This week we were shocked by the tragic events that unfolded in the cities of Boston and West (Texas). As your neighbor to the north, I extend my heartfelt sympathies and prayers for the survivors and wounded who now begin the difficult process of healing and rebuilding confidence shattered by senseless violence and disaster. While watching the media coverage, I was captivated by the instantaneous response of hundreds of law enforcement officials, first responders, and bystanders as they leaped into action to help the wounded. With no apparent thought for their own safety, they did what they’d been trained to do or what their intrinsic nature compelled them to do in the moment.
Boldness in the face of death.
What would I have done had I been there? Could I be that bold? Likely not! I’m sure my first response would be grabbing the hands of
my loved ones and friends and running away from danger instead of into it. That is often the wisest reaction and definitely the safest. I am very grateful for those whom God calls to protect us, defend the laws and morals of our nations, put their own personal safety aside in a concentrated effort to keep the public out of harm’s way, launch vigorous investigations with the purpose of swift resolutions, and be present to assist innocent victims whose lives are in peril.
We are all called to defend basic human values, rights, and freedoms. Our duty as citizens is to respect human life, abide by the laws of our nations, be loyal to our country, help our fellow man, show kindness to our neighbor, and extend civility and consideration to all even when it is unreciprocated. In this, we become people of courage and faith. In the defense of our spiritual beliefs we must be people of principle and decency.
Stephen was such an individual. He was a bold defender of the Christian faith. More importantly, he was known for being “full of faith and the Holy Spirit…full of God’s grace and power”. Because he was so highly respected among the believers, he was one of seven men chosen to care for widows who had been overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The criteria for this duty were to be “full of the Spirit and wisdom”. Stephen was a man who really stood out as one who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” This raised opposition among Jewish leaders who then devised a scheme to have Stephen falsely accused. The more they stirred up trouble, the bolder Stephen became and eventually he was brought before the Jewish council known as the Sanhedrin.Perhaps some would have been tempted to run the other way or deny their faith in order to save their life, but not Stephen. He possessed a deep conviction to hold true to his faith not only for himself but for the sake of all other believers and followers of Christ. He was willing to count the cost and expose the rejection of the Messiah. As he boldly stood before the Council and recounted a comprehensive history of God’s faithfulness to His chosen people, his face “shone like an angel’s”. Following his scathing rebuke, the incensed members of the council resorted to hatred and violence.
And Stephen’s response? He turned his face toward heaven and said, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” While they stoned Stephen to death, his response was even more remarkable as he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In his dying moments, this man of incredible courage thought not for himself, but for the spiritual condition of his murderers. God heard that prayer and engraved the scene on the mind and heart of Saul, a murderous persecutor of Christians. After his conversion to faith in Christ, Paul (Saul) later described in vivid detail this amazing story of one man who stood bold in the face of death. An indelible impression had been left on all those who witnessed such a horrific event. (Acts 6-8)
Let’s take courage from the words of the Psalmist,
“Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in the darkness
nor the disaster that strikes at midday…The Lord is my light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.” (Psalm 91:5-6; 27:1)
Until next Sunday,