“That stirred up the people, the religious leaders and religion scholars. They grabbed Stephen and took him before the High Council. They put forward their bribed witnesses to testify. ‘This man talks nonstop against this Holy Place and God’s Law. We even heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth would tear this place down and throw out all the customs Moses gave us.’

“As all those who sat on the High Council looked at Stephen, they found they couldn’t take their eyes off him — his face was like the face of an angel.” Acts 6:12-15 (The Message).

Talk about bribery and corruption! The gloves were off and from now on the fight was on, not only against the leaders of the church, but also against anyone who claimed allegiance to Jesus.

Because of his godly life and powerful witness, backed up by the miracles God was doing through him as a testimony to the truth about Jesus, Stephen got the unwelcome attention of a group of freed Jewish slaves who were members of the synagogue of Freed Men, according to Luke. With lies and bribery they cooked up a story about him and dragged him before the Sanhedrin — the same group of men who had it in for Jesus and His followers.

Was there any hope of justice from these prejudiced leaders who had already shown their true colours in their dealings with Jesus and with the apostles? Their agenda was not about what was right but about who was right, and they thought they were right and they used their clout to prove it, or so they thought.

They were willing to give their ear to anyone who told stories to their advantage. At least these men who had arrested Stephen had the good sense to bribe more than one witness! Jewish law demanded the testimony of two or three witnesses to find a man guilty of the charge. Interesting that their charge was the same one that was thrown at Jesus; a twisted version of His statement, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” John 2:10 (NIV)

The first question we are tempted to ask in this terrible situation is: ‘Where was God in all this?’ How can God allow this kind of thing to happen to His own followers? It’s the same question we ask when we are treated unfairly. Why does God sit on His hands when life throws us a curved ball.

God is sovereign. He has the power to intervene in any situation but He doesn’t. Why? Firstly, He gave man the gift of choice and He will not override that even to prevent people from destroying themselves or others but…every person will have to give an account of the choices they made.

Secondly, in a way beyond our understanding, He turns even the worst that humans can do to His children to our good and to His glory. What they did to Jesus is a case in point. Even taking our lives is not the worst that God-haters can do to us. Our lives are secure in Him, but His kingdom grows on the testimony of those whose love and loyalty cannot be destroyed by the threat of death.

The story of Stephen is an illustration of the miracle of God’s ways. Every seed sown in the ground produces a multiplicity of seeds. It was so with the life of Jesus and it so with every person who lays down his life for the Master.

Does that mean we have to die to be of any value in God’s kingdom? Yes, but not necessarily in the literal sense. A true disciple of Jesus is one who denies himself, takes up the cross daily and follows Him. Perhaps the daily inward dying is more difficult than the once-off physical dying for Him.

A dead person is beyond resenting the unfairness that life dishes up to us. Dying to ourselves frees us from the emotional storms we experience at the choices other people make that affect us. Our times are in God’s hands and He is able to make all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, because He is shaping us into sons like Jesus.

Luella Campbell

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