Hall of Faith: Stephen, Full of Faith until the End

 

When reading the Hall of Faith, one of those listed as those that “were stoned”.

Stephen perfectly fits this bill.

But, who was Stephen?

Acts 6, sets the scene by stating the disciples decided to call seven men “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” {Acts 6:3}

“And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith

Stephen preached the word

and of the Holy Ghost” {Acts 6:5} and “ And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” {Acts 6:8}

This is our first introduction to Stephen. From this we can discern a few things:

  • He was honest
  • He was full of faith
  • He was full of the Holy Ghost
  • He had wisdom
  • He performed miracles and great wonders

We soon learn there is a problem. Acts 6:9 says, “Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.”

Stephen angered the church leaders

So, these leaders clearly did not like the fact that they could not shut Stephen up. He would not go away, but continued to be bold and speak out in his faith and beliefs.

The scriptures goes on to explain that those in the synagogue began to stir up the people and find false witnesses against Stephen. {Acts 6:11-14}

Acts 6:15 says, that during the trial “ And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.”

“His face was radiant, either with his own divinely inspired peace and joy, or shining with a supernatural splendor. I incline to the first view, for had the latter been the case it would have awed the Sanhedrim, and probably suspended their proceedings.” {Johnson’s Notes on the New Testament}

He spoke fearlessly to the charges

Sitting on that council would have been Saul of Tarsus {who would later become Paul, the apostle.}

Acts 7 is a long speech that Stephen gave to the Sanhedrim’s on the council. In it he “Stephen presents his view of the history of Israel. The God of glory, he says, appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, thus establishing at the beginning of the speech one of its major themes, that God does not dwell only in one particular building (meaning the Temple). Stephen recounts the stories of the patriarchs in some depth, and goes into even more detail in the case of Moses. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and inspired Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. Nevertheless, the Israelites turned to other gods. This establishes the second main theme of Stephen’s speech, Israel’s disobedience to God. Stephen faced two accusations: that he had declared that Jesus would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and that he had changed the customs of Moses. The Roman Catholic Church states that St. Stephen appealed to the Jewish scriptures to prove how the laws of Moses were not subverted by Jesus but, instead, were being fulfilled. He denounces his listeners. as “stiff-necked”

Stephen was sentenced to death

people who, just as their ancestors had done, resist the Holy Spirit. “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him.” {summary from David J. Williams (1989), Acts (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series)}

The church officials clearly did not like what Stephen had to say. Acts 7:54 picks up the narrative.

54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

Stephen was stoned to death

“Stephen was going on, it seems, to show that the temple and the temple service must come to an end, and it would be the glory of both to give way to the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth; but he perceived they would not bear it. Therefore he broke off, and by the Spirit of wisdom, courage, and power, sharply rebuked his “ persecutors.” {Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary.}

56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

“When plain arguments and truths provoke the opposers of the gospel, they should be

Even in death Stephen kept his eyes on heaven

shown their guilt and danger. They, like their fathers, were stubborn and wilful. There is that in our sinful hearts, which always resists the Holy Ghost, a flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and wars against his motions; but in the hearts of God’s elect, when the fulness of time comes, this resistance is overcome.” {Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary.}

58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

“Nothing is so comfortable to dying saints, or so encouraging to suffering saints, as to see Jesus at the right hand of God: blessed be God, by faith we may see him there. Stephen

Stephen fell asleep in the Lord

offered up two short prayers in his dying moments. Our Lord Jesus is God, to whom we are to seek, and in whom we are to trust and comfort ourselves, living and dying. And if this has been our care while we live, it will be our comfort when we die. Here is a prayer for his persecutors.” {Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary.}

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Notice that Stephen is referred to as falling asleep in the Lord.

Acts 8:2 says, “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.” However, the exact location is not mentioned in scripture.

So, what can we learn from Stephen?

  1. He was full of the Holy Spirit
  2. He spoke out regardless of who he offended
  3. He remained faithful even to his last moments
  4. He was willing to die for his beliefs
  5. He called on God in his final moments

 

We live in a time when it is difficult to live our faith, but the first century Christians had it much more difficult than we do.

If our times were to turn into those of the first century, would those of us who profess our faith in Jesus be able to stand strong, be full of the Holy Spirit and remain faithful to the end the way Stephen did?

Do you have the faith of Stephen?

 

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