At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. Acts 7:54 (TM)
I remember a wealthy and influential businessman who was a member of a church where I was on staff. Diminutive and aged, the kind and gentle man had lived his entire life as a member and leader in this particular church. His family’s roots were buried deep into the generations of the local congregation. Having been a large contributor for many years, the gentleman wielded a certain statesman-like leadership over the church as an organization.
There came a certain congregational meeting in which the members were voting on interim leadership during a period of time when the church was between senior pastors. The congregation did not vote as our kind and gentle statesman wanted, and suddenly, he was not so kind and gentle. Church board members were taken into secret meetings at night. Staff members were falsely accused of slander and coercion, and forced to offer apologies for acts they didn’t commit under threat of their job. Heads rolled.
From churches to governments and from non-profit groups to community clubs, human organizations are as fascinating as they are frustrating. Because we are all human, human nature is present in any organization of humans beings. Since human pride and the desire for control are at the core of our sinful human nature, you will find it in present in any organization. When people’s positions of power and control are threatened, they react.
In Acts 7, Stephen was speaking to a human organization. This was an organization of priests and religious leaders, but it had become an organization of social power brokers. These men ruled over the Jewish people. They were powerful, wealthy, influential and proud. Because their power was cloaked in religion, they were also zealously self righteous. They were men who, one way or another, were used to getting their way. People didn’t mess with them.
Into their midst walks the upstart, Stephen. Stephen is a junior member of this pesky group who follow the teachings of the crucified Jesus. They are performing miracles. They are feeding the hungry. They are clothing the naked. They claim that Jesus rose from the dead, and despite the fact that he was buried in a tomb belonging to one of the religious leaders, they can’t find the body. These followers of Jesus are becoming immensely popular with the people. They are making the priests and religious leaders look bad. Stephen and his ilk had become a threat to their power and their position.
Forget the fact that everything Stephen spoke to these men was true. These men didn’t care about truth. They cared about their own positions of power and influence. Threaten that, and heads will roll.