Like facing up to a buzz-saw, a wood-chipper, or a phalanx of Wehrmacht soldiers at the Atlantic wall, Stephen testified to the truth of the gospel before the Sanhedrin, in whose hands lay life and death.
The church was growing in Jerusalem. The Believers needed men of wisdom and filled with the Spirit to give their attention to the distribution of food to widows, to make sure that there was no favouritism and that everything was fair. Stephen was recognised as being highly qualified and was commissioned to serve in the church.
Stephen also captured the attention of some bad hombres. Opposition from the Synagogue of the Freedmen. For those who know what cancel culture is in 2021, these guys targeted Stephen to be cancelled.
They couldn’t stop the wonders he performed by God’s power. They couldn’t refute the wisdom that he spoke by God’s Spirit. So they targeted the man.
The same tactic that they had used against Christ. A set-up. A sandbag operation. Accusations of blasphemy.
There they were, gnashing their teeth, enraged at what Stephen was saying. And they took off their cloaks.
When guys take of their cloaks and its not because its a hot day or they’re going for a swim, its because stuff is about to get real. Violence is loading. Action is imminent.
If you’re really angry, perhaps a cloak is the last thing you think about, but they took off their cloaks and laid them down at the feet of young Saul of Tarsus.
Many years later, a changed man, the apostle Paul is in Jerusalem, speaking before a crowd of his fellow Jews. He’s telling them what God is doing, and he actually references Stephen.
“20 And when the blood of your martyr[a] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”” (Acts 22: 20 – 22, NIV).
God sending His word to the Gentiles? Again the cloaks come flying off.
Paul had been there, done that, but on the other side of the distribution of rage and violence. I’m certain Paul appreciated the irony.
There’s an image I think of when I read about Paul and what he did. When Stephen was murdered, we read that it was on that same day that ‘a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem’ (Acts 8:1). And Saul ‘began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.’ (Acts 8:3)
I’m sure Paul never forgot the way he had behaved. Dragging people off to prison while little children begged for him not to take away their Mom or Dad.
Although he meant it in a different context (of tyrannical fascist governments in the future) George Orwell spoke about imagining a ‘boot stamping on the human face’.
At one time, that was Saul. Or at least that was probably the way he saw himself.
What a difference between Saul and Paul, persecutor and apostle after his encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus…
Paul had this verse in mind (the feet of those who bring good news) when he wrote to the church at Ephesus about spiritual warfare.
The Christian response to the boot of the oppressor is not to strike back. Paul writes that people are not the enemy, but spiritual forces of evil.
We are prepared with the armour of God…the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness…feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
“The gospel provides the footing for everything we do. However powerful the rest of your body is, if you are wounded in your feet you are easy prey for the enemy.”
Ephesians Chapter 6
Standing on the Word is not just a charming saying. Without it, we are literally hamstrung in the thick of the fight.