A brutal killing…

Two teenage girls have been stoned to death by ISIS extremists after they were found in a house with two men – who were each flogged 50 times.  The girls, Hasna, 17, and Madiha, 16, were accused of committing adultery and executed in front of a crowd of hundreds in Deir ez-Zor city, eastern Syria.

Two older men were then sentenced to 50 lashes – also in public – after being identified by a Sharia Court as Abu Zubair al-Idlbi and Maher Hameed.

Yesterday in my morning prayer I was confronted by the account of the stoning of Stephen. Whilst the film, “The Life of Brian” makes light of this method of public torture and execution, I find that I cannot. It is not a thing of the past – it is a brutal reality today. I will not recount the grisly details here, the photo above is the least gruesome I could find without making light of the issue. Paintings of the stoning of Stephen show him serene and almost unaffected by the stones, and whilst I totally understand the motivation of the painters in depicting the story in that way – I found that I could not.

Acts 7:51-8:2 (CEV)

“You stubborn and hardheaded people! You are always fighting against the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors did. Is there one prophet that your ancestors didn’t mistreat? They killed the prophets who told about the coming of the One Who Obeys God. And now you have turned against him and killed him. Angels gave you God’s Law, but you still don’t obey it.”

When the council members heard Stephen’s speech, they were angry and furious. But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. He looked toward heaven, where he saw our glorious God and Jesus standing at his right side. Then Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”

The council members shouted and covered their ears. At once they all attacked Stephen and dragged him out of the city. Then they started throwing stones at him. The men who had brought charges against him put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As Stephen was being stoned to death, he called out, “Lord Jesus, please welcome me!” He knelt down and shouted, “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” Then he died.

Saul approved the stoning of Stephen. Some faithful followers of the Lord buried Stephen and mourned very much for him.

I have found myself haunted by this story – and the stories I have read of people being stoned to death in today’s world. Of course, Luke does not recount the story in order to campaign against the brutality of stoning. Luke tells the story in order to bear witness to the extraordinary courage and assurance that Stephen’s faith in God gives him. Such incidents might not have been commonplace, but they would have been familiar enough to Luke for him not to have been surprised that it happened. And there was more to come as this incident seems to have marked the beginning of a much more targeted campaign of persecution against the early church.

How easily we become desensitised to the brutality of the world around us 
and our involvement in it…

Stoning is a very deliberate kind of torture and execution. It is designed to be carried out by the whole community, it is an expression of the terrifying verdict that this whole community has decided very publicly to demonstrate that they can no longer abide you drawing another breath in their midst, and they will all play their part in killing you. It is also designed to free any single person of individual guilt – with stoning it is impossible to tell which stone actually caused the death or who threw it.

God will not let us get away with that kind of excuse:
“It might not have been MY particular stone…

Jesus said: “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” And one by one, they melted away.

Martin Luther, talking about the crucifixion, said this: We all carry about in our pockets His very nails.”   He might just have easily said, “We all carry about in our pockets His very stones.

Put those stones down.  You won’t be needing them anymore.

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