While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” – Acts 7:59 (NIV)
For lent, our church family is partaking in a progressive fast and our pastor has asked us to read through the books of Acts and Romans. When viewed as an opportunity to commune with God and not an obligation to simply be fulfilled, I find times like this to be very spiritually rewarding. No matter how often I read a “familiar” passage of scripture, I will see something previously unseen. Acts chapters six through eight gives us a brief glimpse into the life and death of Stephen. In this glimpse I am struck by the similarities between Stephen and Jesus:
1. Both were men full of God’s grace and power and performed works among the people. (Acts 6:8, John 1:14)
2. Both were brought before the Sanhedrin Council. (Act 6:12, Mark 14:53)
3. Both commended their spirit to God. In the case of Stephen of it was The Lord Jesus, in the case of Jesus, it was God the Father. (Acts 7:59, Luke 23:46)
4. Both men were martyred for their beliefs.
5. Both asked for forgiveness for those responsible for their deaths. (Acts 7:60, Luke 23:34)
What can we glean from these similarities? I’ve identified three observations in the life of the first Christian martyr:
1. Stephen understood that redemptive history did not begin and end with him. When appearing before the Sanhedrin Council (Acts 7), Stephen gave an overview of redemptive history from God’s calling of Abraham to the reign of Solomon. Stephen understood that God’s plan did not start and end with him. To paraphrase Rick Warren from The Purpose-Driven Life, Stephen knew “it was not about him.” Living in an age of self-aggrandizement fueled by social media and reality TV, we would be wise to heed Steven’s example.
2. Stephen displayed grace and truth in equal measure. Stephen was an instrument of God’s grace in several ways. He was gracious to those who were attacking him. Acts 6:15 states, “they [the Sanhedrin] saw that his [Stephen’s] face was like the face of an angel.” He prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Yet he boldly proclaimed the truth to those in power. Stephen calls out the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:51, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” It was this rebuke that triggered Steven’s stoning.
3. Stephen willingly shared in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. Stephen and other first century Christians embraced what many in the western Church today reject – if we are to share in the power of Christ, we must also share in his sufferings. Paul’s heart desire was to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Peter and John counted it “worthy” and “rejoiced” because they suffered disgrace for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41).
Modern technology allows a copies to be made that are almost indistinguishable from the original. This improving technology was a catalyst for making changes to US paper currency in recent years. It was becoming increasingly difficult to determine genuine legal tender from counterfeit bills. One of the definitions of the suffix, “ian” is, “typical of or resembling.” As Christians we ought to resemble and emulate Christ.
How closely does the copy of your life resemble the original? If I’m honest, my life at times resembles a Christ replica that is faint and looks like it was produced on a copier where the “change toner soon” or “maintenance required” messages is displayed. Even with a color printer, the largest ink cartridge is the black ink cartridge. The color black helps to frame and provide depth to any copy. It is those “black” times in our lives that cause us pain and that we seek to avoid that build into us that which us most Christ-like.
Note: This will be my last post until the week of 3/11. I will be in Haiti next week on a short-term missions trip with other men helping to build homes. Please pray that through our efforts, Christ would be proclaimed.