"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it."
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.
And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a mighty stronghold to save me,
for you are my rock, my stronghold.
For your name's sake, lead me and guide me. (R./)
Into your hands I commend my spirit.
It is you who will redeem me, Lord.
As for me, I trust in the Lord:
let me be glad and rejoice in your love. (R./)
Let your face shine on your servant.
Save me in your love.
You hide those who trust you
in the shelter of your presence
from the plotting of men. (R./)
So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
In Acts, Luke compares Stephen’s martyrdom to the passion of Christ. Both of them were tried for blasphemy and condemned by the Sanhedrin. At the moment of death each of them handed over his spirit to God and each prayed for the executioners to be pardoned. Stephen is honoured as the proto-martyr of Christianity, a disciple whose death, modeled on that of Jesus, led straight to heaven.
Stephen’s final moments seemed inglorious to those he left behind. He was sadly missed by the Christian community in Jerusalem, which he had served so generously. Luke reports that now a fierce assault began against the church. All the disciples of Jesus except the apostles scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Soon afterwards, Saul began his persecution of the church.
That zealous Jew, Saul of Tarsus, fully approved the stoning to death of Stephen, whom he saw as promoting heresy. But Stephen accepted his fate peacefully “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Even when dragged outside the city amid a vortex of hatred, he did not meet anger with anger, or curse those who cursed him. He rose above the fury of the mob by his trust that the risen Lord would strengthen him. Self-possessed, Stephen reasoned with his judges in the Sanhedrin, serenely surrendering himself to the care of the living Lord Jesus.
His last words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” In his death he mirrored the trust of Jesus himself, which should be in the hearts of all disciples. The risen Lord continues among his followers today. We have heard him say, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” Our union with Jesus in spirit on a daily basis inspires us, like Stephen, to live by his outlook and attitudes. With Stephen we too should pray, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”