Today’s reading starts amid a lengthy response to a question. It ends with death and persecution. The response was by Stephen, a follower of Jesus, to a question from a religious court in Jerusalem. The hearing was convened to investigate charges against him. Followers of Jesus esteemed Stephen for living faithfully in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Opponents despised Stephen for his testimony to Jesus. To stop him, they brought him to trial. (To understand more fully, read Acts 6:1 through 8:3.)
The authorities’ asked, “Are these charges true?” That is, “Are you proclaiming Jesus against the law of Moses and the temple worship?” Stephen’s response was long and detailed. In sum, Stephen explained that Jesus, God’s unique representative, did not contradict the law and the temple but fulfilled them. Now – declared Stephen, calmly but boldly – the Jesus you killed is alive, reigning with God. Outraged, members of the court dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death, a terrible punishment. Thus Stephen entered fully into that loving embrace by Jesus which is life after death.
It is easy to fear. If we speak about our faith in Jesus, what will others say? If we show by our life that we follow him rather than the ways of the group, society, or culture in which we live, what will people do? We may experience scorn and derision. In some places, standing up for Jesus may result in serious, even mortal, harm. If we fear others’ opinions, how much more might we fear the possibility of actual harm and death?
Yet Stephen stood up for Jesus despite accusation, arrest, and death. Others have done the same throughout history. Believers continue to stand up for Jesus despite scorn, hostility, and harm. How can this be done? The answer is in the phrase “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55). Jesus promised his followers that they need not fear – the Holy Spirit would infuse, strengthen, and guide them. If the Spirit did this for Stephen and others throughout history, and if the Spirit continues to do this for believers around the world, will he not do so for you and me if, trusting in him, we stand up for Jesus by word and life, filled with grace and power?