“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. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 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.”
The Book of Acts, Chapter 7, Verses 57 through 60
When I picture St. Stephen, I picture a quiet, unassuming man of God, a man who would have otherwise lived a peaceful life of little not, perhaps of unexceptional note. Until the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, we had never heard of this man, and even there we knew little of his life before he was called to be a disciple. Nothing is really mentioned of him before or after the tragic events that we hear of in his appearance to us.
Yet one thing is certain about him, he knew the price, he knew the cost of going forth into the world, abiding in Christ’s Great Commission, to preach and teach the gospel message of salvation. He knew the price because he knew the price that the Savior himself paid.
And still, moved by the Spirit, he would risk all that he was and all that he had ever hoped to be, forsaking the things of this world for a heavenly reward. There, in his final moments he’d cry out to his Heavenly Father, his life fleeing from his body, his words undoubtedly weak and frail, coming from a trembling lip, that the Lord would forgive those who had done this unto him.
Even in the moment of his greatest of trials, even in the moment of his greatest challenge, his greatest of pains, an unshakeable faith in the divine love and the eternal plans of the Lord would guide his way.
As we read the story of St. Stephen we also see another thing. In an instant, unbeknownst to the first martyr, now feeling his life drain from his crumbled and broken body, his path crossed with another man who watched on with particular delight in his eyes and hatred in his heart.
Saul of Tarsus… one of the great persecutors of the early church…
Little did either man know that this would be the beginning of the journey for the young man who wreaked such havoc and caused such pain.
We live in a world of persecution, of pain and of challenge, a world of hurt and sorrow. Stephen’s suffering was not the first or the last suffering inflicted on men by other men. Throughout the history of humanity slavery has been prevalent, persecution widespread, kidnappings and ransoms demanded rampant. Today, we see it all too common in our own world. We see prisoners taken, we see captives ripped from their homes and their loved ones, young girls who are grabbed from the street to be drugged and used as prostitutes, we see slaves who are bought and sold, traded as cattle, their bodies whipped, their spirits broken.
Though it may not be the same persecution that was faced by Stephen, it is done in the same spirit, that spirit of hatred and iniquity, injustice and wickedness, sin and evil. It is done in the spirit of selfishness, a disgusting spirit of men who are guided by loathing, showing hate to their fellow man.
Yet, as hard as it is for us, the spirit in which we come from to lift the cause of the prisoners and the hostages in, it cannot be of hatred or of loathing, nor can we allow for them to degrade our spirits that we may view the world in hatred. Ours must be to be guided by an encompassing love for our fellow man, an encompassing compassion for the prisoners and the captives, the hostages and the slaves, in the fervent pray that justice will be done and that God, the Heavenly Father, will guide their hearts and their souls, preserving and strengthening them in His love.
Ours must be to understand that from ever evil there must come good, even if it takes a while to get here or to reveal itself unto us. It must be an understanding that tells to us that God, He will use all things, even when they seem overwhelming in their darkness and chaos, to reveal His light and His love unto this world.
Yes, to see the world, to understand the world this way, to comprehend the things of it in this light, it’s difficult for us, especially as we see the plight and the suffering, the anguish and the agony inflicted by evil men working their wicked ways. But God’s love and God’s grace, it must be sufficient for us to see the world in His way and pray that His will, it will be done, even if we do not understand it at the time.
Trust therefore in the Lord and the power of His righteousness, knowing He can and will move even in the most unrighteous of souls, even the spirit filled with the most hatred. Trust in the Lord and in the power of His might, knowing that He will strengthen and protect His children, preserving them evermore in His Holy Spirit. He has through all time, through all ages and generations and so shall He today, abiding in His children forevermore.
Trust in the Lord and know that, even as darkness fills this world, and the power of evil seems to be on the mark, the Lord God Almighty is there, as He has always been, to make His way known and His will shown unto a lost and sinful world.
Though we may see struggle and persecution, death and sorrow around us, this is not the end of the story of this world, but the beginning of journey, a journey that the Lord shall guide, making good come even from evil, and revealing it in His time.