The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen's accusation [about their killing the Messiah and disobeying God's law], and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God's right hand. And he told them, "Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God's right hand!"
Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He fell to his knees, shouting, "Lord, don't charge them with this sin!" And with that, he died.
Saul [who was also later known as the apostle Paul] was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.
— Acts 7:54-8:1 NLT
During Jesus' ministry, the high priest, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the scribes (teachers of religious law) put aside their rivalries and rallied together around their shared hatred of Jesus. They asked the Romans to crucify Jesus. They wanted Jesus dead, and they wanted to stop his growing movement. They resented this rabbi from Nazareth because the crowds called him the Christ, the Messiah of Israel. Jesus had entered Jerusalem to the shouts of praise from the people:
Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!
Such praise angered the leaders. Among other things, they tried to trap him with questions, but Jesus silenced their questions with his answers. Then, Jesus' prophecy about the destruction of the Temple galvanized them to have him executed. Crucifying Jesus didn't stop him or his followers. His resurrection reignited those who believed in him. So, when the religious leaders killed Stephen, they repeated their previous evil. Stephen's bold faith in Jesus incited their rage. His words about the Temple and his accusation that they opposed the Scriptures and the Spirit of God and murdered the Messiah pushed them over the edge. They went apoplectic with rage, stoning Stephen to death! They had the blood of two of God's servants — Jesus and Stephen — on their hands. Plus, their actions against Stephen set in motion a chain of Spirit-propelled responses that led to the Good News about Jesus spreading into Judea and Samaria! (Acts 8:1, 4)
O, Father, I know that in the middle of hard times, I can lose sight of your Spirit's work to bring redemption and hope. When the devil works his evil through demonic power, death, disease, and disasters, I trust the Spirit will help us, your people, be your agents of redemption and hope. Dear Father, please help us now in the troubles our world is facing. Awaken us so that we can recognize our opportunities to return good for evil and serve others in the middle of their fears and distress. Please anoint us, inspire us, and work through us by the Holy Spirit's power. I pray this in Jesus' mighty name. Amen.