How do You Bleed?Year A Revised Common Lectionary
5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:54 to 60 (KJV) 54When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with [their] teeth. 55But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. 57Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58And cast [him] out of the city, and stoned [him]: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. 59And they stoned Stephen, calling upon [God], and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
This is Pentecost Sunday. Today, we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather than look at the traditional texts about the Holy Spirit coming down on the disciples in power and filling them with the ability to serve God in ways not previously seen, we are going to reflect on the Holy Spirit in Stephen’s life and ministry.
This text is an important text for us to study and to reflect on, as we look at the political and theological issues that face us today. From this text, we can find an earth-shaking response to debates, such as same-sex marriage, that are dividing families, churches, denominations and society. And as we study this text, we may find a way to respond with love that is uncharacteristic of any human, but very characteristic of our Lord and Savior.
Stephen was a powerful speaker, a man of the gospel. His sermons got results. He gave a powerful sermon in the preceding verses. The sermon was not given to a nice spiritually sensitive, church group. The audience was not receptive. I recall assisting two congregations that treated me like Jesus and that is not a compliment. Fortunately, I’ve never been at a congregation that treated me like Stephen. I have not completed a sermon to find that the critiques have lined up to kill me. I guess the people were just too kind to voice their thoughts about my sermons in that way.
We can experience the wonderful feeling of the Holy Spirit through a powerful sermon, wonderful praise music, liturgy or our prayer closet. At times, the Holy Spirit is seen when people are miraculously healed.
The full glory of God is not seen in powerful sermons, breath-taking praise orchestras or in people being healed. All of those things are wonderful, but that is not the full manifestation of God’s glory. Those things are just a wee taste of the Shekinah glory of God.
The Shekinah is fully seen when we see the crucified and risen Jesus standing at the right hand of God. God’s Shekinah is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, with God, mediating on our behalf! Now that is true glory! The true glory of God is seen in the work of what God has done for humanity triumphant.
The religious leaders plugged their ears, as if Stephen’s testimony of seeing Jesus glorified was blasphemy.3 Seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of God was proof that an innocent person had been killed.4
Stephen was taken out of the town and stoned. For any young people, being stoned back then was not a fun thing. It was no high. When somebody got stoned, people took the person to a high place and threw them off. If the fall did not kill the person, rocks were thrown at the person until the person was killed.5 So back then nobody smart wanted to get stoned. Wise people still don’t want to get stoned.
The King James says the religious leaders were “cut to the heart.” This was not a bad hair day or a minor snit. In Greek, the word translated cut carries the meaning of sawing asunder”6 or completely into separate parts. That means they were enraged.7
The respected commentator Adam Clarke notes that Stephen prays to Jesus Christ directly.8 This passage can be used for support that Jesus is divine.9 I mean, there is not much point in praying to somebody who has no authority.
Stephen’s last words are a prayer. They are not a selfish prayer. His prayer is a very generous prayer. Stephen asks that God not punish those who are stoning Stephen for his death. His words mirror those of Jesus Christ, who prayed that God forgive those who killed Him, as they did not understand what they were doing.10
I invite you to compare the reactions of the religious leaders and the reaction of Stephen when they felt hurt. The religious leaders had a murderous rage. One pastor who gave a sermon on this passage said “Bitterness, anger and resentment poured from them uncontrollably.”11 And their wounds were superficial, at worst. Stephen, even when his wounds life threatening had a different reaction. Instead of bleeding bitterness, anger and murderous rage, Stephen bled the blood of Jesus Christ.12
I do not know about you, but I am much more like the religious leaders than Stephen. There are a few questions I think we need to ask ourselves as we reflect on this passage. The questions are not to discourage us, but to help us appreciate the gift of grace on a cross for our benefit.
When you hurt and bleed, do you bleed the blood of Jesus Christ or do you bleed the blood of bitterness, anger and rage? How do you react when you face intense criticism? What is your response when people say things about you that destroys your reputation? When you are confronted with somebody who is really different than you are, how do you express your fear?
I know I bleed more like the religious leaders than like Stephen. God knows how you bleed. He has always known how you bleed. He knew that before the foundation of the world and God still chose you! Ephesians 1:3-4 (Good News Bible) Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. 4Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love. Now that is grace!
William Barclay, a well-known Bible commentator, says that Stephen did not see the rage in the eyes of the religious leaders. He was looking into the future, where “he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”13 Stephen’s had an excellent perspective. His focus was on Christ glorified in the midst of intense, personal persecution. When our eyes are clearly focused on Christ, we are able to respond appropriately to persecution.
Stephen was not the only person who saw Christ in the face of persecution and reacted in a way that touched lives. George Wishart was a martyr in Scotland. He has been described as “a man so full of grace there was none that had come before to whom we could compare him.”14 Wishart ran into a lot of opposition as a powerful preacher of the gospel. There were plots to stop him from preaching and to take his life.
In one plot a priest came to kill Wishart after Wishart had finished sharing the gospel. Wishart said, “My, friend, what do you want to do?” as he knocked the dagger out of the priest’s hidden hand and to the ground. The priest knew he was caught. He fell down and confessed.
People close by who heard what happened formed a mob demanding the priest. Wishart protected the priest from the mob. The priest’s life was spared that day.
Eventually, Wishart was apprehended, condemned by those who were afraid of the gospel put to death.15 “When George Wishart was to be executed, the executioner hesitated. Wishart came to him and kissed him. “Lo,” he said, “here is a token that I forgive thee.”16
In the old school of nursing, the one where doctors were virtual gods. In nursing school, the nursing students were taught to stand when a physician entered the room and they were not to sit down until they were given permission.
We do not know why Jesus Christ was seen standing by the right hand of God. We typically think of Jesus sitting by the right hand of God when interceding for His people, but here Jesus is standing.17 There is a possibility Jesus Christ was standing in respect of martyr’s grace-filled prayer.18
The presence of the Holy Spirit in Stephen made a gigantic difference. Saul was there when Stephen was murdered. This is the Saul that became the apostle Paul, the man who pioneered taking the gospel to the Gentiles.
The queer community has those who bleed both the blood of Jesus and those who bleed anger and bitterness. The level of pain from a life time of rejection can be high enough that we just do not find it in us to bleed the blood of Christ. You may feel you just do not have the blood of Christ left in you to give. You've been bled dry. The good news is that when you hurt and ache, the Spirit of God inside your heart can bleed the blood of Christ for you.
The Holy Spirit is working in your life, transforming you. As the Spirit transforms your life, you will start to bleed the more of the blood of Jesus Christ and less of the blood of revenge when you are hurt.
The times when the Holy Spirit’s power enables you bleed the blood of Jesus, the Son of God stands in honor of you. And He is waiting to honor you.
Lord thank you for choosing us, knowing exactly who we are. Thank you for the Spirit that does so much more than perform healing a few people. Thank you for giving us the Holy Spirit that changes us, so we bleed the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.
1Rick Meyers. “Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.” e-Sword. Ver. 6.5.0 (Leiper’s Fork, NT: www.e-sword.net - computer software, 2002).
2“Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.” e-Sword.
3Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.” e-Sword.
4Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.” e-Sword.
5William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible: The Acts of the Apostles. Revised Ed. (Burlington, Ontario: G.R. Welch, 1976), 61 - 62.
6Rick Meyers. “Hebrew and Greek Dictionary” e-Sword. Ver. 6.5.0 (Leiper’s Fork, NT: www.e-sword.net - computer software, 2002).
7Rick Meyers. “Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible.” e-Sword. Ver. 6.5.0 (Leiper’s Fork, NT: www.e-sword.net - computer software, 2002).
8Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.” e-Sword.
9Adam Clarke sees this text as support “that Jesus Christ is God.“ e-Sword.
10Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.” e-Sword.
11Michael Piazza, “Joy Unleashed: Joy Unexpected.” Cathedral of Hope. (Dallas, TX:, May 1, 2005, Internet web site URL - http://www.cathedralofhope.com/sermons/single_sermon.php?SermonID=901&printdate=5/1/2005&filelink=050501b.ram)
12Piazza says, Stephen bled mercy and grace and Jesus. (Internet web site URL - http://www.cathedralofhope.com/sermons/single_sermon.php?SermonID=901&printdate=5/1/2005&filelink=050501b.ram)
14“George Wishart, early Martyr in Scotland.” Christian History Institute. (Worcester, PA: Internet web site, URL - http://chi.gospelcom.net/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps142.shtml).
15Story condensed from “George Wishart, early Martyr in Scotland.” (Internet web site, URL - http://chi.gospelcom.net/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps142.shtml).
17Piazza makes the point that Jesus is depicted as sitting at the right hand of God in the Bible. (Internet web site URL - http://www.cathedralofhope.com/sermons/single_sermon.php?SermonID=901&printdate=5/1/2005&filelink=050501b.ram)
18Piazza (Internet web site URL - http://www.cathedralofhope.com/sermons/single_sermon.php?SermonID=901&printdate=5/1/2005&filelink=050501b.ram)