Bible Reading: Acts 6:8 - 7:60
“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 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. 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. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 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”. (Acts 7:54-60)
Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, full of grace and power, and the Spirit led him to die for the gospel. Stephen gladly obeyed. Will we do the same?
The Spirit led Stephen to preach God’s Word in the synagogue of the Freedmen, the gathering of diaspora Jews who spoke in the Greek language. What was the message that the Spirit led Stephen to preach? It was the gospel of Christ, the message of the one and only Saviour who had died to save sins.
Standing before the high priest, the Spirit led Stephen to preach a sharp and striking message to the Jews. Stephen never compromised the truth and made Christ’s truth plain in the ears of his listeners. Stephen addressed the main issue inside the Jews, that they were, in fact, not obediently waiting for the Messiah. Instead, they were persecuting the prophets and the messengers of truth, including Christ the Righteous One Himself, so that they could be in power and control all things. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen did not waver, nor did he compromise. Instead, he accused them plainly of their sin so that there would be no excuse. Once the Word has been preached, there are only two options, to repent or reject. All are responsible before the Lord’s judgement seat.
The Jewish leaders rejected in a fury, dragging Stephen out of the city to be stoned. But filled with the Spirit, Stephen’s heart was unmoved. More than that, Stephen’s heart was filled with joy, for his heart’s greatest desire appeared before his eyes, the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen’s heart leapt for his Master, Lord, Saviour, Rock, Refuge, Love, Joy, and Life was standing there waiting for him. Standing in respect, Stephen’s Master gently called, “well done, good and faithful servant, your crown of glory is awaiting”.
Stephen’s greatest treasure was awaiting him in full. Union with Christ, his greatest desire, was to be revealed in its fullness. Death is sweet when it is the gateway to one’s eternal joy and longing. Filled with the Holy Spirit, this was Stephen’s heart. What is in our hearts? Is Christ the treasure of our souls? He ought to be, for He is the only eternal One.
As stones brought Stephen to his knees, filled with the Holy Spirit, he let out one final cry, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. In his last moment, Stephen died, reflecting Christ’s death. Christ’s mercy for sinners as He cried, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) radiates in Stephen’s words which showed Christ love as he followed in Christ’s footsteps to love his enemies. And so, living or dying, Stephen’s life, full of the Holy Spirit, glorified God in speech and deed.
When will God shape men of such faith amongst us? Will God have mercy to give us the privilege to live as Stephen lived — full with the Holy Spirit? Will we get a chance to proclaim the truth of Christ boldly, to die for the gospel? All is in God’s hands, and He will make things beautiful in His time. For what we know, may we prepare our hearts to answer, “yes, Lord, I am willing” when His time is right.
Lord, show us more of Your glory that You may become the greatest treasure of our hearts. Fix our eyes towards eternity and pull our eyes away from the frenzy of this world. Subdue our hearts to joyful obedience and make us men and women of faith. Lord, faith means sacrifice to bear to cross. It means death to our old self. O let us die that we may live in You. Mould our hearts and use our lives, we ask for Your mercy in Jesus’ name, amen.