This was a quote I read this week from a Christian “The crazy part of the Gospel is that Stephen would be the first one cheering on Paul when he arrived at the pearly gates.”
Have you ever thought about those who will be waiting at the pearly gates when you arrive. I know I don’t often think that way but this week quote caught my eye. I suppose I always thought about it being Jesus. My grandparents and others who loved me who have gone to be with Jesus before I did. I look forward to the days when I will see them again. The Scripture “Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” is a profound thing to me, but what about others who I may not be as close with?
This quote gets me because of the scandal of it all. Paul coming to the pearly gates not as someone who was just greeted by his friends and family. When we think of the Apostle Paul we often think of him preaching the gospel to all people, but we often forget early in his ministry he wasn’t just mean to Christians, he had them killed. I have always been drawn to the story of the stoning of Stephen for obvious reason as we share a name. Paul had him killed. He approved of his death the text says. Paul would have a reputation of trying to destroy the Christian Church. Many early in his ministry were put in prison, their lives destroyed or in the case of Stephen, murdered.
But as this quote says, I imagine Stephen was the first one at the gate cheering on the one who approved of his death. What a profound revelation. For me at least, I struggle with having a faith that strong. A faith so full of the gospel that I can imagine cheering on those who hate me, or even cheering on those who are against me. Over and over in the scripture Jesus, His apostles, the other disciples, and those who follow him today are called to cheer on everyone who comes to know Jesus. This is what makes the Gospel the gospel. You see all people no matter how horrible they are need Jesus. They will celebrate with us in heaven one day if they come to know Him. No matter if they follow from the beginning or in the end. May we celebrate not just our friends who come to know Jesus but our political enemies, those we dislike and even those who might do us harm. For God wants all people to come to His saving grace.
This lent may we consider not just sharing Jesus with our friend but may we cheer on our enemies.
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.Acts 7:54-60 ESV