Pain’s Purposes

Acts 7:57 “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.”

Observation: Stephen had been brought before the Sanhedrin under false charges of blasphemy against God and Moses. When invited to speak in his defense he began a fifty-verse discourse truthfully summarizing evidences of God’s hand in the deliverance of His people beginning with Abraham, extending through the exploits of Moses and continuing to the building of Solomon’s temple.

His long discourse comes to an abrupt end when he addresses his accusers and judges as a stiff-necked people who resisted the Holy Spirit and had killed even the Righteous One, Jesus Christ. Stephen’s listeners responded in fury and dragged him out of the city where they stoned him to death.

Application: Stephen had come to this place because, as Acts 6:8 reports, he was “a man full of God’s grace and power (who) did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” Even as his stoning began, he, “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God…” “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)

What could have passed through Stephen’s mind as stones began to fly? Might he have admitted a glimmer of remorse over an effective ministry cut tragically short? Could he have reflexively crouched near the ground and thrown his arms around his head in a vain attempt to shelter from pain?

No, there was none of that. Instead, he simply prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

I am left with questions. Where was our protector God during Stephen’s brave stand? Why didn’t Stephen’s passionate discourse break through his hearer’s locked hearts to bring repentance rather than rage? What good could come from such consummate evil? What could God possibly have been thinking?

One answer is in Acts 8:1, which says simply, “Saul was there, giving approval to (Stephen’s) death.” By this I am reminded that the fully yielded heart need not question God’s purposes in suffering. He has designs for fruitfulness from my pain and loss that I can never imagine. Stephen couldn’t see future fruit any more than I, but it is real nonetheless, beautiful and sweet to those quietly watching.

Prayer: Lord, I confess to limited understanding of Your purposes in my life. When discouragement looms, remind me that You are at work in even the darkest situation. Fill me afresh with Your Holy Spirit, that I might fix my gaze beyond life’s disappointments and onto that place where You sit at God’s right hand.

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