God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we saw how Jesus’ disciples responded to people who saw things differently and did things differently than they did. In today’s post we’ll look at one of my heroes, Saint Stephen. We’ll examine how he was like Jesus and what can happen to someone like Stephen when they behave like Jesus. Finally we’ll examine the nature of Stephen’s Spirit.
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.Acts 8-15
Stephen. What a great hero for me and for you to emulate, even as he emulated Jesus. (1 Corinthians 11:1) When they chose him to serve the poor we’re told they were looking for men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” and they found such a man in Stephen. A few verses later he’s described as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. Then we’re told Stephen was full of grace and power, and that he was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:3, 5, 8)
That’s what I want. I want to be a man like Stephen. I want to be a man like Stephen because Stephen was a man who was very much like Jesus. We all should aspire to be such a person. Praying for God’s Holy Spirit to fill us to the overflowing so His love gushes out onto everyone around us. Praying for His wisdom to love Him well and to love people well and to do what pleases Him and blesses Him the most. Praying for faithfulness and for a generous heart toward God. Praying for God to fill us with His grace and asking God to help us to do powerful works among the people around us, not for our own glory but for His.
Stephen was such a man.
What Sometimes Happens to People Like Stephen
But here’s the thing. If you’re blessed enough to become such a man, you might encounter serious opposition or hostility. I say that with caution because it’s so easy to think we’re experiencing opposition or hostility because we’re standing up for God — when in reality we’re just being obnoxious. We talked about not confusing pride with principle in our last post, “Go and Learn What This Means…”. And that was just one way we can think we’re experiencing push back because we’re for God, when in truth we’re just communicating without love.
Anyway, here’s the thing about what can happen if you’re given enough grace from God to become a man like Stephen (or even a man approaching Stephen’s stature in the faith). You might encounter some very passionate opposition. And it could become ugly.
We see that “some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia” began arguing with Stephen. “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” Unable to provide legitimate answers to what Stephen was sharing about Jesus and the Spirit with which Stephen was sharing, those men in opposition to Stephen instigated people to bear false witness against Stephen. These men said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the leaders and decision makers who seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They arranged for false witnesses to testify against Stephen before the council. They said, “this man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs of Moses delivered to us.”
By now you’ve probably noticed some similarities between what’s happening to Stephen and what happened to Jesus. They couldn’t withstand the wisdom and Spirit of Stephen even as they couldn’t withstand the wisdom and Spirit of Jesus. They came and seized Stephen even as they came and seized Jesus. They arranged for false witnesses to testify against Stephen even as they arranged for false witnesses to testify against Jesus.
The false witnesses testifying against Jesus took what Jesus said about destroying the temple, twisted the meaning, and then used it against Jesus. Jesus did in fact talk about destroying the temple but of course he was referring to his own body. And today we see the false witnesses using the same lie concerning the temple against Stephen. (Matthew 26:60-64, John 2:19) (Then they also accused Stephen of teaching that Jesus would change the laws of Moses — rather than fulfil the laws of Moses.) And later, in another post, at the end of this encounter with the Sanhedrin, we’ll see how Stephen follows the way of Jesus in the most ultimate way he can.
So, this is my theory about why all this is happening to Stephen:
The more you become like Jesus, the more likely you are to experience opposition like Jesus.
I have a friend who’s a pastor and one time when he was teaching he said, “You can sin all you want,” and then he paused and looked out at the congregation. He continued, “but know this, God is not mocked, what you sow you’re going to reap and there will be repercussions.” After that teaching, someone decided to take a sound bite of just the first six words of my friend’s sentence. And they shared it with anyone who would listen. As you might imagine, that created quite a controversy. I’ve heard of all kinds of crazy accusations and speculations about this same friend and he’s one of the most godly men I know.
Jesus was misunderstood and mocked and met with hostility and today we see the same things happening to Stephen. And it seems like these things happen sometimes to the most Christlike people. So if something similar happens to you, it might just be because you’re trying to become more like Jesus.
How Stephen Responded
In the last verse of our passage we read: “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
There’s a reason those in opposition to Stephen couldn’t prevail against him in those debates. In verse ten we see that it wasn’t just Stephen’s wisdom they couldn’t withstand, but it was his Spirit as well. You can share the wisest words ever, you can speak with the most amazing eloquence, you can present your case with the most impeccable logic, but if your spirit isn’t right, you’re just a noisy gong. (1 Corinthians 13:1)
Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel. He was full of the Spirit of Jesus. In our next post from the book of Acts we’ll look at the words Stephen said in response to the unfounded accusations of the Sanhedrin. But his words I think were secondary.
The most important part of how Stephen responded to his hostile accusers was,
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:44-46
“Father please be merciful to me and to the dear person reading this right now because we’re sinners. According to Your great mercy and grace and love, make us like Stephen, make us like Jesus. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit to the overflowing so Your love gushes out onto everyone around us. Give us Your wisdom Father, to love You well and to love people well and to do what pleases You and blesses You the most. Fill us with faithfulness and give us generous hearts toward You. Fill us with Your grace and help us to do powerful works among the people around us, not for our own glory but for Yours.
“Please Father, make us like Stephen, make us like Jesus.
“In Jesus’ name we ask this of You.
Jon Courson, Acts 6-7 teaching, July 11, 2018 (To learn about the sound bite that bore false witness go to 18:55 in the video.)
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