A Tale of Two Men
Job 1:20 ¶ Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped.
Job 1:21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Job 1:22 ¶ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
Acts 7:54 ¶ When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.
Acts 7:55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Acts 7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Acts 7:57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.
Acts 7:58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Acts 7:59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Acts 7:60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Job was a good man. He was a righteous man. He loved God and served God and yet everything he had was taken from him, including his children. In the midst of it all he kept his eyes focused on his relationship with God. He continued to praise God. He never blamed God.
Stephen was a good man. He was a righteous man. He loved God and served God faithfully and yet the religious leaders couldn't stand him. In the midst of it all he kept his eyes on Jesus -- and lifted his gaze to see the Lord cheering him on. The religious leaders covered their ears -- for they didn't want to hear the words of this man as he continued to praise God. He didn't blame God, and in the moment of his death, he forgave those who had inflicted the pain upon him.
When you think about it, the Bible doesn't have many people in it who were all that successful by the world's standards. Instead we read story after story about those who remained faithful while facing great difficulty. Job is a man who suffered, and yet he would not curse God. He didn't sin, nor did he "charge God with wrong-doing." Stephen remained full of grace while facing ridiculous charges against him.
How can God help us to respond as these two? I believe the secret to their response is their personal relationship with God. When we look at God and draw closer to him, then the things of the world really do "grow strangely dim." The Father waits for us with open arms of love, waiting to draw us into his embrace.
Was God happy with what happened to these two servants? No -- he was not. I believe that when we see Jesus "standing" at the right hand of the Father, we are witnessing his reaction to what he sees happening on earth. Normally we read about Jesus being "seated" at the right hand - but in this moment he is standing. I believe he is angry and disappointed with what the religious leaders are doing to his servant, Stephen. But he always wants Stephen to see him standing there in solidarity with him -- reaching out to him. And as Stephen keeps his eyes on Jesus, he is able to be a reflection of Jesus, responding to those around him in the same way that Christ did on the cross. There, in his suffering, Stephen is a reflection of the Image to the world around him.
Whatever it is that we may be facing this day -- may we never keep our eyes off the goal -- Jesus! Just as both of these men suffered, so we may suffer. But may we never curse God, nor sin -- instead, keeping our eyes on Jesus who will stand up for us and usher us into his holy presence. That's all that really matters.
Lord, come in your Spirit and power today. Amen.