‘And when he died, he said, The Lord look upon it, and require it.’
‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’
When we compare the words spoken by the Prophet Zechariah at his martyrdom—‘The Lord look upon it, and require it’—with the words spoken by St. Stephen at his martyrdom—‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge’—we are conscious of a very strong contrast, and we are now invited in the Church of England to pay attention to this contrast; for we read part of this twenty-fourth chapter of 2 Chronicles for the first lesson on the afternoon of St. Stephen’s Day. We have, in fact, set before us on this festival, side by side, a Jewish and a Christian martyrdom. It will be instructive to draw a parallel between the two. The young men of Judah came and made Joash dissatisfied with the worship of that house which he had himself restored, and turned him away to serve groves and idols. The wrath of God was soon threatened upon these apostates. He sent prophets to warn them: ‘They testified against them, but they would not give ear.’ Then Zechariah, the old priest’s son, stood up boldly and warned them. But they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones.
I. The Lord did indeed ‘look’ upon the crime and ‘require it.’—But our attention at this moment is restricted to the point of martyrdom in the cases of Jehoiadah and Stephen, set side by side.
II. When we turn away from the Books of Chronicles to the Books of the Acts of the Apostles, from the dying prayer of the Jewish to the dying prayer of the Christian martyr, the change is very remarkable.—In certain respects, indeed, there is a great similarity in these two scenes of the Old and New Testaments. In both cases there was a direct outpouring of the Holy Spirit; in both a fearless rebuke, received, not with penitence, but with hardness of heart. In both we recognise the horrors of that cruel death by stoning. But in other respects the difference between the two scenes is very great. As we gaze upon the mangled bodies of the two martyrs, and hear their last cries, how strangely dissimilar they are!
III. How are we to account for this difference of thought and feeling in two men, on each of whom the Holy Spirit had descended?—A word explains it. They were living under different dispensations, of which the principle of one was justice, of the other mercy. When earth was fading away from Zechariah’s eyes, Whom saw he as he looked up to heaven? A God of vengeance, by Whom ‘actions are weighed’—surrounded by thunder and lightning and clouds. When Stephen died, Whom saw he? ‘He, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.’