In the sixth chapter of Acts, we are introduced to a man who will arrest our attention. He will occupy the center stage in the history of the early church and will be known as the man who preached only one sermon, only one time. In chapter 6, we discover the man’s name, which is identified along with six other men. Verse 5 identifies him as “Stephanos,” or translated, “Stephen”. The Greek word “stephanos” means “crown”.
According to verse 6, the apostles said, “We want to make sure to choose men, . . . of good reputation . . . In other words, “Choose men with a good name.” They were to find individuals who were known for their purity and integrity in the community. So, they sought these men and came up with, among them, this man, named Stephen. The passage goes on to repeat the same phrase about Stephen five different times.
The Courage of Stephen—Verse 9
As a result of this power, Stephen would become the next target of the Sanhedrin. They had been focusing on Peter and John; but now, this new man, “What’s his name? We have never heard of him. Who is he?” “Well, his name is Stephen.” The Sanhedrin would go after him. Since it was filled with Greek Jews, as it were, Stephen, being a Greek Jew, apparently had found his way to this particular synagogue. There, he was declaring the truth of Christ, which started a debate. There were several men from other areas in the synagogue as well. Some were from Cilicia and Asia. It is interesting to consider that one of the men from Cilicia, that will eventually begin persecuting the church, is a man who may have debated Stephen on that day. His name was Saul. Continue to verse 10. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
Let’s consider Stephen’s trial—Verses 11-14
Verses 11 through 14 tell us that is what these men did. They secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” These men are saying that there are two problems. First, they are basically saying that Stephen is teaching something that is different than Judaism, the Mosaic tradition. That is a theological problem. They say, “He’s going to alter our customs. He’s going to change the way we live.”
Continue to verse 15.
And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of a angel.
This is grace under fire. Look back to verse 12a, which says, And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him . . . The Greek verb in this verse, means “to come suddenly and with violence”. Stephen is in the midst of a debate where he is, with great wisdom and composure, declaring the truth, and they burst through the doors of the synagogue and sweep him away. Before he knows it, he is standing before the Sanhedrin. This is without a doubt, the moment of greatest pressure in his life; the most trying time for him. It will end with the signaled verdict, “Guilty! Execute him!” He was taken from the synagogue, tried, and, in a matter of moments, stoned to death. He undoubtedly knew he was in trouble since Peter and John had been here before him. And, in the least, he would get a severe beating, but, . . . his face [shone] like the face of an angel. God did something unusual for him, by the way. We cannot repeat the performance, but it is important to understand what is happening. Stephen was dominated by the Holy Spirit and God did for Stephen’s face the same as He did for Moses’ face. Stephen is accused of blaspheming Moses and he becomes like Moses. It was another sign that he was telling the truth from
Turn in your Bible to chapter 7.
As the mob is stoning Stephen, we see Stephen modeling grace under fire again; modeling the grace of Christ, Himself. Look at verse 59. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Where did he learn that? From the Lord Himself. Continue to verse 60. Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” . . . Where did he learn that? . . . Having said this, he fell asleep. He fell asleep without time to say, “Goodbye,” to anyone; without time to set his affairs in order; without time, one would think, to prepare his heart. Yet, we discover that, at that moment, he was ready. Why? Because in his life, he was dominated, controlled by, and submissive to the Holy Spirit. That produced, in him, that which we should pursue – conviction, wisdom, and grace.
God, and yet, they would not listen.
TWO TAKEAWAYS FROM OUR STUDY.
1. First, when imitating godly biblical characters, do not expect perfection from them or yourself, but instead, look for progress. Remember “God isn’t necessarily looking for perfect Christians, He is looking for progressing Christians.”
2. Secondly, when studying biblical examples, do not try to imitate their performance, but instead, imitate their attitude. We cannot repeat performances in different cultures, ages, and dispensations, but we can imitate and emulate their attitude.