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 four posts from the book of Acts we examined Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin:
Stephen’s Defense Part 1–What Might Happen to You if You Behave Like Jesus: Acts 6:8-15. In this post we looked at what can happen in our lives when we behave like Jesus and we also saw how Stephen’s spirit was probably the most important part of his success in communicating the love of Christ.
Stephen’s Defense Part 2–The Way Stephen Shared Jesus (and how similar it is to the way Jesus shared Jesus): Acts 7:1-16. In Part 2 we saw how Stephen’s way of sharing Jesus was similar to the way Jesus shared about himself with the two on the road to Emmaus. We also explored how Stephen presented Joseph of the Old Testament as a prophetic picture of Jesus to his listeners.
Stephen’s Defense Part 3–Finding Jesus in Moses: Acts 7:17-43. In Part 3 we saw how Stephen shared with the Sanhedrin another beautiful prophetic picture of Jesus’ life in Moses.
Stephen’s Defense Part 4–“What kind of house will you build for me?” says the Lord: Acts 7:44-50. In part 4 Stephen points out to the Sanhedrin how they have made their religion about the temple. Their love for God and their love for people was overwhelmed by their love for the temple and the rituals that had to do with the temple.
Today, in Part 5, we’ll see how Stephen follows the way of Jesus in the most ultimate manner he can.
“You stiff-necked people, 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 announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, 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.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.Acts 7:51-60
Stephen’s Spirit (in contrast to that of the Sanhedrin)
I think it’s important to begin by pointing out that even though Stephen had some hard things to say to the Sanhedrin, it was the members of the Sanhedrin who were enraged here. As we saw in Part 1 of this series, although he was engaging in a difficult conversation, in contrast to his accusers “his face was like the face of an angel.” So we don’t want to make the mistake that can happen sometimes with written communication. Maybe you’ve sent an email before, where the recipient mistook your tone for something different than what it was. To avoid that mistake here, the writer begins by making sure we understand Stephen was filled with the Spirit of Christ when he presented these hard things to the Sanhedrin: “his face was like the face of an angel.” And we’ll see how the writer confirms that Stephen is filled with the love of Jesus during his discourse, by the last words he uttered as he died. (Acts 6:15, Acts 7:60)
Following Jesus, All the Way to the End
The story of Stephen reminds me of another story I learned about recently. It’s a story about a Jesus follower named Ignatius. He was a friend of Polycarp’s who was a disciple of the Apostle John and it may be that Ignatius himself was also a disciple of John. Ignatius wrote a letter to the Jesus followers in Rome and at the time he wrote this epistle, Ignatius was being held prisoner in Rome. In his letter he describes himself as “being bound to ten leopards” which meant Ignatius was guarded by ten Roman soldiers. And he was sentenced to death for following Jesus.
I have to admit, when I first began reading Ignatius’s letter I was alarmed. He seemed to want to be executed for his devotion to Jesus. That was disturbing in a way. But as I read further, and as I learned about other writings from Ignatius, I realized that what he really wanted was to follow the way of Jesus as closely as possible. He was saying, dear brothers, please don’t attempt to rescue me. Allow me to die the way my Savior died. “All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing,” he wrote. “Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God.” And he also had as a motivation, the protection of his brothers. Because anyone attempting to rescue Ignatius put themselves in jeopardy of being consumed by those ten leopards. In the end I realized my error. Like Peter, after Jesus shared about the suffering the Son of Man must endure, I was “not setting my mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)
So after sharing about Joseph, and how Joseph was a prophetic picture of Jesus, and how Joseph’s brothers rejected him when they sold him into slavery even as the leaders in that room had rejected Jesus. And after sharing about Moses, and how Moses was also a prophetic picture of Jesus and how Moses was rejected even as Stephen’s accusers had rejected Jesus. And after sharing about how the Sanhedrin’s emphasis on the temple had eclipsed God’s emphasis on loving Him and loving people and receiving His Son as the Messiah, the Christ, Stephen, with, I believe, a sad and broken heart for his hearers, closes with words that are more direct.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,” Stephen said. “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 announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
And the members of the Sanhedrin were enraged. And they ground their teeth.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, full of the Spirit of Christ, gazed into heaven and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But his accusers started yelling loudly and they rushed upon Stephen. And they took him out of the city and they stoned him.
And as they were stoning him, Stephen called out to the Lord, he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Even as Jesus said from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)
And falling to his knees Stephen cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Even as Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Following Jesus More Closely
Stephen’s example, and Ignatius’s example, and Jesus’ example makes me want to follow Jesus more closely. The way they lived, and the way they died reminds me of these words of Jesus, spoken immediately after Jesus rebuked Peter when he told Peter he was not setting his “mind on the things of God, but on the things of man:”
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?Mark 8:34-37
“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Jesus said. And Ignatius said, “All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing.”
Stephen lived for Christ. He gave his life to Jesus completely. He lived in an attitude of complete surrender and he died the same way.
I want to be like Stephen, in both life and in death.
Will you join me in this prayer?
“Father, be merciful to me and be merciful to the dear person reading this right now because we’re sinners. We’re like little children down here trying to follow Your Son Jesus the best we can. Send Your Holy Spirit to help us walk the way Jesus walked, to live the way Jesus lived, and even to die the way Jesus died. Help us to please You in everything we do. Help us to surrender to You completely the way Jesus, and Ignatius, and Stephen did.
“The greatest mercy, and grace, and love You can show us is to conform us into the likeness of Christ to the greatest degree possible.
“Father we pray You will do that for us.
“In Jesus’ name we ask this of You.
You might also like: Love Like Jesus–Forgiveness and Paralysis (An excerpt from the book Love Like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus) now available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.
The older I get the more “the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth” just make my back hurt. Then I turn upon the Kingdom of Heaven and I feel at peace and my relationships with others are just that – relationships and not “my network” or a task.
Hahahahaha! It’s like you’re reading my mind Adam.
Great series, Kurt!
Glad you enjoyed it Andy and thanks for all you do over at https://christiangrandfather.com/ !