“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God ” (Acts 7:56).
One of my favorite passages in all scripture is the story of Stephen in Acts, chapter 7. I want to be like Stephen. I pray that God would grow me into a disciple like Stephen. He was ” a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost ” (Acts 6:5). Stephen was chosen to be a disciple in Acts 6:5 after the disciples had given themselves ” continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word ” (Acts 6:4). He was, therefore, chosen by God to be His servant. What is so amazing about Stephen is that we meet him when he is chosen to be a disciple and the very next thing that we hear about him is ” And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people ” (Acts 6:8). Just think about this for a minute. He was ” full of faith and power “. Stephen could say, as Paul wrote, ” Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power ” (Ephesians 3:7). Stephen could have written Ephesians 3:20, ” Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us “. Because Stephen was so full of faith and power, he could do great wonders and miracles. Oh, to have such faith and to be so filled with God’s power. It’s available to all of us, but Stephen understood and God used Him mightily for it.
In Acts 6:9, we hear that some men in the synagogue began disputing with Stephen and lying saying, ” We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God ” (Acts 6:10). They stirred up the people and brought him before the council for questioning. And here is where I really like Stephen . as he begins to defend himself and the God he loved and served, his face began to shine like an angel. ” And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel ” (Acts 6:15). Oh to be close enough to God that my face would shine! Imagine being so close to Him that you are truly a reflection of His glory! Now this is something to aspire to!
Then as Stephen begins to speak, we hear why he is so close to God – he’s spent significant time in His word. For Stephen begins to speak and recounts a huge portion of the history of the Jewish people back to the council. Will you humor me and read his account?
” And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem. But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months: And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons. And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground. I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt. This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David; Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built him an house. Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:2-50).
Wow! This was a man who understood II Timothy 2:15 before it was written, ” Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth “. Stephen had studied God’s word, was chosen and approved of by God to be His servant, and he walked straight into that synagogue ready to defend His God. He told the council the truth of God’s word and then used it to convict them, ” Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it .” (Acts 7:51-53). Ouch! And yet all he did was ask them to apply God’s word to their lives, right? I so admire Stephen. He studied, he prayed, he understood, and he used God’s word to show people what was right. He convicted them to the core!
” When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth ” (Acts 7:54). God’s word cut the hearts of the council to the core and they took it out on Stephen. They began to attack him, but Stephen, ” being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God ” (Acts 7:55). He saw Jesus, my friends. He was so close to God, knew Him so well, that in the midst of the attack, he looked up to heaven and saw Jesus. And look at this . even in the midst of being attacked he still told people about Christ. He didn’t see Jesus and just take comfort in it. He saw Jesus and told them that he could see Him!
What happened next? ” Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep ” (Acts 7:57-60). My friend Stephen was stoned. But in the midst of His stoning, he called upon God asking Him to receive his spirit and he asked God not to lay this sin upon them. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being able to ask God not to punish the people that are in the process of stoning you? Stephen was a man so close to God and so full of the Holy Spirit that he could see into the hearts of others – seeing them not as his murderers, but as sinners in need of a Saviour. Oh, to be like Stephen! And the Lord rewarded Stephen in that he had him fall asleep so that he didn’t feel any pain during his stoning. I don’t know if at that moment Stephen could have felt any pain at all. He had just seen Jesus and he knew that at any moment, he would be in His loving arms.
Can you imagine what it could have been like to watch this scene? How amazing to watch this man, to see him shining like an angel, to see his face when he saw Jesus and then to see him stoned to death for his beliefs. An amazing thing is seen in Acts 7:58. Who is there watching Stephen be stoned? Saul, who would later become Paul. Saul was in the midst of his great persecutions. We read in Acts 8:1,3 ” And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison “. Saul saw Stephen stoned and though He was persecuting the church to the greatest degree, I’m sure that he never forgot this scene. How could he? And let’s talk about a divine appointment. I’m certain that God placed Saul there at that very moment that even if he refused to admit it, he could see that amazing contrast between his “perfect” Jewish life and a life truly lived for God.
Friends, what can we take here from our look at the life of Stephen?
- We are called to a life full of faith – Hebrews 11:1 – ” Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen “. II Corinthians 5:7 – ” For we walk by faith, not by sight “. Mark 9:23 – ” Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth “. Matthew 21:22 – ” And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive “. Faith is the key that unlocks Heaven’s door. It is through our faith, that we gain salvation through Jesus Christ. Faith both start us on our journey with Jesus Christ, and powers us through our days. It is necessary to live a life like that of Stephen.
- We are called to a life full of power – Matthew 28:18 – ” And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth “. John 15:7 – ” If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you “. We are given the power of God through the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. We can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13) because of the strength He lavishly bestows upon us when we ask. Stephen worked through God’s power in all that he did.
- We are called to know God’s Word – II Timothy 2:15 – ” Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth “. Matthew 4:4 – ” But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God “. II Timothy 3:16-17 ” All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works “. We cannot speak for God if we don’t know His word. His word has so many purposes in our lives. It feeds our souls; we share it with others; we use it to praise God; we come to it when we are in distress. God’s word shows us who God is and without it we will never know Him. Stephen knew God’s word. He had it memorized, he had spent time in it, and he was comfortable sharing it with others.
- We are called to a close personal walk with Christ – John 10:14 – ” I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine “. II Timothy 2:19 – ” Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His “. John 10:27-29 – ” My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand “. Jesus Christ wants a personal relationship with us. He doesn’t want to be kept at arms length. He doesn’t want to just spend time with you on Sunday mornings. He doesn’t want to hear from you every once in a while. Christ loves us. He wants to be close to us. He wants us to come to Him throughout the day. He so loved us that He died on the cross that we might have eternal life with Him. He made a way. Come close to Jesus. He is knocking and calling. He wants to be your Saviour and your friend.
The life of Stephen gives us a perfect example of a life lived for Christ and a close walk with Him. Take time to ponder Stephen’s life and compare it to yours. Remember, God is no respecter of persons and if Stephen could be so close to Christ, we can be just as close. Strive to live close to Christ that you might one day see Him as Stephen did.