Summary: A vivid picture of martyrdom which should encourage the believer to stand fast when facing persecution.
Finally, we come to scene 3 in our study of Stephen. Last time we heard a powerful, spirit-filled message from Stephen. He reviewed several of the OT stories and used the examples of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses to lead up to the point of accusing the members of the Sanhedrin of making the same mistakes as had previously occurred and were written in history—a history that these leaders were well aware of.
Tonight we have a vivid picture of martyrdom which should encourage the believer to stand fast when facing persecution. Let’s get into the message.
READ v. 54. Now remember that Stephen was on trial. He had been called upon to defend himself. Instead of actually defending himself he preached about the tragic failure of the people to obey God.
He had shown how God called and founded the nation of Israel to seek and inhabit the Promised Land. He showed how Israel had rejected God’s call time and time again. He showed how God delivered the nation time and again trying to stir within the people an obedience to Him. He ended his sermon with 8 charges against the nation including the murder of God’s own Son.
His message was definitely convincing and convicting. Both the leaders and the people were convicted. Conviction goes two ways. It can either cause a person to turn to God and confessing his sins, or cause a person to react against God. There are three things about the Jewish court and the people present that I want to note:
1. It says, “When they heard this.” This is present tense. They were convicted while Stephen was preaching. God was giving them another chance.
2. It says, “They were furious.” The Greek word used here for “furious” means they showed a violent reaction. They had no intention of confessing that they had been wrong.
3. The word “gnashed” means to bite, to grind the teeth just like a pack of snarling dogs. The people were in a rage, filled with anger and malice, ready to do violence, ready to unleash the fury of their emotions.
And when you think about it, when the human heart rebels against God, it becomes tormented. Rebellion against God causes the human heart to be insecure and troubled.
Also note how faithful Stephen was. It wasn’t his purpose to escape condemnation. He didn’t’ WANT to die. But he was not willing to deny the truth in order to live. He just wanted to proclaim the truth, hoping the leaders and people of his nation would heed the call of God and be saved.
READ 55-56. There was the Lord’s deliverance. God is always present when one of His children is facing a crisis, especially martyrdom. But the person MUST be a child of God. Stephen was. He was doing exactly what Jesus had said to do, bearing testimony to the world. So Stephen had Jesus’ promise when he told them, “I will be with you always.” Jesus was there with Stephen.
God filled Stephen with the HS. Stephen was always filled with the HS. He received a very special presence of the Spirit. He was being given the power and grace to bear and go through whatever lay ahead. God gave Stephen a vision into heaven; enabling him to see into the other world, the spiritual world, or spiritual dimension of being.
I truly think that God still does that today. How many stories have I heard and witnessed, just as you have, about how someone opened their eyes, or sat up from their death bed and were looking at something just before they passed.
Stephen saw the glory of God. HE saw God in the brilliant light of his person, full of splendor and radiance. Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Jesus is usually said to be sitting at the right hand of God, symbolizing His authority as man’s Lord and Intercessor. But here He was standing. I think this symbolizes His overlooking the scene, His care for His dear follower, and the joyful reception of His faithful servant.
Imagine what Stephen saw. And I think there will be no difference between the vision of Stephen and the actual experience of God’s glory for any believer. We will all behold every sight in Stephen’s vision and much more. In the twinkling of an eye, the genuine believer will pass from this life into the next world immediately, never tasting or experiencing death.
In doing this, God gave Stephen a glorious testimony. Seeing such a scene, Stephen just burst forth proclaiming the glorious vision he was experiencing. It was most likely a natural outburst of joy and ecstasy, a testimony of the truth of the other world to those standing around. But note, Jesus is there. He is at the right hand of God. Stephen proclaimed exactly what he was seeing. This tells me that our faith in Jesus is not in vain. Jesus is exactly where He said He would be.