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Stephen

 

        Stephen slumped to the floor of the stoning scaffold as blood and forgiveness poured from his lips. Nearby, a young man watched, unaware of the day’s monumental significance . . . unaware that this death would bring life to worldwide evangelism.

    Two decades later, the young man who had watched and supported the unlawful execution of Stephen was known as the apostle Paul. In writing his second letter to the Corinthian church, perhaps Paul recounted the visage of Stephen covering himself beneath a hail of rocks. Perhaps he remembered that Stephen, with the face of an angel throughout the day, had endured persecution and entered blissful eternity with a Christlikeness to which even Paul aspired. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote this:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

    Paul knew Christlikeness when he saw it, and the memory of Stephen no doubt lingered with Paul his entire life. He had seen Christ on the road to Damascus, and he’d seen Stephen, a man who had been transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Holy Spirit.

    "He never forgot the event (Acts 22:17-21)," writes Warren Wiersbe, "and no doubt Stephen’s message, prayers, and glorious death were used of the Spirit to prepare Saul for his own meeting with the Lord (Acts 9). God never wastes the blood of His saints."

    The account of Stephen’s vibrant Christian life is recorded in Acts 6-7. He is named one of seven church leaders under the apostles, boldly stands before the Sanhedrin to trace God’s plan leading to Christ, and then suffers death by stoning for his "blasphemy" against Moses and the temple. Interestingly, Luke, the author of Acts, was Paul’s traveling companion and no doubt recorded the life and death of Stephen from the eyewitness whom Stephen knew only as Saul.

    Luke relays a characterization we all should seek to follow. It is one of uncanny resemblance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

    First, they brought Stephen before the Sanhedrin on false charges and secretly induced men to lie against him. Next, Stephen’s own people conspired to stir the masses, the elders, and the scribes against him. Ultimately, they listened to his testimony, and, outside the parameters of their own law, they executed him.

    Sound familiar?

    The similarities do not end there, however. Stephen most reveals the heartbeat of his Christlike qualities when most under duress. As the stones pelted him, he recalled the words of his dying Savior, and then repeated them. "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" was Stephen’s first cry. And then, as death inched closer with every blow, he prayed aloud, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Could there ever be a more sincere and holy tribute to Christ? No wonder the Lord stood to receive the saint into His kingdom!

    "It is probably going too far to say that Luke meant Stephen’s execution to be a reenactment of the first great martyrdom, that of Jesus, as many commentators have proposed," writes Richard N. Longenecker. "Certainly, however, the parallelism here is not just inadvertent; and it was probably included to show that the same spirit of commitment and forgiveness that characterized Jesus’ life and death was true of his earliest followers."

    Shouldn’t it also be true of today’s followers? Most believers today do not face the specter of death for sharing their belief, yet all too often we are stone quiet. How can we become as mighty in spirit as Stephen?

Study: Based on his delivery of one of the longest monologues in the Bible, it is clear Stephen knew Scripture. His wasn’t just a cursory knowledge of God’s Word but a detailed, ready-when-needed committal to memory.

Boldness: Notice Stephen’s response in Acts 7:2. The high priest had essentially asked, "How do you plead?" Though he knew the charges against him were manufactured, Stephen didn’t address them. He answered with a 52-verse testimony that proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord. This also spills over into trust and obedience. Stephen showed that Christ fulfills His promise to direct our speech under persecution, and Stephen’s obedience led to a world-changing event. His death was the inception of the persecution that spread the Church throughout the world.

Forgiveness: "The stones broke Stephen’s head but not his heart. Grace was his to forgive his murderers," writes Herbert Lockyer. The beauty of Stephen’s final words can never be overstated. They most eloquently summarize the heart of the true Christian. They testify of the Lord living inside him. They speak of ultimate love. They substantiate the ultimate witness.

    They grab the attention of some who is nearby . . . watching.