“They covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, all rushed at him (Stephen), dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (Acts 7:57-58, NIV, 2011).
In over twenty years of teaching the Book of Acts to university sophomores, no one caught the imagination or attention of my students quite like Stephen, the church’s first martyr. According to one second-century Jewish tradition, people who were stoned were placed in a six-foot pit, backside facing the ground, and a large rock was dropped on their chest, crushing the sternum. If they survived, then their accusers would have thrown smaller rocks at them until they expired. We cannot know for sure whether this is precisely how it went with Stephen. What we do know is that there was no due process and no deliberate sentencing, just an angry mob who could not face the ugly truth about themselves. Meanwhile, Stephen prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60), both echoes of Jesus’ own dying words on the cross. No wonder those sophomores loved this man! Always searching high and low for a hero, young adults (and the rest of us, for that matter), need a faith-challenge of considerable size and deep significance, and Stephen delivers on both counts. Lord, please give me faith like Stephen’s!