When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
Stephen had just related a familiar account to the Jews, the story of their nation—God’s providence and their disobedience, God’s faithfulness and their rejection of Him, God’s goodness and their sin. And so far, the men listen quietly, perhaps nodding along at the tales they knew so well. But then Stephen makes it personal. He’s given this account to make a point. He says that these men are just like those faithless ones from their history. They were rejecting God also. They were being disobedient. They were the scorners and scoffers and the killers of prophets. They were resisting the truth, full of pride and sin.
When Stephen makes it personal, it is then that they react so strongly. They could listen unaffected and agree that these things were true about other people. But when their own guilt is pointed out, their wrath comes out. When the truth of their own hearts is exposed, they rise up and commit this violent act, murdering Stephen to try to silence that voice inside whispering the same things he was trying to tell them. They can’t really deny it, so they try to get rid of the source of their feelings of guilt.
Doesn’t this happen to us sometimes, too? God or His Word or someone else points out a sin, a flaw, something wrong in us, and we bristle against that. We react with anger and wrath, spurred on by our wounded pride to lash out against it. When something tells us something negative about ourselves, especially if it’s true, our immediate, fleshly reaction is to deny it and repel whatever exposed it in us. We don’t always want to hear the truth when it is aimed like an arrow at our own heart.
Are we willing to see the true nature of ourselves? Are we willing to accept God’s truth even when it is aimed directly at us and makes us uncomfortable? Are we willing to be humbled by Him? It’s not always easy to face the truth of sin in our hearts, but continuing to deny it will only lead to our own destruction. We may fight against God and push people away who expose our faults, but only we lose in the end if our hearts refuse to be changed. Let’s not allow these kinds of uncomfortable truths to spur us into violence and wrath, but repentance and surrender to God. He only wants to help us get our hearts right with Him.