Stephen was a man who enjoyed extraordinary intimacy with God! He encountered Jesus!
He was a man of “good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3, CSB), chosen as one of the first seven deacons in the fledgling Church in Jerusalem. God blessed his ministry, “so the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number” (Acts 6:7, CSB).
Stephen served in the church as a deacon, but he was also an evangelist who ministered publicly. “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8, CSB). Those that opposed him “were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking” (Acts 6:10, CSB).
Stephen was a star!
But the enemy is real, and opposition to Stephen’s faithful service was severe. The hyper-religious big-wigs “secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:11-13. CSB). Much like Jesus, Stephen was falsely accused and brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court... an evil kangaroo court.
Luke, the historian, adds an interesting detail as he describes the court proceedings. “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15, CSB).
The seventh chapter of Acts records Stephen’s defense before the court. In actuality, Stephen expertly summarized the Bible from Genesis through the life of Jesus. He concludes his remarks by boldly declaring that his accusers and judges were “stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51, CSB). “When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him ... They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him (Acts 7:54-58, CSB).
That’s when Stephen has an epic encounter with Jesus!
“Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He said, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ ... While they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ And after saying this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:55-60).
This is the only time we see the glorified Jesus standing by Heaven’s throne! Jesus, the Son of God, the Almighty, stood in honor of His faithful servant, the New Testament’s first martyr, Stephen.
Written in red: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:10–12, CSB).
Folks, there may come a day when we stand trial. Don’t fear... encounter Jesus!
South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor