Approved By Man Or Approved By God
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.. — Acts 7:54-58
Notice that last statement. It says that "The witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul."
What's happening here is that the religious leaders are laying down the outer part of garments. And there are two reasons they do this. First, they do this because their garments are constricting to the activity of stoning. Stoning was the traditional capital punishment for religious crimes against God. It was a punishment for things like idolatry and blasphemy. And stoning was handled in several different ways. It consisted of witnesses throwing or rolling large stones onto the guilty party until they died. Thus the stoners, sorry I couldn't resist, would need to remove their outer garments for freedom to throw and move. Second, they lay down their garments at Saul's feet because they request approval to proceed with the act. Clearly, Saul has the power to give them this approval. And as many of you know, this is the same Saul who will soon encounter Jesus and change his name to Paul. But at this moment, he is on a different path and supports the judgment of Stephen.
You know, when I read accounts like this in the Bible, it makes me consider comparable moments I have encountered in my life. And I can confidently say I have never been stoned. Or let me clarify. I have never had rocks thrown at me as a form of capital punishment by religious leaders.
But I have been in moments where I have had to make a choice. A choice to pursue the approval of man. Or a choice to pursue the approval of God. And throughout my life, I have learned a lot about myself in these moments. I have learned about my character's faults. I have learned what moments challenge more than others. I have even learned a lot about my willingness to endure and my thresholds to pain. And I can confidently say, I am not sure that given the test that Stephen is given here that I would succeed as he does.
But then I remember this is not about Stephen at all. This is about a willing man who is so full of the Holy Spirit that he no longer needs approval from anything or anyone in this life. His sight looks beyond human approval and seeks approval only from God. His sight looks beyond human fears and fears nothing but God. His sight looks beyond the natural life and focuses on eternity and Christ seated at the right hand of God.
If you struggle with seeking approval in this life and from the people of this life. Try turning your gaze to the heavens. Invite the Spirit to fill you and speak through you and give you direction in those moments you need God the most. Learn to "walk in the Spirit," and God will always be with you, even in moments of great affliction.
ASK THIS: Is there a moment today you need to reject the approval of man?
DO THIS: Ask the Spirit to fill you and speak through you.
PRAY THIS: Great Spirit, fill me to overflowing. Keep my gaze fixed on Christ. Give me the words to speak. In Christ's name — Amen.
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Read through the Bible daily with Vince Miller.