“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8)
Yesterday we saw that the Apostles “with great power gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). What do you expect; after all – they were The Apostles. But today we discover that a deacon by the name of Stephen was also “full of grace and power.”
There were some detractors in those first days who sought to undermine the emerging Church. They clearly didn’t stand a chance speaking against the Apostles, but thought they could easily weaken the witness of Stephen.
They could not have been more mistaken.
Luke tells us that they rose up to argue with Stephen, but “were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” (Acts 6:10). The grace of God that was upon Stephen gave him the ability to speak with irrefutable wisdom.
They then stirred up a handful of scoundrels to say “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” That brought the matter before the Courts, where Stephen was required to make a defense.
Stephen began speaking before the Court. Luke tells us they “fixed their gaze on him, and all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15). The grace of God gave him the supernatural ability to remain poised in the face of religious insanity.
What follows is one of the single most compelling sermons recorded in Scripture – and that by a deacon! Stephen starts with God appearing to Abraham and moves with sweeping clarity all they way through history up to the present – and charges those sitting in the Council with hardening their hearts to God’s will.
Luke writes, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently 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 up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.” (Acts 7:54-57).
They then seized Stephen and took him outside — and stoned him to death.
Luke writes for us the last words that Stephen spoke – “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” he said. Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he died. (Acts 7:59-60). God’s grace empowered Stephen to face death with unflinching courage and Christlikeness.
This incident triggered a massive persecution against the Church in Jerusalem, scattering disciples throughout the greater region. Ironically, those who sought to destroy the Church only succeeded in making it stronger, and spreading its influence ultimately throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.
God’s grace was upon Stephen, even to the very end. God empowered him with His presence to be who God created him to be, and to do what God had called him to do – right where he was.
And Stephen did it well.