Perhaps it's my upbringing, or the fact that my family lived under persecution for the first nine years of my life, but I've always had a great respect for those who paid the ultimate price for their faith. To give one's life for the cause of Christ is the ultimate in faithfulness and obedience, and throughout history there have been men who have done just that.
His appearance within the pages of Scripture is like a star burst lighting up the night sky. His time among the brethren was short, but when it comes to matters of relevance, substance is always more important than length of time on the scene.
He was not an apostle. By what the Word of God shares we can conclude that Stephen, the man we will be discussing today, was a Hellenist, a Jew scattered among the Greeks, as were the other six that were chosen by the leadership of the church to oversee the daily distribution of charity and benevolence.
Some students of the word believe that Stephen became a disciple of Christ upon hearing Peter's stirring oratory on the day of Pentecost. Since the Bible does not claim this however, I cannot pronounce myself on the matter. What is known of Stephen is that he was a man of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
Due to his knowledge of the Old Testament, it would seem that Stephen had been a faithful Jew before becoming a disciple of Christ. It would also seem that he was good with words, spoke with conviction, and the people were drawn to the messages he preached fearlessly and passionately.
Such was the power that Stephen possessed so persuasive were his words, that those who disputed with him could not resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. The opposition against Stephen in the synagogues grew, and since his adversaries could not refute his teaching, for it was the word of the living God, they secretly induced men to say they had heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.
Those who cling to darkness will always fight against the light, and they fight dirty. Since they could not debate Stephen openly, they plotted and stirred men against him secretly.
Knowing that your only desire is to awaken people to truth makes violent opposition all the more heartbreaking. It hurts to see that by their ignorance men conspire against themselves daily. If not for the knowledge that the word will have the final say, that it will overcome the darkness of this present age, discouragement would be an easy snare to fall into.
Stephen was beyond feeling such emotion. He was the vessel that held God's holy fire, and it burned those around him when it spilled over the edge. His words burned deep within, and those who heard him were cut to the heart. They could not allow this to continue. When all else fails, heap on more accusations, perhaps something will stick. Now they began accusing Stephen of speaking blasphemous words against the synagogue, the holy place.
There is an old saying, but a true saying, that it is pointless to have suspenders when you have no pants. They holy place of which they spoke was useless to them, because they were living in sin. Their anger against Stephen blinded them to the fact that in order to silence him, they had broken one of the commandments, 'thou shall not bear false witness.'
When men attempt to defend truth with a lie, it is no longer truth, no longer worth defending.
Truth and pure intentions were hurting and undercutting the bottom line. The issue of Stephen's detractors, in point of fact, was not him, but the Christ of which he spoke, and the offerings they were losing out on.
Finally their efforts were rewarded with Stephen being brought before the council, to answer for his imagined and contrived crimes. There he stood, and all in the council, without exception, looked upon this man who was being vilified by his accusers, made to look like some draconian apparition, and all they saw was his face, as the face of an angel. All saw the truth of who Stephen was. There could be no doubt.
It is a beautiful thing to shine in the midst of the congregation of believers, but it is a miracle to shine in the midst of the beasts, to have your enemies and adversaries see the light of God shine upon your countenance. In that moment, Jesus identified with Stephan, because Stephan identified with Jesus.
Although the council had seen Stephen's countenance, although they all agreed his face was as the face of an angel, they were not affected, or deterred from their objective. Self interest, and earthly wants harden the hearts of men to such an extent, that they would readily trample upon the most profound of truth, and deny the most powerful of realities.
What follows after the inquisitor asks Stephen to respond to the accusations is the longest oration in the Bible, uttered by one of Christ's followers. A speech rooted in Scripture, spoken with conviction, not in custom or upon the traditions of men.
The oration is such that dissecting it would be a book in and of itself, and so I will reserve the study of Stephen's words for another date. His words were not conciliatory. Stephen was not attempting to appease the men before whom he was standing; he was attempting to preach the truth to them. Without regard for his safety, he concluded his inspired speech by calling the assembled crowd stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in the heart and ears, accusing them of resisting the Holy Spirit as their fathers had done. Needless to say his words stirred the crowd, in that they gnashed at him with their teeth.
Unfazed, unconcerned with the growing anger of the crowd around him, Stephen being full of the Holy Spirit gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
In order to gaze into heaven, one must be infused with the Holy Spirit here on earth. This is the condition that must be met before mere mortals can gaze into the eternal, to behold the glory, to see what eyes of flesh cannot. When our gaze is fixed upon the heavens, we are no longer affected by what happens on earth.
The earth may shake around you, the fury of the godless may rage against you, remain calm and gaze into heaven. When you gaze beyond the shroud of this present life, when you see beyond the present, into God's eternity, peace surrounds you, joy covers you, and Christ embraces you.
A Greek philosopher once said, 'only when a man is able to ignore death, can he act freely.' Stephen was beyond fear, for him, as for Paul, to live was Christ, and to die was gain.
Tomorrow with God's help, we continue to remember Stephen, the man who gazed upon the glory, to see what more can be gleaned from this humbling servant.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.