The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
Then they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died (Acts 7:54-60).
A couple of things struck me as I read this.
While the Jewish leaders were enraged and shaking their fists at Stephen because he had spoken the truth, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing beside Him. The contrast between this man who was falsely accused of blasphemy against Moses and God and the religious leaders who claimed that God was their Father. It was as if the devil had taken over them while Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.
When he told them that he saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand, this set the leaders off. They saw blood. The words, they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him literally jumped off the page at me. They covered their ears and shouted because they didn’t want to hear his voice anymore. It made me think of what Jesus said, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and [their] ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with [their] eyes, and hear with [their] ears, and should understand with [their] heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:15).
The leaders didn’t want to hear anything else from Stephen. They were determined to rid themselves of this man whose face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). They wanted him dead even though he had done nothing deserving of death. It was history repeating itself. They had condemned Jesus to death because they were jealous of Him and now they were condemning Stephen because he was full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people and they were unable to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke (Acts 6:8, 10).
They dragged him out of the city and stoned him. Stephen, the man filled with the Holy Spirit and with the mind of Christ, prayed for his murderers, fell to his knees and pleaded with God not to charge them with his murder. Then he died. His prayer echoed that of His Savior’s who when He hung on the cross, said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
By their actions, the religious leaders showed that Jesus was right when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). The Jewish leaders could not stand the truth so when Stephen accused them of being “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it,” they wanted him dead.
Jesus had warned that this would happen–His followers would be delivered up to councils, beaten in the synagogues and lose their lives. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matthew 5:11).
There will come a time when we will face persecution and people will say all kinds of things about us but we must not lose faith. We must stand on the promises of God and hold on to our faith.