What We Must Do (5)
And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. Acts 6.15
Lies and more lies
Stephen was a good man, a true servant of people in need. He was well thought-of throughout the city of Jerusalem, and showed real skill in managing resources to help others. Stephen was just the kind of person you’d like to have more of in the population of your town.
Well, except for his exasperating and unbending ideas about religion.
Those who dragged Stephen before the religious rulers of Jerusalem knew they could never make a case against him on the basis of his character. So they lied about him, putting him in the worst possible light as the kind of person who threatens the stability of the status quo and the privileges of the powerful.
They were right about that, of course, but not for the false reasons they proposed. Stephen was hated because he threatened the secure status of certain local tares. He lived his witness for the Kingdom of God, and sowed the good seed of the Kingdom liberally and effectively to all around. And it was just for this reason that the enemies of God made themselves enemies of Stephen as well.
We must prepare for such a possibility in our own witness for the Lord.
Clear, concise, reasonable
Throughout his defense, Stephen was concise, clear, and reasonable. There are no religious buzz words in his speech, no mindless rants against some straw man, no ad hominem finger-pointing or name-calling, and no alarmist cries of danger on every hand. He clearly sensed that the deck was stacked against him, though, so, from the beginning of his defense, we can see him moving toward a hard confrontation with those who were demanding to know whether the charges against him were true.
If we follow his argument carefully, we will not be surprised when he suddenly breaks out with accusations against and condemnation of his accusers, which were sure to end him in even hotter water. The temperature has been rising, mainly through suggestion and intimation, so that Stephen’s outburst in verses 51-53 does not, if we’ve been paying attention, surprise us: “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.”
I sometimes get the impression that Bible students look at Stephen as very gentle and peaceable in his demeanor, his hands neatly folded and eyes drifting heavenward, as he meekly tries to explain himself. As much as I love Rembrandt’s painting of the stoning of Stephen, we pick up some of that same notion in the placid and resigned demeanor in which he portrays the first Christian martyr.
The face of an angel?
But is this what is meant by Stephen’s face looking like that of an angel? This is way many of us think about angels, like those goofy baroque and rococo putti floating around through paintings of Biblical narratives and themes.
But this is not the way the faces of angels struck those in Scripture who observed them. In Scripture, when people came face to face with angels, they were terrified. They fell down on their faces and feared to look up. Whatever it was about Stephen’s angelic countenance that pierced the hearts of those who observed it, the response was never anything like, “Aw, isn’t that sweet?”
I think Stephen must have looked pretty bold, perhaps even fierce, as he began his defense. His words must have been forceful, indicting, and gilded with glory as he spoke.
When, at the end of his speech, he condemned his accusers as those “who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it,” he might just as well have been speaking about himself – the messenger or “angel” (the Greek word is the same) they were about to stone to death.
Certainly, the Apostle Paul never forgot this experience, could never shake the face of that martyr or the thunder of his witness, and I can’t help but think that many of Stephen’s murderers, recalling his testimony and courage, must have experienced no small amount of shame and remorse for the rest of their lives.
How about us? When we start talking about the things of the Lord, are we all, “You see, uh, well you know, this is just what I think, this is what it means to me, or well, I could be wrong”? Or do we stand like Stephen against the Gospel’s detractors, radiant and bold and, yes, even a bit fearsome, as we open our mouths to defend the faith of Christ against the foolishness of unbelief?
Which face of the angel do others see in us as we begin talking about our Lord Who saved us?
1. Think of some situations in Scripture when people saw the face of an angel. What did they see? What did John see in Revelation 1? How did they respond? Or Daniel? Or Zacharias?
2. Should we think that Luke intended a connection between Acts 6.15 and Acts 7.53? Explain:
3. Why are so many Christians reticent and ineffective when it comes to sharing their faith? Why do we lack the boldness and conviction of Stephen?
Next steps – Conversation: How would you assess your own boldness in proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Talk with some fellow believers. How can you encourage and assist one another in being bolder and more consistent in presenting the Gospel, even to those who are obviously hostile against it?
T. M. Moore
We must be ready with the Gospel as the Lord gives us opportunities in our Personal Mission Field. Our little book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you to be ready to give an answer and explanation for the hope others see in you. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.