A Christlike Witness
This Gatorade slogan was everywhere in the 90s.
Suggesting that drinking Gatorade makes you like Michael Jordan.
As a kid growing up in the 90s,
I was like that one kid,
Trying to practice the behind the back layup.
Trying to dunk from the free throw line...
On a children’s basketball hoop.
I would stick the tongue out when I would be playing one on one in the driveway with my dad.
They actually remade this video in 2020 with current NBA superstars,
Being like Mike.
For many of us in the 90s,
We wanted to be like Mike.
Maybe for you it wasn’t Michael Jordan.
But we all had, or may even still have,
Someone we want to be like.
Maybe you wanted to be like your mom or dad or a teacher.
Maybe you wanted to be like a Disney princess,
Or your favorite superhero.
Regardless, most, if not all of us,
Wanted to be like someone.
This morning, Acts 6:8-7:60 focuses on man who wanted to Be Like Christ.
This Christlike Witness is an example for us,
Because all of us must pursue to grow in Christlikeness.
We all should want to be like Christ.
This Christlike witness was introduced in last week’s passage,
His name is Stephen and he was described as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
Stephen takes center stage in our passage this morning,
And his example in this passage is one of the most Christlike examples in the Bible.
With the passage ending in his death.
Making him the first Christian martyr.
But my focus this morning is not on martyrdom,
Because although Stephen was martyred,
The focus of this passage is not so much on him being a martyr,
But his Christlike witness forces us to ask ourselves:
Do I really want to be like Christ?
Because being like Christ is not about gathering information about Jesus to copy,
It is not about being like Jesus in our own power,
It is not about being like Jesus to earn salvation.
No, being like Jesus happens through our union with Jesus.
Through Jesus we become like Jesus.
Stephen was not sinless,
Just like all of us,
He needed the Savior.
After trusting Jesus,
He was empowered by Jesus to be like Jesus.
So, Stephen is a Christlike witness we can imitate,
Because Stephen imitates Christ.
But this imitation comes after being united to Christ,
And being willing to suffer like Christ.
And Stephen’s witness teaches us,
That suffering like Christ is worth it!
So, as we look at Stephen’s Christlike witness,
We see three specific ways he was like Christ:
Seized Like Christ (Acts 6:8-15)
Spoke Like Christ (Acts 7:1-53)
Suffered Like Christ (Acts 7:54-60)
Be like Jesus by trusting in Jesus.
WE: Seized Like Christ (vs. 6:8-15)
WE: Seized Like Christ (vs. 6:8-15)
Ch. 6 ends a historical narrative where Stephen is Seized Like Christ.
Vs. 8 begins by telling us the source of Stephen’s ministry.
It says, he was full of grace and power.
He was filled with gifts from God.
This is not Stephen’s inherent grace and power.
God poured out His grace on Stephen.
Therefore, Stephen was empowered to do ministry:
To care for widows, to speak wisdom, and as vs. 8 says,
To do great signs and wonders among the people.
1 Corinthians teaches that signs and wonders were required to be an apostle.
But it does not say only the apostles were able to do signs and wonders.
Stephen and Philip both are recorded doing signs or miracles in Acts.
They had been ordained by the apostles for ministry earlier this ch.
And like the apostles they are able to perform signs and miracles,
This indicates the presence and work of the Holy Spirit,
Authenticating Stephen’s ministry.
Jesus taught that whatever fills a person controls that person.
So, if you are filled with jealousy, the success of others will infuriate you.
If you are filled with lust, your sexual appetite will lead you into death.
If you are filled with anger, you will fight and argue with others.
But if you are filled with grace and power, you will be like Christ.
Remember, however, that being like Christ will be met with opposition.
Vs. 9 shows how opposition arose against Stephen’s signs and wonders.
And this is no longer opposition just from the Jews in the temple.
No, it says Jews from a variety of backgrounds begin to argue with Stephen.
Including ethnically Greek Jews, like Stephen.
The synagogue of the Freedmen were former slaves.
Cyrenians and Alexandrians were from Northern Africa.
But those from Cilicia and Asia are of special interest,
Because this group most likely includes a man named Saul,
Who was from Tarsus,
A chief city in Cilicia.
This man is referenced at the end of ch. 7,
Indicating some level of respect or authority from the others.
At this time, Saul would likely be among those disputing with Stephen,
Because he despised the gospel.
Regardless, this wide variety of Jews are zealously arguing with Stephen.
However, Stephen is like Christ here because they are no match for the Spirit working through Stephen.
Vs. 10 basically says their arguments are swept aside by the Spirit and wisdom coming from Stephen.
That is how he had the confidence to stand up to these religious elitists.
Stephen never attended Bible college,
He did not have a seminary degree,
He did not have gospel tracts.
Yet he confidently withstood their arguments,
Because he trusted in Christ to be like Christ.
This gave him the opportunity to share an unprepared speech loaded with wisdom in ch. 7.
Like Stephen, we can withstand arguments against Christ with confidence.
Because trusting in Christ empowers us to be a witness for Christ.
We are never alone when we are being Christ’s witnesses.
Christ’s presence in Stephen’s witness reminds us of this,
When we seek to go and make disciples.
So, pray God would give you the ability to speak His Word,
Knowing that He is both with you and for you.
Vs. 11 shows how the religious council decided, “If you can’t beat them, get rid of them!”
They were aroused with resentment because they could not out-debate Stephen.
So, instead of either overcoming or embracing what Stephen shared,
They secretly recruited false witnesses to lie about him.
What started with argumentative opposition turned to conspiracy.
They created a smear campaign,
Accusing Stephen of blasphemy against Moses and God,
The same accusation Jesus endured.
So, there may is likely a grain a truth at the root of these made-up accusations.
Even though Stephen honors Moses in his speech in ch. 7,
It could be argued that he demeans the temple,
But he never uses God’s name in a blasphemous way.
He simply preaches the gospel,
While emphasizing Israel’s disobedience,
And how Jesus fulfills the OT law,
Replacing the need for the temple.
Stephen is striving to be like Christ,
And Jesus did say He would destroy the temple.
But it was because people no longer needed to go to a temple or a church to meet God,
We need to go to a person, Jesus.
If someone wants forgiveness,
We do not offer God a sacrifice,
We go to Jesus and trust His sacrifice on our behalf.
The temple and the law given through Moses was so the people could be with God,
But the Jews here were more concerned about preserving these traditions,
That they completely missed the teaching about how to be with God.
So, they lied about Stephen.
Likewise, when we share the good news that Christ is the Savior,
We must be ready for opposition.
Be ready to be excluded, mocked, misrepresented, shamed,
And some, may even be killed.
As Stephen’s example reminds us,
It has always been this way,
And it will continue to be this way until Christ returns.
So, we do not try and make Christianity cool or more palatable.
When trying to be like Christ is opposed,
The opposition is not against us,
It is against Jesus.
That is why Stephen is arrested and taken before the council.
Just like this council put Jesus on trial to have Him killed,
They want to do it all over again because Stephen is being like Christ.
What started as an informal argument has escalated to a formal life-threatening interrogation.
Where, ironically, vs. 13 shows false witnesses break God’s law to accuse Stephen of speaking words against God’s law.
Because Stephen had been pointing to Christ in the gospel.
Then, vs. 15 serves as a transition to ch. 7.
While Stephen is being unjustly accused,
It says the council looked intently as him,
And they could see that his face was like the face of an angel.
An interesting description.
It could simply suggest he had a look of innocence.
He probably had a calm or unaggressive expression.
It could be a change in countenance reflecting God’s presence with him.
Or it could indicate Stephen’s faithful representation of Moses,
By reflecting the likeness of Moses after his interaction with God.
Regardless, it was a face that looked the opposite of what was expected of someone facing dangerous charges.
The presence and power of God is visibly with Stephen.
GOD: Spoke Like Christ (vs. 7:1-53)
GOD: Spoke Like Christ (vs. 7:1-53)
Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, Stephen Spoke Like Christ in Acts 7:1-53.
Most of this ch. is Stephen’s speech.
Which is the longest speech in Acts,
And most of it is an OT summary,
Reciting how God has been working from the earliest times with His people,
And how Christ is the fulfillment of it all.
His speech is his response to the high priest asking if these accusations are true in vs. 1.
But instead of saying yes or no.
He does not defend himself,
He interprets Jewish history through the lens of Jesus.
From God’s promise to their father, Abraham,
To the crucifixion.
Just as Peter taught how the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus earlier in Acts,
Stephen expands that lesson to the council here.
There are so many theological themes to sort through in Stephen’s speech.
So, let me introduce just a few, then we can summarize his speech,
Highlighting these themes along the way.
First is God’s sovereignty.
He sovereignly chooses His people all throughout human history.
Second, the promise of God and fulfillment of His promise.
This theme fundamentally links the OT and NT,
And seems to be the driving force of Stephen’s speech.
Third is salvation,
And the lack of salvation,
Which is God’s judgment.
God saves His people but judges those who break His commandments.
Fourth is rejection of God despite His actions on behalf of people.
Rejection is inherently linked to unbelief.
The last theme is the theme of the temple.
Which was one of the key accusations against Stephen.
So, Stephen begins His speech by commanding the council to focus on what he is about to say.
Then refers to God as the God of glory.
This title recalls how God shows His glory throughout the history of His people.
For example, He showed His glory in the pillar of cloud used to lead them by day,
And the pillar of fire used to lead them by night.
When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments.
The glory of the Lord was said to be resting on the mountain.
Then the glory of the Lord would later rest in the tabernacle.
But it all started with God appearing to Abraham, the father of Israel.
God commanded him to leave his land and all his relatives to go to the land God will show him.
Which was essentially telling Abraham to rely on Him.
Side note: as we go through Stephen’s speech,
He has many OT references.
I will have them on the slides as we go through.
Stephen’s goal with these references is not a history lesson,
In fact, he is not telling the council something they do not already know.
But he is arguing those 5 themes we looked at a moment ago,
Specifically acknowledging here how God’s relationship with His people did not begin in a temple,
Or even the Promised Land.
When Abraham arrived in Canaan,
Stephen notes how God did not give him even a foot of ground.
But God did give Abraham a promise of the land to Abraham’s descendents,
Despite Abraham having no children at this point.
Abraham would express his doubt to God,
Yet he fundamentally acted on faith in God’s promise.
Still, God would speak to Abraham to assure him of his doubts.
Gold told Abraham that the fulfillment of the promise would wait 400 years,
While his descendents would be strangers and oppressed in a foreign land.
But God promised to eventually save them from slavery,
And judge the nation where they serve as slaves.
So, God sealed His promise with the covenant of circumcision with Abraham,
A sign of God’s covenant with His people.
God began to fulfill His promise to Abraham,
With a son, Isaac, who was marked with the covenant sign.
Isaac went on to have Jacob,
Jacob went on to have 12 sons,
The fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.
So, Stephen is saying how Israel began with God’s promise to Abraham.
But this was just the start, not the end.
In vs. 9-16, Stephen summarizes the story of Joseph from Genesis 37-50.
Explaining how Joseph came to Egypt.
Vs. 9 shows how Joseph’s life ran into treachery early on,
It says, his brothers were jealous of him,
And sold him into slavery.
Which was the beginning of Israel’s unfaithfulness.
But God was with him,
Granting him favor and wisdom.
Stephen outlines how God even preserved Joseph through a seven year famine.
After revealing himself to his brothers,
Joseph said in Gen. 50:20,
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
So, Joseph invited his father, Jacob,
And all his relatives to Egypt.
Remember, the underlying current of Joseph’s provision stems from God’s promise to Abraham.
Through Joseph, the promise continued.
At that time, Egypt, not the Promised Land,
Was the refuge and salvation for God’s people.
It was in Egypt where they multiplied and became a nation.
And where Jacob died.
Vs. 16 mentions the tomb that Abraham bought.
Which is likely a condensed retelling of the burial purchases referenced on the slide here.
Abraham bought a field in Canaan from the Hittites.
But Jacob was the one who bought the land where Joseph was eventually buried.
So, Stephen is not telling the whole story,
He is giving a summary,
Focused on the fact that all the fathers of Israel,
Died outside the Promised Land,
Yet God’s promise continued.
Then, vs. 17-43 focuses on Moses.
His section is broken up into three smaller sections,
Each separated by forty years of Moses’ life.
Vs. 17-22 take place in Egypt.
Vs. 23-29 is the journey from Egypt to Midian.
And vs. 30-34 are the Sinai years.
Another part of God’s promise to Abraham was approaching as Moses came onto the scene.
Israel had been flourishing in Egypt.
So, if they did not become enslaved by the Egyptians,
They likely would have stayed there.
So, Exodus 1:8 says a new king who did not know Joseph began to rule over Egypt.
This king dealt harshly with the Jews,
He oppressed them and forced them to abandon their infants outside,
Essentially killing them to prevent Israel from further flourishing.
The theme of salvation picks up here,
Where God demonstrates how salvation comes from persecution.
Moses was born and was described as beautiful in God’s sight.
He managed to remain protected in his father’s house for three months.
But when Moses was put outside as a three month old,
He was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter and raised as her own son.
This meant he grew up in the royal household,
And was given a full Egyptian education.
Again, this information is not something the council does not already know,
But Stephen is underscoring how a man raised and educated in Pharaoh’s household was God’s chosen deliverer for His people.
When Moses was 40, he decided to visit his own people.
When he saw one of his people being mistreated by an Egyptian,
He went to rescue him, killing the Egyptian in the process.
Moses assumed his people would understand that God would deliver them through him,
But they didn’t.
So, the day after killing an Egyptian,
Moses showed up while two of his own people were fighting.
He tried to reconcile them peacefully,
Asking why they are mistreating each other.
But the one who was mistreating the other,
Pushed Moses aside,
Asking, "Do you intend to kill me like you killed the Egyptian the day before.”
So, Moses fled for his life,
Becoming an exile in Midian,
Where he became a father to two sons.
Stephen is reminding the council how the Israelites initially questioned Moses as their leader.
Moses and the people had a strained relationship from the start.
So, Stephen seems to be trying to get this council who now reveres Moses,
To consider how they are similarly rejecting Jesus as their Leader and Savior.
The people were wrong about Moses in the past,
Might you possibly be wrong about Jesus too?
While Moses was in the wilderness,
God appeared to him in a burning bush.
Again showing how one of the most significant events in salvation history happened outside the Promised Land.
Amazed by the burning bush,
Moses approached for a closer look,
Where he heard the voice of the Lord reinforcing how He had made a promise to Abraham,
And He intends to keep it!
God commanded Moses to remove his sandals, why?
Because he was standing on Holy Ground.
Where they in the Promised Land?
Where they in a temple?
Then, how was this place holy?
Because God makes a place holy.
A place does not make God holy.
He is not limited by our human constraints.
Wherever God is, that place is holy.
Remember, Stephen’s trial started on the accusation of Stephen blaspheming the temple.
So, Stephen is laying the groundwork to warn his listeners how wrong they are about the temple.
And at the same time, being reminded of how God initiated coming down to save His people,
Was most likely a comforting reminder for Stephen and the early church.
Because they were reminded that God sees the opposition they were facing,
And He has already provided salvation from it in Jesus.
Next, the theme of rejection takes center stage in vs. 35-43.
God did all these signs and wonders through Moses,
Yet Israel rejected God by rejecting Moses.
This same Moses that the religious council follows,
Was rejected by their fathers.
Stephen is continuing to lay the groundwork for how Israel is once again rejecting their Savior.
Just like they rejected Moses,
They are now rejecting Jesus.
Despite all Christ’s signs and Wonders,
The council rejects Jesus,
Their Ruler and Redeemer.
Moses had promised a prophet like him would come.
Jesus is that prophet.
Still, the council rejects Him.
Interesting, Stephen refers to Israel as the congregation in the wilderness in vs. 38.
The word for congregation is ekklesia.
The reason this is interesting because the word ekklesia in the NT most commonly refers to the church.
So, Stephen is clearly making a connection between Israel in the OT and the church in the NT.
With a clear parallel between Moses’ role in Israel and Jesus’ role in the church.
God had shown Himself with His people in highly visible and powerful ways.
He redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt,
He directed them as they wandered the desert.
And He gave them the law as a gift through Moses on Mount Sinai.
While God was giving them this gift,
They pushed God’s servant, Moses, aside and turned back to Egypt in their hearts.
They thought, “life was not so bad back when we were slaves in Egypt.”
So, they requested Aaron to create idols for them to worship.
They turned to idolatry.
So, Stephen is showing how it is the same when we reject Jesus,
And turn back to enslaving ourselves to sin.
God is still among us in highly visible and powerful ways,
He offers redemption out of slavery to sin,
And direction as we wander in the wilderness of a broken world.
Yet, we push Him aside and turn back to sin in our hearts.
The climax of Israel’s rejection and idolatry was displayed by their worship of the golden calf.
Because not only were they participating in idolatry,
They were celebrating their works of idolatry.
All while Moses was with God up on the mountain.
This is perhaps the most clear and obvious evidence that God’s promise could not be fulfilled by people.
Because in the midst of God’s gifts and gracious redemption from slavery,
We turn to homemade idols,
And celebrate our idolatry.
Tragically, Stephen cites how God gives us over to worship idols in our hearts.
Idolatry brings God’s ultimate punishment,
Which is God giving us over to follow our darkest desire,
Worshiping things other than Him.
Stephen quotes God’s verdict over Israel from the prophets.
God punishes His people severely,
But because of His promise to Abraham,
God continues to go before His people,
And lead them into the Promised Land,
While driving out their enemies.
Stephen is connecting the prophets from hundreds of years later,
To the idolatry of the Israelites in the wilderness.
Because the worship of the golden calf began a pattern of idolatry.
Later, the Israelites were exiled in Babylon because of their continued idolatry.
And even greater consequences await idolatry today.
Idols are cheap and powerless imitations of the true God.
Just as Israel rejecting God in the desert for their idol,
Resulted in spiritual estrangement as a consequence.
We invite the same consequences by rejecting Jesus.
The history of idolatry is a tragic one.
God’s people have worshipped other gods.
From the golden calf to even after living in the Promised Land,
Human history is marked by a rejection of the God who made us and the God who saves us.
In vs. 44, Stephen moves on from Moses,
Comparing the tent of witness and the temple.
Stephen has been building to this point that worship at the temple is now false worship,
Because Jesus has fulfilled the need for temple worship.
The tent of witness, also called the tabernacle,
Was given a very specific pattern that would be part of Israel’s life until the time of King David.
It contained the ark of the covenant and the ten commandments.
It symbolized God’s presence among His people.
Within it were other symbols of God’s life giving power:
Consecrated bread, the seven-branched lampstand,
And the altar of incense representing the prayers of God’s people rising up to God.
During David’s reign as king, he desired to build the temple,
But God allowed his son, Solomon, to build it.
And Stephen is not criticizing the temple itself,
But he is condemning the council’s perspective on the temple.
In all their zeal for the temple,
They have completely missed the God who they presume dwells there!
God is not limited to sanctuaries made with hands.
It is impossible to contain God, the Creator, the King of all in a physical building.
These people have an earthly concern for their building,
But Stephen is saying, God’s throne is in heaven!
From the beginning of Acts,
It is emphasized that Jesus is now ruling and reigning from heaven.
And this sets up the final part of Stephen’s speech.
Borrowing OT language in vs. 51 as he calls the council stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.
In other words, he is saying they won’t listen from their hearts.
They are not obeying God nor His Word.
They don’t get it!
He has shifted his speech on a dime from information to conviction,
Because the council has been showing since ch. 2 in Acts that they are resisting the Holy Spirit!
So, Stephen is hoping to convict them using their own OT language.
This accusation can only go one of two ways:
It would either break the council’s hearts,
Leading to repentance.
Or raise their anger toward him even more.
So, Stephen drives his point home,
Saying the council are betrayers and murderers of Jesus,
The Righteous One,
The One Whom God promised through the prophets.
By calling Jesus the Righteous One,
Stephen is using a title for God as a title for Christ.
Again emphasizing that Jesus is God to this religious council.
His accusation amounts to this:
“You are spiritually stubborn, unfaithful, not believing in Jesus, disobedient to God, you don’t even know God. You are no different from our ancestors!”
Jesus condemned the Jews for their disbelief in Him.
Stephen is being like Christ here and doing the same thing.
Centuries of unbelief led to them killing their own Messiah.
God’s promise to Abraham, the establishment of the temple, and God’s law,
All are fulfilled in Jesus.
There are a bunch more speeches in Acts,
But Stephen’s speech here mark’s the final verdict of the old covenant.
His speech began with Abraham, the father of Israel,
And he brings his speech to how the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham is Jesus.
With Christ, the old covenant comes to an end.
God’s choice of Abraham and His promises reach their appointed end in Jesus.
This is what Jesus taught,
And Stephen is being like Christ by speaking like Christ.
YOU: Suffered Like Christ (vs. 7:54-60)
YOU: Suffered Like Christ (vs. 7:54-60)
The result is that Stephen Suffered Like Christ in vs. 54-60.
After concluding his speech,
The council is at a breaking point.
Vs. 54 says they gnashed their teeth at him,
Signifying their rage.
They were the religious leaders,
They were the best of the best when it comes to being the people of God,
And yet, here is this ethnically Greek Jew with no training or education,
Charging them with spiritual corruption.
While they are being filled with anger,
Stephen is filled with the Holy Spirit.
He began his speech referring to God as the God of glory,
Now, vs. 55 says he sees the glory of God breaking into the earthly realm.
And sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Interestingly, Jesus is not sitting here.
Perhaps symbolizing the He is standing ready to receive Stephen home,
Knowing Stephen’s martyrdom is coming soon.
Or others have suggested that He is standing to come to Stephen’s defense.
Both are possible,
Because Jesus, as the Son of Man, is both the Judge of sin,
And Advocate for those who trust in Him.
This is Christ’s present role in heaven.
He is ready to act,
He is among His people.
He is ruling at the right hand of the Father,
As Psalm 110 prophesied He would.
As king, He will make His enemies His footstool.
As priest, He will serve God and direct God’s grace.
This means Christ rules over all spheres of authority,
Both spiritual and physical.
In the most direct sense,
His Kingdom is the church.
Ephesians 1:22-23 says the church is the body,
Of which Christ is the head.
But Christ even reigns over all human authorities,
Because all of human kind is accountable to Christ as Judge.
Christ will continue until all His enemies are brought to nothing.
The final enemy that will cease to exist will be death,
When Christ returns to earth and raises all who trust in Him from death to eternal life,
And raises all who do not trust in Him from physical death to eternal judgment.
As Jesus taught in John 5:28-29.
Once Jesus’ judgment is complete,
This in-between kingdom will be over,
And Christ will triumphantly reign in the new heaven and new earth,
Where there will be no more tears, pain, suffering,
And no more death.
This is the glory Stephen is seeing.
In his awe, Stephen declares in vs. 56 that he can see the Son of Man,
A title for Jesus,
Standing at the right hand of God.
The council would know the Son of Man was a reference to Jesus,
Because when they put Jesus on trial in Mark 14:61-62,
He was asked, “Are you the Christ.”
Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Stephen’s declaration proves what Jesus said is true.
This was the breaking point for the council,
Turning them into a full-fledged mob.
You can picture them standing around Stephen in anger with their teeth grit.
As he peacefully looks up to heaven and says Jesus is standing at the right hand of the Father,
They lose it!
They yell at the top of their lungs,
Covering their ears because they do not want to hear any more from Stephen,
And rush him in a frenzy!
Don’t forget, the anger and physical retaliation has been slowly building for this council across the early chapters of Acts.
It started with Just Peter and John,
They ordered them to stop teaching Jesus.
Then it was all the Apostles,
And they ordered them again to stop teaching Jesus,
Even though they wanted to kill them.
So, they let them go with just a beating.
Now, they have lost all restraint,
Anger wins their hearts,
And they all rush Stephen in a rage.
In vs. 58, they drag him out of the city,
And begin to stone him.
Some have debated whether this was an official stoning,
Or just out of control mob violence.
It seems to be a bit of both.
They held a trial and this was their verdict.
But they were much more composed during Jesus’ trial.
They worked with the Romans to maintain the sanctity of the temple area.
So, Pontious Pilate,
A Roman official,
Did their dirty work.
The council is much less composed.
They did not work with the Romans.
They took immediate action from the trial and rush the man like a violent mob,
Grab ahold of him,
Drag him out of the city,
And pummel him to death with stones.
Amid this massacre,
We are introduced to a yet-unknown young man named Saul for the first time in Acts.
He is almost like a coat checker,
Looking onto this stoning with approval.
Saul was a Pharisee and was associated with the Sanhedrin.
He very likely could have been one of the instigators,
Or perhaps even the primary instigator of Stephen’s trial.
He may or may not have been a member of the council.
It is not known for certain.
At worst, he was a young student who was zealous for the traditional Jewish faith.
This is the ironic beginning of Saul’s story in the Bible.
Later he is called Paul,
And becomes an unexpectedly great figure in Acts.
As remarkable as Stephen’s speech is,
His life and death was even more remarkable,
In the midst of suffering,
He embodies what it means to be like Christ,
With two closing requests.
First in vs. 59,
He calls out to God requesting His help,
Committing his spirit to God.
Echoing Psalm 31:5,
But also being like Jesus,
Who called out for the Father to receive His spirit from the cross in Luke 23:46.
Then, Stephen’s very last words in vs. 60,
Were a plea to the Lord to not hold the sin of the council against them.
He has no desire for vengeance,
Even up to his last breath.
This proclaims that he understands how his own sins have been forgiven by grace.
And once again he exemplifies what it means to be like Christ,
By suffering like Christ did on the cross in Luke 23:34,
When Jesus said to forgive His murderers because they do not know what they do.
Stephen is a model for how Christians can be like Christ.
The council was desperate, enraged, and defending the condemnation of their traditions.
But Stephen was content, peaceful, and strong in His witness of Christ.
Because He trusted Jesus.
He cried out for Jesus to take His spirit.
And Because He trusted Jesus,
He was empowered to be like Jesus.