Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Path to Glory

Today's Word:
Acts 7:51-8:1 (Stephen stoned:"I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God")
Psalm 31:3-8, 17, 21 (Let your face shine upon your servant)
John 6:30-35 (The Bread of Life Discourse III: "Those who come to me will not hunger, and who believe in me shall not thirst")

(To the younger readers who may stroll in, 'stoned' does not mean intoxicated.)

Deacon Stephen, introduced yesterday, had a much shorter stint as a minister of God than most. I'm not sure why he was called to the Lord before Peter. Luke's accounting in Acts would indicate that after that first Pentecost, Peter was a fairly convincing speaker on his own. I could speculate for some time; but the answer that repeatedly comes back to me is simply that the Lord simply had more for Peter to accomplish.

Deacon Stephen was quite possibly as zealous for Christ after the fact as was John the Baptist before it. Most serious students of Biblical history place the time of Stephen's ministry between 3-5 years after Jesus. It was becoming clear that "Jesusmania" (a term lyricist Tim Rice coined) or "Jesus freaks" (a term Toby McKeehan more recently wrote) were not disappearing with the absence of their point person; and not just in and around Jerusalem, but all the way to Rome. This was simply not going to go away. More drastic and desperate action would have to be taken; flogging and imprisonment were not enough.

Further, the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council, could not stand to have their motives exposed. Perhaps they had come to realize that Jesus was the promised Messiah after all - and they were responsible for his death. Still, there was no remorse - only anger, hatred and the determination that this would be stopped; and before it got so out of hand that Rome would declare the equivalent of martial law, with the possibility of an even bigger blood bath.

Deacon Stephen saw the Light waiting for him. As he, bound and chained, was attacked and killed by those throwing stones at him, he took as his mantle that of his Lord and Master, begging forgiveness for his attackers, asking Jesus to receive his spirit. And yet, God had someone at the ready to replace him; a man who at that moment was as far from believing as the east is from the west. A ripple would become an engulfing tsunami.

At no point in Deacon Stephen's life of service to the Christian community and dedication to God do we see a concern that he was ever in need. He was fed a steady diet of the Bread of Life, whose sweetness is like no other; and the cup of eternal salvation, a cup that never ran dry. He left a profound legacy for the Church, not the least of which is embodied in the order of deacons - to proclaim the Word of God, and to work for social justice in the trenches. He was among the earliest examples of someone who loved God and others in proclaiming Christ.

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