When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this (Stephen accusing them of murdering Jesus and not obeying the law), 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. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60)
I don’t think of myself as having a prideful spirit. But fairly recently my children told me I could be gentler at times. I try to be kind and calm and think for the most part I am, so their accusation made me angry—not to the point of being out of control by gnashing my teeth, yelling at the top of my voice, or covering my ears. But I wasn’t gentle in my response. So their accusation was correct. My prideful spirit made me angry.
Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, responded to persecution like Jesus did. His words to his murderers resembled Jesus’ words on the cross. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Instead of being angry that his persecutors were stoning him, Stephen looked up to heaven. God rewarded him by giving him spiritual eyes, so he could see God’s glory.
The men stoning Stephen experienced heated anger and removed their cloaks. Saul approved Stephen’s stoning and protected the clothing of the men persecuting Stephen. Luke mentions that to give us hope. Most of us aren’t as callous as Saul was. Yet the Holy Spirit was able to change Saul’s heart so he could fulfill God’s plan to become an apostle.
God will reward us too when our response to anger and persecution is to look up to heaven and examine our hearts. When we pray to become more like Jesus, the Holy Spirit will change us. There is hope I’ll become gentler.
Father God, I praise You for Your glory. Let Your light shine through me. Help me be a gentle soul like Jesus so You can use me for a greater role in Your kingdom. I pray in Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.