The Cost of Conviction

MEMORY SELECTION: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” —Acts 7:60

SELECTED SCRIPTURE: Acts 7:2, 44-53, 58

THE above passage of scripture was spoken by Stephen at the time of his death by stoning. He had been unjustly brought before the Sanhedrin and wrongly accused by witnesses who were paid to make false accusations to discredit his character and faithfulness to God.

Stephen was a devout young man who was full of courage and zeal for the Lord. His defense before his accusers reflected this spirit of heart that had so motivated him. He did not attempt to defend himself but chose rather to defend the truth by tracing the history of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel from the time of Abraham on down to Moses, and even unto his own day. He also showed his faith in connection with the holy places of Israel and the promises of God, which were among the things of which he was being accused.

The specific charges against Stephen were that he had blasphemed against the holy place of God—that is, Jerusalem, and particularly its holy temple, which sanctified it—and against the Law of Moses. By taking out of their context certain words that he may have said, the so-called witnesses were able to make him appear guilty concerning the very things he defended even with his life.

His discourse shows the degree of insight and appreciation of the plan of God he possessed. Tracing the thread of history relative to God’s dealings with the children of Israel, Stephen proceeded to emphasize that the Jewish people—especially those who sat in the Sanhedrin and were representatives of Jewish law—were responsible for the death of Messiah. He rose eloquently to the occasion and addressed them saying (Acts 7:51-53): “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost [Holy Spirit]: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”

His accusers, upon hearing these words, were “cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth” (vs. 54) and became infuriated by the manner in which they had been exposed for the murder of Messiah, even as their forefathers had been responsible for the deaths of those who were used of God to prophesy about the coming “Just One.”

But Stephen’s climactic declaration was yet to be uttered as he turned his gaze and attention heavenward—in the direction of his risen Lord, who had only recently been brought to trial himself and crucified as a blasphemer. “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost [Holy Spirit], looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (vss. 55,56) Unmoved by their manifestations of anger, Stephen continued his humble testimony to the greatness of God and the faithfulness of Christ, who had been resurrected and was now seated at the right hand of the Most High God.

These words may have been an expression of his mental appreciation of the glory of God and the position that the risen Lord now occupied on the right hand of the Heavenly Father. Or he may have been given a brief vision of heavenly glory to sustain him in his hour of trial. Although we are not told the details of this experience, we do, nevertheless, know the impact that his words had upon those who were striving for his death, for “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.”—vss. 57,58

Continuing his testimony of love and obedience to the principles of truth and righteousness to his last moment, Stephen became the first Christian martyr and has served as an example of faithfulness throughout the Gospel Age of sacrifice. Even while being stoned, he rendered up his voice in prayer to God that his spirit might be preserved and that the sin of his murderers might not be laid to their charge. And then he fell asleep in death.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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