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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

two Biblical martyrs but only one a saint

The day after Christmas is a day to remember the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Rembrandt
Acts 7:59 – 8:8 (NRSV) 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.

As Stephen dies, he prays like Christ for his oppressors forgiveness. But Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps intentionally, contrasts Stephen's response to his enemies with another prophet from Israel's history, Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada.


2 Chronicles 24:17-22 (NRSV) Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the LORD; they testified against them, but they would not listen. Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has also forsaken you.” But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. King Joash did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. As he was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge!

Jesus has challenged the religious norm he was born into and was executed by the religious leaders in collaboration with the state. However, even in his death he continued to break with tradition. As he gasped for breath he was still able to pray, "Forgive them." He did not follow the example of Zechariah. Zechariah rightly challenged his religious culture but believed God had run out of mercy for them. Jesus revealed that God's well of mercy has no bottom. Zechariah's view of God, though biblical, is not Christian. Stephen has the understanding of a more Christ-like God, who would rather die at the hands of his enemies, because he loves them, than avenge himself on them. God will love his enemies into relationship instead of destroying them, like a good Father.

This contrast was gift wrapped for daily lectionary readers. I am merely presenting it to my fellow believers who do not have this practice.

This is part 22 of the series, Not everything Biblical is Christian.
Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine.
Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137.
Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus.
Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.
Part six looks at the Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts.
Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery.
Part eight, showed one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story.
Part nine asks who would Jesus hate?
Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war.
Part 11 discusses divorce.
Part 12 discusses the imposition of Bronze Age social constructs onto our diverse and complex modern world.
Part 13 discusses women as property in the Biblical world.
Part 14 discusses dehumanization of people with Biblical support.
Part 15 discusses the evangelical culture that tends to proclaim the terrible day of the Lord is around the next corner.
Part 16 shows how the end of the book of Job overrules 90% of the soliloquies in the book.
Part 17 discusses a Psalm of confession.
Part 18 discusses more Psalmist theology.
Part 19 discusses something in the New Testament writings of Paul.
Part 20 discusses condemnation.
Part 21 discusses religious zealotry that approves of murder.

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