The Rest of the Story
Yesterday we looked into the life of Stephen. When we paused the story, he was going before the Sanhedrin on trial for false accusations and trumped-up charges despite the fact that Stephen was a man with a good reputation, wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 6:8 we saw these words about Stephen: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.”(NAS) There were those who could not stomach the things Stephen spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and plotted against him. Now he has been imprisoned and the trial has begun.
When asked if the charges against him were true, Stephen answered in a very unusual way. He told the history of the Hebrew people beginning with Abraham and how God called him to leave his home country and go to a land God would show him, a land his descendants would one day have as an inheritance but first they would be in bondage in a foreign land. Stephen then retold a little about the patriarchs and how Jacob’s sons would sell their brother Joseph into slavery and how God would rescue him, deliver him from his afflictions and give him favor with the Pharaoh. Joseph grew to be second in command. When famine hit his hometown, he eventually was reunited with his family as they sought food from Egypt. He continued by telling how the Hebrews were growing in number and then were held in bondage to a foreign king. He explained about Moses and his fleeing to the desert and God’s call for him to return to Egypt and bring the Hebrew people out of bondage. Stephen then spoke of their gaining freedom and wandering in the desert, the building of the wilderness tabernacle. Finally, he ended with: “David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what place is there for My repose? ‘Was it not My hand which made all these things?’ ” Acts 7:45-50 (NAS)
Imagine what the Sanhedrin are thinking! Perhaps they wondered where this was going or what this had to do with the charges against him. Our fellow has not once answered the question of the validity of the charges and I am pretty sure they never expected where Stephen would go next. Take a look: “You stiff-necked and 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 foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53 (NKJV) These were Stephen’s next and last words to these leaders. The leaders were outraged and sentenced him to be put to death.
God’s grace is an amazing thing. It enabled Stephen to see to the heart of the matter and instead of answering the bogus charges he was able to see the true problem. Their problem was not with him but with God. He understood God’s Word, His grace and God’s call on his own life. He stayed true to his beliefs and remained strong. I believe Stephen knew beyond a doubt his God was bigger than anything that the opposition could do and if he had any doubt I am sure it disappeared the instant he looked to the heavens and saw first hand the glory of God and Jesus seated at His right hand. Stephen journey appears to be is ending with this declaration: ” and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (verse 56) because they took him out of the city and stoned him. In reality, it was just the beginning for as Paul says to live is Christ, but to die is gain. God has a plan and purpose for every one of us and want us to live life and live it to the full. John 10:10 His desire is for us to live grace filled lives and lives that extend that grace He gives us to all those around us. It was the Grace of God flowing through this amazing man, Stephen, and the example of Jesus Himself that made it possible for Stephen’s last words to be “Lord, receive my spirit,” and “Lord do not hold this against them.” What an example of one who had great peace, wisdom and grace through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. In his greatest trial grace abounded, Lord, may it also abound in our lives whether in good times or in trials!