Acts 6:5 -8:2
Stephen, by his life and death, is a most wonderful testimony of faith and grace.
Stephen was chosen, along with six others, to minister to daily needs of others so that the apostles could continue their work of prayer and ministry of the Word. The men desired for this job were to be “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), and Stephen is said to be “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.” Stephen may have been chosen to minister to the needs of others, but Acts 6:8 tells us that he “full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people“. But there arose V9-11 “certain of the synagogue….and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke.” And they “suborned (bribed) men to say “we have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” They stirred up the people and Stephen was caught and taken to the council. Then V12-14 These men set up false witnesses to say that Stephen spoke blasphemous words against the synagogue and the law.
The Lord Jesus spoke of a time when his disciples would be taken and persecuted, and we are not to even think beforehand what we will say, his promise was as surely for us as it was for Stephen “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.” (Luke 21:15)
But when Stephen was before the council “all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15) Surely it must have shone with that inner beauty and glow of peace and joy of one who is so devoted to the Lord Jesus that His light is seen by others. Have you ever seen such a one? I have seen many elderly saints whose faces shone with that inner peace and beauty. What an example this should be to us, and cause us to examine our own lives to see how devoted we are to the Lord Jesus so that others see that light in us.
And so the high priest asked Stephen if he indeed had blasphemed, and Stephen, led by the Spirit, expounded the scriptures with boldness and authority. He preached in great detail, from Abraham to Solomon, including how the prophets were persecuted for proclaiming the coming of the Lord Jesus, “that Holy One”, and Stephen told the council that it was they who betrayed and murdered the Lord Jesus, and that it was they who received the law, but did not keep it. V48-51 “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? 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 showed before of the coming of the Just One: of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers…”
This was too much for these very proud men, and they were V54″cut to their heart” no doubt with conviction that what Stephen has just told them was the truth. The word of God says “they gnashed on him with their teeth” Websters 1828 dictionary says that “gnashing” means a grinding of the teeth in anger. “But he, 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.” (Acts 7:55) Colossians 3:1 tells us that “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”. Stephen, during this time of persecution, is given a vision of the Lord Jesus standing which surely must have strengthened him and comforted him. V55 “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:2 “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
When Stephen relates this vision to those in the council, they are driven to such great anger that they plug their ears, and cry out with a loud voice, and take him out of the city, where Stephen becomes the first martyr of the New Testament that we read about. Stephen first of all was “calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” and then “he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” And then Stephen “fell asleep“. Absent from the body and present with the Lord.
Acts 8:2 tells us that “devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.” Noah Websters 1828 dictionary defines lamentation as “expression of sorrow, cries of grief; the act of bewailing.” How loved he must have been.
The story of Stephen is that of man of great faith who stood for his faith in the face of persecution. The question should be for all Christians, if and when you face persecution, whether it be from family, so-called friends, or Government, will you stand?