EXPERIENCING GOD in the MIDST of our PROBLEMS: When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-56, 59-60)
Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church died the “death of the righteous” (Num. 23:10b). To die the death of the righteous, he first had to live the life of the righteous. Stephen came to the limelight when he got selected as one of the seven men to serve in the daily food distribution, and was described as a man “full of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:3, 5), “full of faith” (6:5, 8), “full of power” (6:8), and one who “did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). His lifestyle was so profound that the people “were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (6:10), and he was presented before the Sanhedrin being falsely accused for having spoken “blasphemous words against Moses and God” (6:11).
However, Stephen responded by giving one of the most profound sermons ever recorded in the Bible through the power of the Holy Spirit (7:2-53). He did not mince his words as he accused the high priests, elders and the scribes of resisting the Holy Spirit (v. 51), persecuting the prophets (v. 52) and even killing Jesus through betrayal (v. 52). As soon as Stephen bore public testimony to seeing the heavens opened, the mob refused to listen to him further; they cried fiercely, charged upon him, dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.
The name Stephen means “a crown,” and he won the crown of life because he was faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10). Stephen prayed two times during his death in a manner very similar to our Lord Jesus Christ:
- Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (v. 59). Jesus had prayed, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
- Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (v. 60). Jesus had prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
What this suggests to us is that Stephen had been “transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). When the men of Israel were at their worst, Stephen was at his best. He interceded to the Lord God of heaven for those who persecuted him. Even in death his concern was for their eternal life. Stephen is a good model for us of someone who experienced God in the midst of his problems. Let us also seek God like Stephen, and be heavenly minded in the midst of our earthly troubles!
"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." (Col 3:1-2)