Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
Crab Mentality explains a childhood phenomenon I often experienced. Summer days with my grandmother along Florida’s northern gulf coast began at dawn by setting crab traps. Normally, by mid-afternoon, the Intracoastal waterway of Perdido Key had provided a briny bounty of Blue Crabs for our supper. While harvesting, my grandmother would carefully place each of the cantankerous crustaceans in a bucket from which there was no escape. Why did none of them ever escape? Was it because the bucket was too deep or because crabs are unskilled climbers? Perhaps, but crab mentality offers a different explanation. It has been observed that crabs remain in a bucket or other container because as one begins to escape, the others pull him down. Their instinctual desire for collective demise as much as our taste for shellfish prepared them for the boiling cauldron of grandma’s crucible.
How do you face the “crabs” of life? Stephen faced them with courage.
Spiritual crab mentality may explain what got Stephen into so much hot water. Greek-speaking Jews from Africa, Asia Minor, and Europe “rose up” to dispute with Deacon Stephen. Ironically, those who raised the claw of disagreement with Stephen were his own people! In a very short interval, the same people he stood up for (Acts 6:1-6), stood up against Stephen. When his Spirit-inspired wisdom defeated their arguments, the crowd’s verbal sparring quickly boiled over into violence and he was dragged down to the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:12). However, while Stephen was personally in the hot seat, he represented the faith of the whole Church.
When the opposition can’t stand up, they stir up. Because the crowd could not stand up to Stephen, they stirred up trouble. In as much as the Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court of Israel, the evidence produced against Stephen was suborned perjury. No matter how unjustly the case was made against Stephen, we must not lose sight of the truth being weighed in the balance. He was on trial for the Gospel’s sake. Because of the specific false testimony brought to bear against him, we must infer that Stephen preached Jesus as Messiah who alone accomplished what the Law and Temple were inadequate to do together—save God’s people. We know Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple (Luke 21:6) but never said he was the destroyer. Similarly, he said, “I have not come to destroy the Law, but fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17-18). Stephen won the dispute. Truth and angels were on his side. However, courage isn’t measured when we avoid unjust punishment by winning. Courage is measured when we face unjust punishment for winning. The crowd was made up of different people, but the same Sanhedrin which crucified Jesus put Stephen in the crucible.
Have you ever won an argument, but suffered for it? Jesus promised his disciples that they would suffer persecution for him by being brought before secular and religious authorities (Luke 21:12-15). The purpose of the persecution was so that they—and we—would be witnesses. In the same passage, Jesus further promises his followers “words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Jesus promises the persecuted that they will win the argument and that they will suffer the consequences, even unto death (Luke 21:16-19). Jesus won every argument about who he was and why he came, but he still suffered and died. So did Stephen. Only righteous courage can suffer innocently.
Edmond Dantes was innocent. The Count of Monte Cristo tells the story of an innocent man who is put into the crucible of suffering by an envious friend. Being falsely accused of a treasonous conspiracy with Napoleon against France, Dantes is sent, without trial, to the prison island of Chateau d’If. Upon arrival, Dantes plead with the warden, “Monsieur, I know you must hear this a great deal; I assure you I am innocent. Everyone must say that I know, but I truly am.” Unmoved, the warden responded, “Innocent? …I know. I really do know…I know perfectly well that you are innocent. Why else would you be here? If you were truly guilty, there are a hundred prisons in France where they would lock you away. But Chateau d’If is where they put the ones they’re ashamed of.” Through the crucible of innocent suffering, Edmond Dantes learned courage. So did Stephen.
Courage transforms suffering. The courage to meet suffering—especially innocent suffering—is uniquely available in the cross of Christ. Jesus went to the cross and to the grave, but he did not stay there—he passed through. If you are suffering innocently, remember the crucible will not hold you any more than the grave held Jesus. For those who believe, the crucible is not the destination, glory is! Take courage, you are passing through.