And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.
Have you ever read the story of Steven? I must admit that, though I knew he was the first martyr of the early church, until recently, if you had asked me to tell you about him, that would have been about all I could share. The other night I was reading Acts 6-7 (which I highly recommend reading if you’re looking for a powerful Bible passage) and the story of this incredible man jumped out at me.
It begins in chapter 6. The Jews were quarreling over what should be done for the widows of the church with no one to care for them. The twelve apostles felt that their responsibility was to prayer and the “ministry of the word”, so they instructed the congregation to select seven men of good reputation to care for the people. The first man mentioned is Stephen, who was described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” The church was spreading, with numbers greatly increasing, and we find that “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” As most stories go, when someone is doing good things for others and found without blame, the evil people around him tried to concoct stories to discredit him. They brought him before the Council and said that he was speaking words against Moses, the holy place, the Law, and God.
I don’t know about you but, when I am accused of something I have not done, my initial response is anger and bitterness follows closely behind. Not Stephen! We are told, “all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.” When the high priest asked him for a response to these allegations, he recited the long history the rejection of God by His people, starting with the father of the Israeli people, Abraham, and ending with Solomon building the temple (in which they thought God could be found), stating that every prophet sent to them was rejected and persecuted. He retorts by calling them “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart and ears” and states that they have been resisting the Holy Spirit and living as pagans, just as their fathers did.
Upon hearing these incisive accusations, they began to writhe with anger. Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, “gazed intently 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 up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'” This was more than the Council could withstand and they rushed at him and stoned him. All the while, Stephen was calling on the Lord saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” And then “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” What an incredible man! In the face of persecution, Stephen prayed for his aggressors. If only there were more Stephens in the church: those whose reputation is worthy of recognition, those who boldly defend their faith in the face of accusations, and those who look to the glory of God in the midst of persecution and death.