"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 Jesus' death on the cross. Both of them, accused of blasphemy, were condemned to death by the Sanhedrin. Each of them at the moment of death asks God to receive his spirit and each prays for the forgiveness of the executioners (See Luke 22-23). Stephen becomes the proto-martyr of Christianity. Yet paradoxically, when one's death is modeled on that of Jesus, such a death opens the gateway to heaven! The final moments of Stephen seemed anything but glorious and joyful, to those he left behind. A deep sorrow must have descended upon the small Christian community in Jerusalem. Luke even adds how that day saw the beginning of a great persecution of the church in that city. All except the apostles scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Soon afterwards, Saul began to harass the church.
Even as well-meaning and zealous a Jew as Saul of Tarsus gave full approval to stoning one whom he considered to be promoting heresy. Amazingly, Stephen accepted his fate peacefully, "filled with the Holy Spirit." Even when dragged outside the city amid a vortex of hatred, Stephen did not answer anger with anger, nor curse those who cursed him. He rose above the unbelief and violence by the strength he drew from the risen Lord. Self-possessed, he reasoned with his judges in the Sanhedrin. He recognized God's providence and design at a time when his accusers were caught up in anger, frustration and violence. Stephen kept his self-possession because he had surrendered himself fully to the Lord Jesus.
The Acts graphically describes the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Just as Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," so Stephen prays to the risen Lord, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." It is as if Luke is saying that the fundamental attitudes of Jesus can and should be reproduced in the lives of his followers. The risen Lord seeks to continue living in and through us, who are his followers today. Because the Lord wants us to live by his spirit, he invites us to receive him as our bread of life. Today we have heard him say, "I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry." Our coming to Jesus in faith, and being nourished by him, allows him to live out his life in us, so that we can live by his fundamental outlook and attitudes.