What will be Jesus’ response to the life I have lived?
This thought has crossed my mind more than a couple of times as I have come to understand God’s purpose for my life in the beautifully constant refinement of sanctification. The pages of Scripture are filled with powerful examples of ordinary people through whom God chose to do extraordinary things. What we are not always privy to are the intimate moments of relationship between these people and God as they are ushered into heaven. Tucked into chapter 7 of Acts, we see one of these blessed moments between Stephen and his Creator.
The beginning chapters of Acts reveal the establishment and growth of the early church following Pentecost. There is a palpable air of excitement as you read through the pages depicting signs and wonders being performed, the development of the fellowship of believers, the boldness of disciples before council and community, and the arrest and subsequent freedom of the apostles. It is evident within these chapters that God is using His people to firmly root the church, despite certain persecution. Stephen, described as “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8, ESV), was among those chosen to serve at this time. He soon became a target for many of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, some even conspiring against him by fabricating rumors that he had spoken blasphemy against Moses, God, the law, and the holy place.
But Stephen isn’t shaken. In fact, Scripture tells us that those against him “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10, ESV). Even upon his arrest, Stephen stands firm in his calling and in his faith. During trial, the high priest confronts Stephen about these rumors, demanding an explanation. While most of us may edge towards defensiveness, justice, or self-preservation at this particular moment, notice what Stephen does…
He tells of God’s faithfulness.
From the initiation of the Abrahamic covenant all the way through the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant, Stephen recants a detailed account of God’s faithfulness to His people. Stephen’s words were not focused on his own freedom; they were focused on the freedom of the souls of the council who could forever be changed by the gospel.
Stephen didn’t mince words at the end of his speech, calling the council a “stiff-necked people” (Acts 7:51, ESV) who resisted the Holy Spirit and did not keep the law. This call to accountability was enough to confirm the council’s decision to get rid of Stephen, for good. Here, just moments before his own death, we see the most profound moment of his life. Read along closely with me: “But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed 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, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56, ESV).
Did you catch it?
It is even written twice, so we don’t miss it: Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
This passage in Acts records one of the only times in Scripture where Jesus is represented as standing, not sitting, at the right hand of the Father. We won’t know this side of heaven what the intentions of Jesus were in this moment – perhaps to recognize Stephen’s faithfulness, or to personally usher him into heaven. But what we know is this: Stephen exemplified a faith worth standing for.
Stephen’s profound faith is demonstrated further as you follow his story to its end. While he was cast out of the city to be stoned, see that he responded with an urgent request for those very same ones throwing the stones that would kill him, “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:60, ESV).
Final recognition of Stephen’s great life of faith is given after his death, as “devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2, ESV). Not only did Stephen’s faith give witness during his life, but also after his homecoming into heaven.
I pray that my faith would be strong enough to withstand questioning, confident enough to share God’s goodness in the midst of the trials, and expectant enough to plead for the souls of the lost to my very last second. Stephanos, from which Stephen’s name is derived, means “crown.” We know that his life of faith and his righteous suffering rightly earned him the crown of life in heaven.
What are we doing today that might bring Jesus to His feet?