Summary of the Text
Preaching Angle: Jesus’ Crucifixion, Stephen’s Martyrdom: When Stephen saw “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” the surrounding crowd of God’s people should have begged him to explain the matter to them. They should have humbly asked St. Stephen to teach them about faith, the Scriptures, and what he was seeing. Instead, people who thought themselves to be aligned with God hated the truth, hated hearing Stephen’s message, ground their teeth, yelled, stopped their ears, rushed at him, and stoned him.
Even as the Holy Spirit indwelled Stephen, he was empowered and enabled to look up and see into Heaven. Heaven’s King dwelled in his heart, and Stephen was able to see into the Heavens where he would soon dwell with his risen King.
I. Howard Marshall writes,
The point must be that Stephen sees Jesus in his role as the Son of man; he sees him as the One who suffered and was vindicated by God (Luke 9:22), i.e. as a pattern to be followed by Christian martyrs, but also as the One who will vindicate in God’s presence those who are not ashamed of Jesus and acknowledge their allegiance to him before men (Luke 12:8). This probably explains why the Son of man was seen to be standing, rather than sitting at God’s right hand (2:34). He is standing as advocate to plead Stephen’s cause before God and to welcome him into God’s presence. (Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, p. 158)
Stephen, as he knelt in prayer in the middle of being stoned, was walking in the way of his savior. As Christ taught God’s people about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), He was met with opposition, betrayal, a false trial, and His torturous murder on the cross. And Christ’s posture was forgiveness; He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Not only did Christ teach His disciples to pray, He also teaches us, and particularly Stephen, how to forgive, such that Stephen could say during his murder, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
Much of the apologetic value of the early church is displayed in acts of martyrdom like Stephen’s. These saints endured great acts of torture for the sake of the name of Christ. “How,” we might ask, “did they do something like this?” Record after record, testimony after testimony suggest that it had little to do with the strength and resolve of the martyr himself or herself, but with the faithfulness, glory, and strength of their Savior who was so fixed in their hearts and minds that they could never think of betraying or diminishing the name of Christ their King. May God be so kind to us that we are so enthralled with Him that we would follow Him wherever He leads.
Preaching Angle: Opposing God: Have you ever been on the opposing side of God? I’m not suggesting that you have played a part in martyring one of God’s children (although Christ has been known to save those who persecuted His Church, namely Saul; Acts 8:1; 9:1ff). But there are times when we get too focused on something other than God’s Kingdom, and we end up advocating for something that doesn’t please the Lord. I have had lots of ideas for how I thought my church needed to reach out to the community, or how we needed to make our worship service look a certain way, or who should be in leadership, and I was so focused on getting the result I wanted that I ended up opposing God. Sure, I had my convictions, I had my strategies, and I had my reasons, but there were things I was missing. I didn’t have my community of leadership alongside me, I didn’t surround myself with those who were praying, and I didn’t have the good of the congregation on my mind. In fact, they often stood in my way, or so I thought.
I often want to read myself into the events in the Bible, and I don’t often like to have my character read the lines of those opposing God, but sometimes that’s an accurate way of seeing my situation. I sometimes see those around me as standing in the way of me getting what I want, what I’m after, what’s best for the ministry, rather than as those whom God has counted as on His side (Mark 9:40).
Thankfully, we serve a God who is so good that He glorifies Himself by showing grace to His enemies (Rom 5:6-11). In fact, we who are Christ’s adopted brothers and sisters will thank God for all eternity that He loved us while we were yet sinners, and we’ll do so while standing alongside St. Stephen and the thousands and thousands of other martyrs who bore the name of Christ to their death. In what great company we will be as we glorify our risen Savior-King!
Dustin grew up in Springfield, MO later graduating from Evangel University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, studying Biblical Hebrew and Greek, Theology, and ancient history. He and his wife, Debbie, married in 2009 and have three children: Abigail, Judah, and Ezra. Dustin still rides BMX bikes, listens to hardcore music, loves research and writing, and enjoys helping his family seek and savor King Jesus.
There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God?
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
“What happens here may be expressed by the quite simple and yet unfathomable word, ‘forgive.’ What occurs when I forgive another person? It does not mean . . . that I can ‘forget’ what he did to me. It just can’t do that. No, when I forgive another, I myself step into the breach and say to myself, ‘The same thing that made the other person mean, hateful, and guilty toward me is in my heart as well. Ultimately we are two of a kind.’
If I tell my neighbor, ‘I forgive you,’ and I say it from the bottom of my heart, then, in a manner of speaking, I take over the burden of his guilt and place it on my own heart just as though it were mine. . . . I say, ‘Yes, what you did to me was very wrong; it was even shocking. But I know from looking at myself how fickle and wicked the human heart is. Therefore I could do exactly what you did. It’s coiled up in me too. So I’ll suffer through it with you. I’ll put myself in your place. I’ll share your burden.’ When I forgive another person, I share the burden of his guilt. I become his brother and his sister, a burden-bearer at his side.”
Helmut Thielicke. I Believe: The Christian’s Creed, trans. by John W. Doberstein and H. George Anderson. (Phil.: Fortress Press, 1968, p. 116).
Not Until After My Death
Frederick William I was a king of Prussia in the early 18th century. Personality-wise, he was described as exacting, frugal and austere. He was known to beat his children when they disappointed him. His eldest son, the future king Frederick William II, along with two friends, attempted to run away to escape his father’s ire. One escaped, but the other was imprisoned, and after a season, executed in front of the son in an attempt to reform the child’s wayward path.
As he lay on his deathbed, the pastor attending him told him he must forgive all his enemies. Immediately he thought of his brother-in-law, George II of England. “In that case,” he told his wife reluctantly, “write to your brother and tell him I forgive him, but be sure not to do it until after my death.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.