“On the Feast of Stephen”
Posted on 26 December 2017, 12:19
On Boxing Day we also celebrate St Stephen’s Day. Later Stephen talks to us personally and movingly about his martyrdom But first we hear the story as it is told to us in the New Testament.
In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 6 we read
Seven Chosen to Serve
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Greek speaking Christians arose against the Hebrew speakers, because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve apostles summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Stephen Is Seized
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel
Stephen speaks boldly in his defence
Stephen was open in describing his teaching to his accusers
. 48 The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, [like the Temple in Jerusalem] as the prophet says, 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
The Stoning of Stephen
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep
144. Stephen’s own moving words about his childhood and youth:
Stephen: Olive has a question. She wishes to know more of Stephen. My answer is that she wishes to understand how and why I feel things, why I might say things, and to whom I might speak; what emotions I might have, if I have any anger, and what my doubts might be. Then perhaps she will understand herself better, and she knows another a little more closely. She might understand then, when she feels despondent, and feels that much is not worth while, when she sees that another has felt this way, has risen above it, and has gained help, and can give help. Then perhaps it might be that the readers of the book that you might write, might also feel this.
Would you know of the times when Stephen was in doubt? When he walked and preached and still he doubted?
Of the great fear, and the knowledge of tragedy that was in Stephen’s heart? Or the tears that Stephen shed for himself? Of the ambitions, as your own, that were unrealised?
Of the terror of death, of the fear of the opinions of others, the ambitions to wealth and fame, of the love of another that Stephen felt? Does this sound unfamiliar to you?
This is how it was for Stephen, a young man, spoken of by his elders. I recall that he was considered untidy, that he showed not the respect for his parents that he might, that he stole as a child foolish things, he gave away what did not belong to him, his taste for music was indifferent, he had many dislikes of the foods that he ate, he would wish for fine horses, but needed to pretend with a mule; he had ambitions of being a great soldier.
We could then count Stephen as failing in many of his ambitions, much to his gain. Stephen did not see success in much that he tried to accomplish. Often his testimony was mistaken. Very seldom was it well received. He had many moments of foolishness, and a great deal of laughter. He was inexpert when he travelled, and often he was unwise in his companionship. This then is Stephen. Is there more that you wish to know?
145. Stephen’s Awareness
Olive: Your awareness now.
Stephen: The awareness that I have is the gift of, and is part of the Father, as are we all. We think perhaps that Stephen is separated and that he is aware of everything in the way that Olive might be aware, or feels that she is aware. But this of course is not so. [It is true that] for a long period of what we might call time, after the death of his body, Stephen was separated, as many still are.
In his so-called separateness, Stephen attempted to be of service to the Father. But then in the course of what we call time, Stephen let go of the personality of Stephen, the tent which the Father had given him in which to be housed. And thus unclothed, he gave up his separateness to be one with the Whole. You will understand that when I speak to you, I re-enter this tent, I put on again the clothes of Stephen, I put on the robes of a saint, in order that you may feel comfortable, in order that you may walk with me in a way that to you is familiar.
Michael: It makes me feel really scared to hear you talk like this. That this Stephen to whom we talk is only a puppet of personality manipulated by the Whole. It reminds me that I, Michael, would be such a puppet too. I get really scared of losing what is me, what I think of as me, and jumping into the void.
Stephen: Then take the comfort that the Father has given you; accept the security of your tent. Return to the tent that is Michael when you wish. It is there for your use. But as for me, I have left my Stephen behind, and I have life that belongs to the Whole, to the Father. Now I can be present in the lives of a thousand others.
147. More on his martyrdom.
Stephen: After two thousand years you would think that one would give up hope!
Michael: But I would think… oh!...I am just thinking of you as being two thousand years old, although I know that this could be said of us all. But you have felt successful sometimes during those two thousand years?
Stephen: Occasionally I have felt that I have been worthy in a small way of doing the work of the Lord. Even then you may have read of my failure.
Michael: That was very much in my mind at that point. Does the Bible report what happened at the stoning accurately?
Stephen: Quite accurately.
Michael: You… What pain… then… did you feel?
Stephen: Only for a short time was there pain. The Lord is more merciful than you would imagine. That each one, under these circumstances, is taken apart from himself. Even now, should injury come to Thomas’ body he would not feel that… I do not suggest that we injure him, for he must come back!
Michael: Stephen, no questions are coming to my mind.. but feelings are coming into my mind… to my inner self… that I think I am getting the Brother feeling.. I cannot put it better into words.
Stephen: This is how the feeling should be, for we are brothers. I shall depart. Continue with your feeling. Feel thus, when you pray. And bless each of you.
148. Christ speaks about Stephen:
“The task of your servant Stephen is that of messenger and he speaks with great authority. The task of yourselves is the decision as to which way you choose to use those messages. I say this unto you, that if your choice be wise, you will indeed see the fire in my eyes. You will indeed recognize the feet that are burnished bronze. Wonder not but proceed with courage, for thus far, we are well pleased”.
Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
For more on Stephen go to www.thegroundoffaith.net/issues/2017-02