The blog post on Acts 5 begins, “No more would God’s people stone the ungodly.” But one cannot say the reverse, “no more would the ungodly stone God’s people.” Jesus assured his beloved friends they would suffer persecution, even unto death.
The high priest and other priests do not heed Gamaliel's “let God sort it out” counsel. Stephen's lengthy, pointed, the-truth-hurts testimony provokes them to fury and gnashing of teeth (something the unrepentant among them will experience much more of, see Matthew 8:12). Convinced they are doing God a favor, they rush Stephen and drag him outside the city, as required by Jewish law (chapter six of the Talmud book, Sanhedrin).
In my mind’s eye I see Stephen standing in a deep hole much like the stoning pits still in use in parts of the Moslem world today. There is no escape. He looks up and sees a ring of murderers hurling stones at him. He knows that barring divine intervention, pain and death are imminent. But high above the crowd he sees Heaven open. He sees his Lord and Savior standing at God’s right hand. His eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of his faith. Not even trying to protect his face, his hands reach skyward. He says “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” And then struck by stones or the need to pray or both he falls to his knees and cries out to the One who just days earlier prayed likewise, “do not hold this sin against them.” Then he dies.
If the Lord tarries, I will one day stand in death's pit, with no hope for escape save divine intervention. My killer will be cancer, or pneumonia, a car accident, or some other agent of Death. Dear Lord, may my eyes of faith see past my pain and its cause and behold the object of Stephen’s love. May I pray “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” May I forgive those who have offended me and pray for their rescue. Death, where is thy victory? It has been swallowed up in life. Mercy triumphs over judgment, on earth as it is in heaven.