IN YOUR SUFFERING, KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS AND HE WILL HELP YOU. HEBREWS 12:2-3
Why was Stephen stoned to death? The Bible explains that after Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples began to do mighty acts. “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). These miracles provoked a violent reaction. “Some men… rose up and argued with Stephen. Nevertheless, they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:9-10). Finally, in great anger, after dragging Stephen before the council and after listening to his Christ centered testimony (Acts 7), “they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ And having said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:58-60).
In the midst of this terrible suffering, Stephen knew that no matter what his enemies did to him, Jesus had already prepared a place for him in heaven. St. Paul described this heavenly place as he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Corinth: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
As he lived out his final moments on earth, Stephen was permitted a glimpse of his eternal home. As he faced a bloody and painful death by stoning, Stephen, “being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:55-56).
Your suffering may not be as bloody and horrifying as the stoning of Stephen. Yet, you can receive great inspiration and strength from regularly reading in God’s living Word the account of Stephen being stoned. You may not see Jesus in heaven as Stephen did: yet, as St Peter says: “and though you have not seen [Jesus], you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Each time you are overwhelmed by your affliction, recall the courage God gave Stephen; think also of the suffering Jesus experienced for you. The example of martyrs like Stephen may give you courage, but – more importantly – the suffering of Jesus has the power to uplift and uphold you in your times of difficulty. “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, each time I suffer physically or emotionally, turn my eyes to the bloody cross where You bled and died to pay for my sins. Each time I think I am alone in my suffering, enable me to recall the bloody suffering of Stephen and how he was strengthened at his hour of death by seeing You in heaven in all your glory. Each time I go to Holy Communion, to receive Your body and blood, enable me to understand that the example of Your suffering and that of Your early followers is very helpful, but most helpful is when I receive You in the Holy Supper. When You live in me (Galatians 2:20), my load of suffering becomes lighter and I will fear nothing, not even a bloody death. I thank You for that comforting assurance. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
i. Acts 7 tells us how a disciple named Stephen was stoned to death, after giving a testimony of Jesus Christ. Read Acts 7:55-60, and also 2 Corinthians 4:17. How was Stephen able to endure his painful and gruesome death?
ii. If suffering for Jesus’ sake comes with promises of a reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12), why shouldn’t we inflict religious suffering on ourselves? What prevents us from making ourselves ‘martyrs’ on purpose?