Hello and God bless you in the glorious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I’m so excited to be sharing the wonderful Word of God with you, and in this teaching I’ll be covering several points regarding the life of Stephen as set forth in the book of Acts. The Bible is full of accounts of great men and women who walked in the power of God and touched many other lives, and no doubt you, like I, have heard many teachings about such great saints. But I do not remember hearing much about Stephen, a great man who died for the truth of the Gospel and for his Lord Jesus Christ.
I believe that each person whom the Word says God called to serve had his or her purpose in God’s plan, but I had not really considered the importance of Stephen and his awesome example in being an imitator of Christ. Furthermore, there are some things we read regarding Stephen that are not recorded anywhere else in Scripture. Let us begin by looking at these encouraging verses:
Ephesians 5:1 and 2 (NIV)1
1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The following verse also exhorts us to be like our Lord:
Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
My reason for pointing out Hebrews 12:2 is because sometimes there is a controversy (in some groups) about whether we are to imitate God or Christ. We can see in Ephesians 5:1 and 2 that we are supposed to imitate God, but it’s also evident in Hebrews 12:2 that we are to imitate Christ. That’s because God is “invisible” and He has given us Jesus as His “image” (Col. 1:15). God also tells us in His Word that we are to honor the Son just as we honor the Father (John 5:23). So, by imitating Christ we are not only honoring him, but God as well.
Jesus himself said that those who truly believe in him can act like he did:
John 14:12 (NIV)
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Now let’s get to know more about this awesome man of God, Stephen, and how he imitated Jesus in serving the Lord until his last breath. There are some very significant similarities between Stephen and Jesus as each of their lives came to an end at the hands of wicked men. We will see these things about Stephen, and how special he must have been to the Lord Jesus and to our heavenly Father God.
The record of Stephen is in Acts 6:1–8:2, and he is mentioned even after his death in Acts 11:19 and 22:20. Stephen was one of seven men chosen to be in charge of the daily distribution of food because the Grecian widows were being overlooked (Acts 6:1–6).
Verse 3 states that the Apostles wanted to appoint seven men full of the spirit and wisdom, and verse 5 says that Stephen was a man full of faith and of holy spirit. In Acts 6:8 we see that Stephen was “…a man full of God’s grace and power, [who] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”
Acts 6:9–8:2 tells of Stephen being seized by the members of the “…Synagogue of the Freedmen [as it was called]…” and stoned to death for the miracles and wonders he did and for living his life for the Lord Jesus. Let us first note how Stephen and Jesus are alike in asking God to forgive the people who were persecuting them and putting them to death.
In Luke 23:34, “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…’” Likewise, Acts 7:60 says: “Then he [Stephen] fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” In conjunction with the metaphor of “sleep” being used throughout Scripture to describe death, Acts 8:1 tells us that Stephen then died.
From the above verses we can see how Stephen was very much imitating Christ at the time of his death. No one else in the Bible is said to have done what Stephen did in not wanting the horrible sin to be held against the people killing him. That has Christ written all over it! What a heart Stephen had!
Now let’s look at another stark similarity between Stephen and Jesus. Luke 23:46 says: “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Likewise, Acts 7:59 says: “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” With his dying breath, Jesus put his life into the hands of his heavenly Father, and Stephen’s last conscious act was to entrust himself to his living Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We need to take to heart this wonderful section of Scripture about our brother in Christ, Stephen. You and I have the same ability to stand in faith and work miracles just as Steven did, in the name of Jesus Christ! As we read earlier in John 14:12, Jesus said we can do the things he did because he was going to go be with the Father. Surely God and the Lord Jesus would have us follow the good examples of those people in the Bible who walked with them, and what an example Stephen was.
There are two other biblically unique aspects regarding the death of Stephen that should thrill your heart as they did mine.
When Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin and was being falsely accused of speaking against Moses and against God (Acts 6:11), even those men with evil intent thought his face looked like a face of an angel: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).
When we consider that God’s Word never says that of anyone else, we can get some idea of how godly Stephen must have been. Talk about being radiant! What a special man he was in the Lord’s sight.
Let us now note what is perhaps the most unique and powerful point in the biblical record of Stephen’s untimely death.
Acts 7:55 and 56 (NIV)
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Scripture often speaks of Jesus as “Lord” being “seated at the right hand of God,” but nowhere else is it said that Jesus is STANDING at the right hand of God. Clearly, the implication is that the Lord Jesus Christ STOOD UP out of respect and admiration for this man who so faithfully and powerfully represented him unto a martyr’s death. If that doesn’t send chills up and down your spine, better check your pulse.
What a fabulous display of love and respect by Jesus for Stephen! And how awesome that that was the last thing Stephen saw. The next thing Stephen will see is the Lord Jesus once again standing up to welcome him to his everlasting rewards.
Another significant aspect of this unique and poignant account is recorded in Acts 8:1: “And Saul was there, giving approval to Stephen’s death….” Think about it: Saul was among those to whom Stephen’s face looked like “…the face of an angel” (6:15), and he witnessed this entire horrible incident. Acts 8:3 says that Saul then began to destroy the church. Very possibly, the guilt he felt about Stephen’s murder prompted him to lash out even more at the Christians, even though it gnawed at him inwardly. And no doubt Stephen’s bold, loving witness for his Lord was a catalyst for what took place in Saul’s heart and allowed the Lord Jesus to interrupt his life on the road to Damascus and turn him into perhaps the greatest Christian ever.
And what about you and me? We too can radiate his love and goodness to the degree that those around us might also see us as shining lights. With the power of holy spirit within us and the same Lord standing with us day by day, we too can live our lives in such a way so as to earn his respect. And when he comes for us, he will give us “praise, honor, and glory,” as the following verse makes plain:
1 Peter 1:7 (DBY)2
that the proving of your faith, much more precious than of gold which perishes, though it be proved by fire, be found to praise and glory and honour in the revelation [appearing] of Jesus Christ:
We need to keep God the Father and His Son Jesus as the primary Ones we imitate, but, as you can see, Stephen is an exquisite example of a believer imitating them, and we can also imitate his sterling example.