"Now when [the Jewish leaders] heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at [Stephen]. 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, 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's sermon and death is a high point of the book of Acts. He is truly one of the greatest believers of all time. Jesus normally sits at the Father's hand, but here he is standing. Stephen's courageous words and his love for his persecutors wins a standing ovation from the Son of Man himself. "Precious in the sight of Yahweh is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15).
Stephen's understanding of history and theology is excellent. He sees a connection between Israel's rejection of Joseph, her rejection of Moses, and her rejection of Jesus. He understands death is not the cessation of existence but the separation of the soul and spirit from the physical body (v. 59). Believers don't die, they fall asleep (v. 60).
Stephen also follows Jesus in the forgiveness of his enemies. Compare Stephen's "Lord do not hold this sin against them" (v. 60) with Jesus' "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Stephen's courageous stand was a huge influence on the apostle Paul, who was there that day (v. 58). When we make a courageous stand as believers, there is no telling what the ripple effects will be.
Father, thank you for Stephen and his courageous speech before the Jewish leaders. Help us to be brave today. May we build up our knowledge of history and theology the way Stephen did. Help us to see how all things fit together and point to Jesus. Thank you that Jesus is interceding for us right now at your right hand. To you be all glory. In Jesus' name, amen.
- Jeff Coleman