Stephen - the Scapegoat
Acts 6:12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Yesterday we read that the Sanhedrin had brought Peter and John before them and shared concern that they were making them look bad. Is it any surprise that we discover that they have brought Stephen before them? Not at all, and now Stephen is to become the scapegoat for their guilt ridden consciences. However, the only way to justify his guilt is to bring false witnesses before them. These men were still trying to justify their actions against Jesus and in doing so they had to set-up yet another individual. Stephen was performing great miracles and yet they took his words and distorted them, using them against him. They condemned him for preaching the message of the Messiah. But Stephen was a man who spent time in God's holy presence on a daily basis. No matter what these people hurled at him -- whether words, or eventually stones, they could not move him. Instead, the glory of God shone through him -- and as they looked on his face they could only describe his face as that of an angel. He was a man, like Moses, who had spent so much time in the presence of God that the glory of God was reflected in him. And yet, they chose to punish him.
There are two places to find ourselves in today's story, either as members of the Sanhedrin, or as Stephen. If we were to be honest we would probably have to say that there have been times that we have sat in judgment of the innocent. We live in a day in which personal responsibility is in short supply. Someone else always has to be responsible for what is wrong -- but certainly not me! The religious leaders of the day knew that there wasn't much happening in the spiritual realm in their synagogues. All of a sudden this new group shows up and all kinds of things start to happen; people are excited and begin following after them. They are not really concerned, instead they are jealous. If we were honest, those of us in the "church" business could find ourselves in the same position. These are tough days for the established church. Many churches are dead or dying and taking responsibility for that is rather painful. There can be many reasons for the decline but I think we need to ask ourselves if it has anything to do with the presence of God!
Stephen was a man who spent so much time in the presence of God that his face literally glowed! Instead of pointing fingers at people like that -- maybe we ought to be asking ourselves what would happen if we spent that kind of time in prayer -- what would happen to our churches? There are all kinds of strategic plans available for us to follow but if we do not take time in God's holy presence in prayer -- what good is it? Instead of pointing a finger at the places that are growing and where the spirit is moving, maybe we need to examine ourselves. It wasn't Stephen's fault that not much was happening at the synagogue down the street, but they chose to punish him to make them feel better.
But maybe we find ourselves in the place of Stephen. There is that place of being completely misunderstood and being made the scapegoat for others. There are times when one can become the "victim of the success" -- because others will punish you if God works in and through you. What are we to do at times like this? I think that Stephen becomes a great example to us. He fixes his gaze on heaven and there he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is not sitting -- but at this moment is standing in a very active stance -- cheering on dear Stephen. At the end of the day Stephen gets to be with Jesus -- the one whom he has grown to love. Yes, Stephen the innocent has been punished. Jesus was punished. If we are truly following Christ there will be times that we too will be punished. May we be willing to stand up, take responsibility for being a follower of Christ and may his glory shine through us because we have been spending time with him in the Holy of Holies!
Lord, I simply want to be faithful and glorify you today. Amen.