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When Righteousness and Wickedness Meet

Acts 7:54-48
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. (NIVUK)

They were respectable, law-abiding religious leaders. But when Stephen truthfully said that they were resisting the Holy Spirit and had murdered the Messiah (Acts 7:51-53), they became incandescent with rage. Their anger was made all the worse because Stephen was not only unperturbed but he described what the Holy Spirit was showing him - the living Lord Jesus standing at the right side of God's throne.

To their ears it was utter blasphemy, like their accusation against Jesus (Matthew 26:64-65). They believed that nobody could be holy enough to get close to God, so for Stephen to claim that Jesus could be there meant that Jesus was God's Holy One (Isaiah 37:23). The Sanhedrin Council, who sat in judgement over Jesus (Matthew 26:59), Peter and John (Acts 5:27-29) and now Stephen, had made all the wrong decisions. But if they had accepted that what Stephen said was true, they could have repented and been forgiven. Instead, they compounded their wickedness by stoning Stephen.

It was no accident that one of the rising rabbis, Saul of Tarsus, was present as an observer. As the court rushed out, dragging Stephen to his instant execution, Saul was prevented from throwing stones as he was told to look after their expensive robes. But he never forgot the face of a righteous man who had encountered Jesus. The contrast of that with the seething hatred of those who were supposed to be godly was unforgettable (Acts 22:20-21). Later, Saul too would meet the Lord unexpectedly and by then he knew he must be obedient (Acts 26:19).

It is not often that we perceive the stark contrast between righteousness and wickedness; sometimes it is seen, like the difference between heaven and hell. The hatred is like Satan's, who is filled with fury because he knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12). And yet today, some of our brothers and sisters around the world suffer in persecution, just because they have dared to stand up for Jesus (1 Peter 5:9). Like Stephen, God will use their sacrifice to extend His kingdom (Acts 8:4); and like Saul, there will be onlookers who will repent and become servants of the gospel (Ephesians 3:7). If you are being persecuted, stand firm and keep looking to Jesus. If not, pray fervently for those who are.

God of grace. Thank You for the example of Stephen who told the truth about Jesus and focussed his attention onto Him rather than his murderous accusers. Forgive me for being so frightened about identifying with Jesus, more concerned about what my friends think of me, than of how Jesus wants me to witness. Please give me courage to be honest about who Jesus is and how He is calling everybody to repentance: and please strengthen everybody who is suffering persecution today. Fill us again with Your Spirit to proclaim Your truth. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams