“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.”
An expression I have come to live by, the motto of Dallas Seminary, is to: “Teach truth. Love well.” Synonymous with love is grace. If we speak truth without grace, are we truly living and loving like Jesus? And on the other hand, are we truly loving someone if we never share the truth? The answer to both is an emphatic No. Paul, in Ephesians 4, tells us to speak the truth in love. This is, however, no formula to draw a well-received response. As we see by Stephen’s story in Acts 7, the truth will often ruffle feathers. It’s a direct attack on sinful pride.
Stephen spoke the truth with boldness and it cut so deep into the sinful pride of the Jewish audience, they were outraged to the point of stoning Stephen in mob-like fashion. I am sure Stephen was aware of the potential outcome, but he remained steadfast with the truth. I believe he was able to stand firm in the truth for three reasons:
- He was full of the Holy Spirit. He had the power of God’s grace in his life.
- He understood the reward was greater than death. God’s glory is infinitely greater than any trial or persecution Stephen would experience.
- Jesus is standing up for him as his advocate. The Son of Man, had been crucified and now stands at the right hand of God advocating for Stephen and all the saints and is ready to welcome them into glory.
Just as Jesus had been vindicated by the Father (Luke 9:22), so to was Stephen vindicated by Jesus. This love and grace shown to Stephen empowered him to also share the same love, grace, and forgiveness to his executors. Not only did Stephen speak truth. He loved well. He spoke truth with grace as he plead for his accusers to be forgiven. Sounds very similar to the cruxifixction story of Jesus, right? “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Stephen had learned to truly love and live like Jesus in every way through the power of the Spirit within him, reminding him of the glory that awaited him in heaven. And it’s all made possible because the Son of God, Jesus Christ, became the Son of Man who died in our place, was resurrected, and now stands at the right hand of God advocating and standing up for us even in the face of persecution.
- [questions bulleted]
Highlight – what words or phrases jump out at you
Explain – what does the passage mean?
Apply – how does the passage intersect with your life today?
Respond – how is God leading you to respond?