I preached my first sermon at the age of 8- and it was terrible. I still cringe thinking about what I made people endure. It was from Acts 7, and I don’t think that I have preached from that text since then. But over the years I have read that passage countless times and it still shocks me.
I was reading it again the other night, and while it was at bedtime, it is by no means a bedtime story; It is dark, gritty, and violent. It is about a man named Stephen who was asked by the early church leaders to help feed widows. The thing about serving Jesus is that it gives an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to be shaped more and more into the image of Christ, and Stephen’s light begins to shine even brighter. He is obviously different from the world around him and people don’t like it. So the religious leaders do to Stephen what they did to Jesus… they argue with him, they bring in some people to falsely accuse him, and when Stephen gets a chance to talk they get so angry with him that they take him outside the city and kill him.
A bunch of angry people threw stones at him until he was dead.
As the stones pummeled his body just before his life was gone, he falls to his knees and yells: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
I’m not sure those are the words that would come out of my mouth… I have had much harsher reactions to behavior far less terrible. Our world conditions us to hold grudges, to become outraged over hurt feelings, to take to social media and boast about how hardened we are. It’s here that I realize what I find so shocking about Acts 7- It is not the behavior of the violent & angry men, but the behavior of Stephen. How could someone forgive like that? The reason is that there was a mark made upon Stephen before any stone hit his body- the mark of a disciple. Stephen could show grace because it was extended to him by Christ.
We live in a world that is bitter. Want to know how to be different? How to live like Christ? Extend grace, even while the stones are flying.