And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. – Acts 6:8 (ESV)
Reading Acts 6 and 7, the short story of Stephen reveals a lot of parallels between himself and Jesus. Both were servant leaders, humbly serving in a position many would consider beneath them. Both were targeted by people from the synagogue who didn’t like what they said, and falsely accused. Both faced these false accusations with strength of conviction. Both pointed out – to their faces – how wrong these “stiff-necked people” were. And both died – in most gruesome ways – because of what they knew to be right. And both, just before their deaths, asked the Father to forgive their killers.
Stephen was a human being. He was not the Son of God. And yet he was able to stand in the synagogue and, using the Scriptures, reveal to those who wanted him dead the truth about Jesus and their circumstances. And he was able to withstand his own death – by stoning (try to imagine how that must feel!) – with faith and mercy undiminished.
How did he do it?
The ESV rendering of Acts 6:8 is slightly off-mark. The word translated here as “grace” is actually the Greek term pistis, which more accurately means faith. Stephen was enveloped in the strength of conviction, the assurance of the rightness of Christ. He was emboldened by faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).
Yet grace is a perfectly acceptable term here as well, for grace is a free, unearned gift from God. And, clearly, Stephen was not operating on his own human power:
But (Stephen), 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.” – Acts 7:55-56 (ESV)
And his enemies all saw the Light and turned away from their wicked ways, abandoning legalism and accepting Jesus as their Savior, right? Not exactly…
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 7:57-60 (ESV)
Nobody said the Christian life was going to be easy. But we all have the same power to do what Stephen did: stand up for the Truth, bolding proclaim His Word, humbly serve others, and love our enemies.
Even when they are hurling rocks at our heads with murderous intent.
We can withstand anything when we come to the simple realization that it isn’t merely our works that bring results. It is God Who works through us. It is the Holy Spirit Who emboldens us and guides us. It is Jesus Christ Who provides the model for us to follow.
When we’re facing great difficulty, we need to look up to our Heavenly Father, to see Jesus seated at the throne. It is the same lesson Peter learned when he nearly drowned walking on the water: don’t look at the storm. Don’t focus on the enemies and the rocks they lob. Don’t get caught up in the troubles.
Look to Jesus. Fix your gaze upon the LORD. Draw your strength from a firm, unswerving faith in God alone, knowing His grace is sufficient for you in all things, at all times (2 Corinthians 12:9). Don’t get tangled up in life’s circumstances. Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and do what God says to do.
How did Stephen do it? Stephen didn’t. God did!