As we come in today’s passage to the climax of Stephen’s witness to Jesus before the Jewish religious and political authorities in Jerusalem (see chapter 6 ending and chapter 7 beginning), we come also to the climax of Stephen’s earthly life. Stephen, a Jewish-Christian probably raised in a Greek-speaking context outside of Palestine, was a man “full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Because of Stephen’s witness to Jesus, some people in Jerusalem fiercely opposed and agitated against him. They seized Stephen, hauled him in front of the Jewish authorities, and engineered false testimony against him. By accusing him of subverting the temple and the laws of Moses, those opponents and the authorities aimed to stop Stephen and cripple the whole Jesus movement.
Despite the intimidation and threat to his life – he and all the believers knew well what happened to Jesus when opposed and dragged before the authorities! – Stephen refused to step back from his devotion to Jesus and his testimony to Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. As Stephen explained at length to the authorities, while God had truly revealed himself to the people of Israel throughout their history, now God had made himself fully and uniquely known in Jesus. And, continued Stephen boldly, just as the people of Israel had long resisted God in many ways, so they had also rejected Jesus!
Stephen’s straightforward response to those who opposed him did not endear him to them. They rose up in fury against Stephen and dragged him outside of Jerusalem. There they stoned him to death. The young man Saul – known later to the world as Paul, and then as devoted to Jesus as Stephen, even to death like Stephen – observed that execution with approval.
We find in this account a great grace from God when we read, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). It was a great grace to Stephen, to know truly at the time of his trial and death of Jesus’ great love and tender advocacy for him in heaven. It is a great grace to us as well. The same Jesus – risen and ascended, living and ruling – offers us his saving love and advocacy in and through the Holy Spirit as we experience life’s trials and then death. May we therefore, with Stephen, commit ourselves to live in Jesus, eventually to fall asleep in Jesus, and finally to rise to heaven in Jesus – all in God’s grace and power and glory!