In Acts chapter 6v8 through into chapter 7 we read all about Stephen, who became the first Christian to die for his faith.
Of course this is a very sad event, and many followers of Jesus are still killed because of their faith around the world today. As the young church grew and opposition to it also grew, the issues came to a head with what happened to Stephen.
We was not a violent man. He did no harm to anyone. What angered the authorities so much that they would kill him? We find the answer in the long speech Stephen gave in chapter 7. And it is long. Really long!
But, he isn't just stalling for time! He appears to be wasting a lot of time going through all the history of Israel, but actually, but actually there is one big issue behind it.
The question behind it all is this: Where is God?
The thing that angered the Jewish leaders so much was that their authority and the temple as the centre of life and worship, was under threat. Unauthorised teachers gathering people outside of the temple, and bringing all this talk about the name of Jesus and his power. It was unacceptable to them.
For them, the TEMPLE was where it was at. This was everything to them. God would not be doing something like this. So Stephen's point is... really? Let's think about that.
Basically he is saying this: As we go through our history, where did God show up to meet with this people? Go through Stephen's speech here, and note as you read of the likes of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, the mention of all the different places.
What we see is God engaging with his people many places. In Mesopotamia (Iraq), Haran (Syria), Egypt, Sinai and all around the Sinai Desert (Saudi Arabia and Jordan) as well as Jerusalem.
God was showing up all over the place, and meeting with his people. That's why Stephen then quotes Psalm 110 to say - God has never ever been contained by buildings or specific times and places. He chose particular places and times for certain seasons, but things changed over the centuries as his revelation unfolded.
So, then he challenges them. And they don't like it.
'Why', he wants to know, 'do you always oppose what God is doing? Whenever he sends prophets you dismiss them and attack them. And you're doing it again'.
And it is at this point they can bear it no longer, drag him outside and stone him to death. Tragic waste of a young talented life.
But what do we make of it? What would you die for? And was a bright young man like Stephen really prepared to die for an argument over which building to meet in to worship?
Well of course it was far more than that. The issue that was SO important to him that he would die was the key principle that God, in Christ, is IN us as his people, WITH us, dwelling with us as his people wherever we are, whatever nationality we are. The Spirit poured out on all flesh (as Peter quoted the prophet Joel in Acts 2 at Pentecost).
We come to our God as we are now, through what Jesus has done. We no longer need all the processes and ceremonies of the High Priest and the temple sacrifices. It is done. People are every place may come to the Lord and find life. The Spirit on all flesh.
The fact that we meet on the other side of the world - beyond the ends of the world as far as they knew in that day... the fact we meet and can worship the Lord together... the fact that we can know his presence and power and forgiveness, thousands of miles away and thousands of years later, is what Stephen was prepared to die for.
Immanuel. God with us.