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.
Monday, December 10, 2007
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Good teaching Michael.
Don't you think that Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, knew what he was to suffer? I think that God asked, and he consented, because with every trial we have a way of escape. Stephen chose the death of a martyr trading it for a better resurrection. His words had to have been directed by the Holy Spirit, because it is exactly what God said He would do (not to think on what to say). By not including all the relevant spiritual Truth one might think that one-day as we (those who hear) walk down the road of life, things will haphazardly overtake us, catch us unaware. If we are God's friends, what would he do in all the earth that He wouldn't tell us? God would never put more on us than we are able to bear.
When Paul said that he was going to Jerusalem a prophet said, they will bind you like this. Paul's reply indicated that he knew. As God saw that your grandfather knew what was to come, because he was full of the Holy Spirit, so are they both examples of who and what God is to us. Some are formed or authored to become martyrs, but not all. God wants most to live for Him so He can show Himself strong in all the earth. There by setting a table in the presence of His and our enemies. Being prepared for what is to come requires ears to hear these very things. Obedience is better than sacrifice.
The difference between hearing the Holy Spirit and not hearing is the difference of knowing God personally (as you do Michael) and not knowing like those who the beast will prevail against. Choice is only given to those who can hear because those who cannot will be victim to come what may.
Being filled with the oil, that our lamp of truth can light the way to the wedding feast, depends wholly on ears to hear. For every season there is a purpose. The voice of a prophet is the voice that says prepare, make straight the path. God spoke of these days in many places in the bible, all are true and coming to pass (before our very eyes). The question is where do you find yourself? The side of death? The majority of the world goes there. The side deliverance by hearing what the Holy Spirit was to say? Buy gold of God now. Be filled with the Holy Spirit now. How can you tell the difference? When you can hear the Holy Spirit you know, big difference!
And may the lord prepare us for the pursecution that's coming to AMerica. May we live in the secret place of the most hight, so we can abide under the shadow of the "Almighty".
May we not love our lives, even unto death. May we live in Gods realm and reject this realm we can "reality" however, let us live in Gods reality and leave this reality...
Oh praise you Jesus! even so lord, come!!!
I have always been blessed by Stephen's testimony, although it always hurts to see a man who loves truth be trampled upon by haughty, self serving men.
I thank God that He has those set apart unto Him who do not look at the face of men, and fear, but rather speak the truth of God in love (in love of God, he loved Him so much that it didn't matter what others thought of what he had to say).
I pray we all have a heart that desires to do the will of God, everyday, and that we would always be ready to answer every man according to the Spirit of Truth.
I remember hearing Pator Samuel Lamb (Chinese underground church) on a video some years ago talking about their suffering, and often, martyrdom, there. He said that they came to a place where they had learned to love and embrace the Cross, and were able to endure unto death with such love.
Thank you for this beautiful word on Stephen. I reread the chapter in Acts again and saw Stephen as you described.
May the Lord be with you as you get everything prepared to go to Romania.
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