Happy St Stephen’s Day, everybody!

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’, painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’,
painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

I know everyone thinks Boxing Day is all about shopping sales and cricket, and always has been, and until recently I thought that, too.

Nope, still about Jesus.

Happy Feast of Saint Stephen Day, everybody!

Stephen was the first disciple to be martyred for following and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

But why did they kill him? What did he do that ticked people off so much? And what can we learn to apply to our own writing?

In Acts 7, we read his story.

Stephen had been brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, on charges of blasphemy. He had been preaching about Jesus’ death and resurrection, sure, but not just that. Stephen was in trouble for performing great wonders and signs among the people, full of God’s grace and power (Acts 6:8). He was only doing what he saw Jesus do. (That rebel who healed people on the Sabbath!)

Anyway, the Jews were peeved that they couldn’t actually find anything technically ‘wrong’ with what Stephen was preaching, because “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke” (Acts 6:10). So they made something up.

At his trial, Stephen gives an eloquent (and long) speech that told the entire history of the Jewish people, to put the birth and death of Jesus in context. He tells of how the Jewish people have rebelled against God over and over, and how he has lovingly provided a way for them to be saved from his wrath each time. Finally, he sent the Messiah, the promised Saviour, and the Jews got the Romans to crucify him.

“All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15)

Stephen’s speech angers everyone so much that they give the verdict – stone him to death.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7: 55-60)

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. (Acts 8: 1-2)

Do not hold this sin against them. Stephen is famous for forgiving his persecutors.

Forgiveness – it’s the key theme running throughout the entire Bible. When we’re writing a certain theme into our own work, we could do worse than to read how this theme is worked into the various books of the Bible. You don’t often have to look hard at all to find it.

In terms of forgiveness “stories”, apart from Stephen’s and Jesus’ forgiveness of their persecutors, there are a bunch of other great ones including all the times in Exodus when God saved his people from starving in the desert while they wandered for 40 years; the book of Hosea; the stories of Daniel and his mates forgiving and continuing to work for the king who persecuted them; the entire New Testament and its many stories of disciples and people in the early church forgiving one another and instructing others to do the same; and Psalms speaks often of God’s forgiveness.

So on St Stephen’s Day, we take time to pause and reflect before the start of a new year and ask God, “Whom do I need to forgive? Have I held a grudge against someone this year?”

This Boxing Day, forgive others, folks. Because God forgave us first.

Forgiveness stones. Image source: Mission Arlington

Image source: Mission Arlington

Whom do you need to forgive before the new year?

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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