In Acts 6:1-15, we read about the elders’ selection of the seven deacons. Stephen was highlighted above the rest as a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. While we don’t know about Stephen’s family or past, we know he worked hard to make converts among other Jews. While many Jews were converted, opposition arose from members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue. They tried to debate Stephen, but were always defeated. Thus, they decided to bring false charges against him and Stephen was arrested and put on trial before the Sanhedrin. It was here that he was falsely accused of speaking against the law of Moses and against the temple.
Acts 7 is the record of Stephen’s telling what could be the most detailed and concise history of Israel and their relationship to God of any others in Scripture. God inspired him to speak without fear while rightly accusing Israel of their failure to recognize Jesus as the one true Messiah by rejecting and murdering Him as they had murdered Zechariah and other prophets and faithful men throughout their generations. Stephen’s speech was an indictment against Israel and their failures as the chosen people of God who had been given the law, the holy things of God, and the Messiah and they messed it up. As you can imagine, these were not well received by the Jews. Throughout his speech, he continually reminded them of their ongoing rebellion and idolatry, in spite of the mighty works of God to which they were eyewitnesses, thereby accusing them with their own history which only irritated them until they did not want to hear any more. They set up to stone him for what they considered was blasphemous talk according to the law of Moses which states the sin of blasphemy deserves death usually by stoning (Numbers 15:30-36). Stephen was also charged with speaking against the temple. He pointed out that the tabernacle and temple of the old covenant were only types and symbols of God’s heavenly temple and that, in the new covenant, the types have been replaced with the reality (vv. 44–50).
In Acts 7:54-60 we read, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Stephen is about to be executed for his faith and he raises his eyes to heaven and (verse 55) says he was filled with the Holy Spirit and what does he see? “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” (Acts 7:55-57)
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
-Stephen is praying here!!! And by the power of the Holy Spirit what Stephen knew with his mind became real in his heart. He saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand.
- At the very moment while an earthly court was condemning him, he realized that the heavenly court was commending him.
In other words, he was experiencing the covering of the gospel in a crazy moment of pain.
At that moment, he got an extremely vivid, powerful sight of what he already knew intellectually which was that in Christ we are beautiful in God’s sight and free from condemnation. (Col. 1:22)
But the Spirit took that intellectual concept and electrified his entire soul, mind, heart, and imagination with it.
In his yielding to God by the power of the Holy Spirit, Stephen was able to exhibit the new humanity that God was creating.
-He had courage.
-He forgave his oppressors.
-He faced his accusers not just with boldness, but with calmness and joy!
-He was living spiritual renewal.
May we follow Stephen’s example to preach truth boldly despite the consequences and to trust in God to the very end as each of us, his adopted ones, will be taken up into glory with our risen king. Lord, our lives are yours. Do with them what is best for your eternal plan and glory.