we do so may be the greatest act of leadership of our entire lives. Long after our words are gone. Long after our friends and family have moved on to new relationships and routines, those who were with us at the end will remember how we faced the moment we lost everything and showed our true colors.

Years later, Saul would follow Stephen, leaving his potential for bringing peace to the Middle East for a crazy mission of bringing Jesus to the rest of the world. He left the one place he fit in the most, to go where he never fit in, where politicians would pass him around like a hot potato, until he would speak before the emperor of the Roman Empire itself about the saving and life transforming grace of Jesus Christ. There, as Paul stood before one whom the early church would deem an anti-Christ figure, I can’t help but believe that he saw those compassionate eyes of Stephen again as the executioner walked toward him.

How do you face adversity in your life?

What, if anything, do you think would take away your fear of death?

What can we do today to prepare ourselves for facing our enemies and facing our own death?

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Legacy

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Legacy

Acts 7:1-16

Stephen’s Speech to the Council1

Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” And Stephen replied:

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.”

“The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.”

What’s in a name?

Very few people can boast that their name is carried across the millennia. How many people can you name from 1000 years ago? 2000 years ago? 3000 years ago? The further back we go the fewer names we can recollect. Just because someone’s history is written does not necessarily mean it is well known, and just because a person’s history is well known does not mean that it is praised.

Abraham, a name which continues to be given to boys 4000 years later, maybe one of the oldest people whose name and story continues to be told and praised today. His legacy is so strong that we even know his failures and still continue to celebrate his name. In one of the first post-Easter sermons delivered by the disciples of Jesus, Stephen invokes the name of Abraham to set the foundation for his explanation of why the people of Israel needed a Savior and why Jesus of Nazareth was the one for whom they had been waiting. He could’ve started anywhere. He could’ve started with King David. He would have been just fine beginning with Moses, the giver of the law. The people to whom he was speaking were interpreters of the law and would have been very comfortable discussing Moses. But Stephen reached back into his memory and began with Abraham, a man who’s greatest claim to fame was not conquering any nation, nor giving any great teaching. In fact we have no record of anything he taught. Abraham is known for one thing and one thing only: his faithful obedience to God.

Out of the billions and billions of people who have lived and died faithfully following God, Abraham is the only one who is known and praised for that. For him that was enough. And today Jews and Christians all over the world claim his name and his legacy. If you follow his story in Genesis you will see that his greatest faithfulness, his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his miracle child, did not happen until after he was blessed by God. Likewise most of his unfaithfulness occurred before he receive that blessing. The one faithful act that he did before the birth of Isaac was in response to God’s invitation – that Abraham would leave his family and homeland and follow God into the wilderness to seek out a new country. His life does not exemplify a good person being rewarded by God. Instead it demonstrates a lifetime of call and response, giving and receiving, initiation by God and (sometimes) faithful obedience by Abraham.

I believe the reason Abraham’s faithfulness to God changed was precisely because he became a father, and especially because he became a father when he was 100 years old. Being that old gives you no time to mess around in no time for mistakes. Isaac was set to inherit everything that Abraham had and all that God had promised him: a nation, a people, and the name that would carry on for the rest the time. Unlike parents with multiple children, Abraham had no choice but to get it right the first time. I bet that made him realize his legacy was influenced not just by his financial investments, business choices, lands bought, and houses built. His legacy was in who he was sleeping his son to be in the few years – remember he was 100 years old when Isaac was born – that he had to spend with him. Every. Single. Moment. Counted. 4000 years later, we are still reading about those moments.

What is your Legacy?

What are you doing to make sure it is both memorable and worth remembering?


  1. (Gen 12:1–50:26)