Before I jump into Acts 7, let me set the table regarding death and the Christian. The Bible says a few important things about death in relationship to Christians.
1. Death Is Our Enemy
It is not romantic or glamorous. "[Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Death is a curse and an enemy that came into the world through sin (Romans 5:12).
2. Spiritual Death Is a Conquered Enemy
For the redeemed, death is defeated in Christ! "… ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:54–57).
3. Death Is Made to Serve the Christian
We are more than conquerors over death through Christ. God gives us the victory over death, but He gives more than victory. Death is defeated by Jesus. Death is bound in the chains of resurrection power so that he cannot destroy us. But more than that, death is handed over, bound and defeated, as a servant to the Church. We are more than conquerors because death is not just defeated and kept from destroying us; it is enslaved and made the servant of God's people.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35–39).
Now, with that understood, let’s look again at Acts 7 and the death of Stephen.
Stephen had just preached an awesome message to the Jewish leaders, and his main point was that the essence of their religion was self-worship, not God-worship. They rejoiced in the work of their own hands--not in God (Acts 7:41, 48). When Stephen came to the end of his message, the council was enraged and ground their teeth at him (Acts 7:54). God's response to Stephen at this moment was exactly the opposite: He filled Stephen with His Holy Spirit (v. 55).
The first point I want to make is that you, too, can expect God to do this for you when you walk in Christ. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me …" (Psalm 23:4). The fact is that God draws near to the dying saint.
1 Peter 4:13-14 says that when you suffer with Christ "the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." There is a special grace given to dying Christians. You might have asked yourself before, “Could I endure suffering for Christ in the hour of persecution—or even in the hour of ‘ordinary’ death?” The answer is no; you will not endure--not alone. But we will not be alone. There will be extraordinary grace for the extraordinary trial of death. The Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon us. And when God comes in the hour of our death, He makes the enemy, death, into the servant of His saints.
Notice what Stephen does next!
Read Acts 7:55-57:
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. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.”
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
In human eyes, it might look like Stephen is the victim and not the conqueror in this, but did you hear his words? Stephen is standing in the face of pending death, but instead of worry or fear or brokenness, he seems to be standing above it all in wisdom and might and requests of the Lord that He not hold this sin against his executioners.
This is what it looks like to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As the enemy, death draws near and opens its jaws to consume Stephen, the Holy Spirit in Stephen turns the jaws of death into a window of heaven. And instead of seeing the stomach of hell and the face of Satan, Stephen sees the glory of God. Verse 55: "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."
Do you see how death is stripped of its power here and made the servant of God's servant? When death raises its ugly head and begins to take away from us all the pleasures of this earth and our family and our joys in this life, it opens the window of heaven and reveals the glory of God. When the non-Christian looks into the face of death, there is only loss. But when the Christian looks into the face of death, what he sees is something far greater than anything he once knew in the temporary: Jesus standing to receive us. This is how the Christian proclaims in jubilation, “To die is gain.”
This is what we who are still living must know. We must know what we will know when we look through the window and see the righteous judge before us so that we live this life in the confidence Stephen models for us in his death.
Do you see it? At the very moment of his death, the earthly court was condemning him, but the heavenly court was commending and receiving him.
What we see in Stephen is the essential practice of yielding. He didn’t fight against death because of his clinging to the temporary. He embraced death because of his yielding to God’s sovereign will and timing to enter him into eternity.
Notice another thing that Stephen’s yielding did: It put the gospel testimony on bright display. In his yielding to God by the power of the Holy Spirit…
-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.
In this, we see that the Christian life is not simply an emotional experience. The work of the Holy Spirit creates in us a spiritual and physical life-changing experience as well.
Let me ask you this today: Is your life about you ... about the temporary? Or is it about Jesus and the eternal? When it is about Him, we will pray YIELDING PRAYERS!
Are your prayers only about protection? “Protect my family,” “protect us as we ride.” Or are they prayers whereby you are yielding to God’s perfect will and asking Him to “use you” for His perfect plans and purposes? For His glory!
Now, the Bible says we should still bring our requests to God. I still pray, “Lord, protect my family!” I would be a terrible husband and dad if I didn’t. But my prayer can’t center on them; it must center on God! So, my request must always turn to yielding! Yielding prayers look like this: “God, use our lives for your glory!!!!” NO MATTER WHAT.
DO YOU REALIZE THAT GOD MAY NOT ANSWER YOUR PRAYER FOR PROTECTION?
BUT, “USE MY FAMILY FOR YOUR GLORY!” is a prayer God will answer every time!!!!!
My prayer for us today is that you know a God who loves you! May you know a God who showed you that love through the costly death of His Son! He is a God who upholds your pardon from eternal death by the power of His grace! And, when your heart is captured in Christ, He gives victorious power over death.
And when our minds are clear that death is under our feet like a footstool, and when our hearts’ affections are ultimately satisfied in God and not God’s creation, we will pray yielding prayers. We will stand in pending death and exalt the One who conquered it and reigns forever. We will follow Stephen’s example of joyful submission and yielding to God’s will, even unto death.