What We Must Do (7)
But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Acts 7.55, 56
Stephen shows us how, understanding the times in which we live, we must live and proclaim our witness for Christ humbly, but with conviction, even though doing so might find us tangled in the tares of this world, and getting the worst of it.
Stephen’s outburst against his accusers probably sealed his fate (vv. 51-53). But what he said after that fed the irrational rage of the religious leaders so that they moved as one to murder him, even without seeking approval of the Roman authorities. Who was this upstart nobody to claim that he had visions of the heavenly realm which not even the highest religious authorities in Israel had ever enjoyed!
I think sometimes we miss the significance of Stephen’s heavenly vision. Many of us probably find it extraordinary that he was somehow enabled to see through the veil that separates time from eternity, to be granted a glimpse of the glorious throne room of the resurrected and living Christ.
After all, how many of us have ever seen that?
Even though, as Paul explains, we have been seated there with Christ (Eph. 2.6), and even though he commands us to focus our thoughts on that heavenly scene (Col. 3.1-3), where we may expect to see the glory of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4.6). And even though many other places in Scripture urge us to look into the throne room of the Lord and gaze on His beauty and glory. Still, I suspect that most Christians have never really seen with the eye of faith what Scripture plainly tells us is true and all around us, all the time (Eph. 1.15-23). We have not managed to allow the then and there of the heavenly realm to have any vital role in our here and now lives.
So when we see Stephen reporting on this glimpse into the heavenly realm, we think this must be some highly unusual experience reserved only for, you know, real saints.
Faith beyond the mundane world
But I believe that Stephen’s surprise upon seeing the Lord was not the fact that he actually saw him in glory. I think Stephen had the kind of faith that lived beyond this mundane world, past the daily grind without passing it by, within the veil of eternity while never leaving his existence in time. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and bore the countenance of one who lived in the presence of God’s glory. Seeing Christ in His eternal glory was nothing new for Stephen.
Seeing Him standing was.
Stephen’s boldness in confronting the enemies of the Gospel, exposing the foolishness of their charges and claims, and indicting them for their wicked rebellion against God, came as the outflow of a life lived daily in the presence of the risen Christ. You can’t stare death in the face and fearlessly call its bluff, unless you live somehow further along the path than where death takes his stand to meet you.
Stephen lived in the then and there, here and now. He experienced the risen Christ on His throne in glory, precisely as He is described in many places in Scripture. Stephen lived his life from that vantage point, that base of operations, and so he understood that this world is not only not our home, but also that this bodily life is not our real and final existence.
The source of such boldness
Where does the boldness of Stephen come from, which empowered him to confront the enemies of the Gospel and pull their skirts up over their heads?
Not from memorizing handy answers to Gospel objections. Not from avoiding conflicts and just being nice to people. Such boldness – such willingness to lay down one’s life for the truth – comes only from living day by day in the presence of our exalted King and Savior, Jesus Christ. From contemplating His works and joining Him to sow good Kingdom seed into every area of our Personal Mission Field. From truly understanding the times, knowing what we must do, and doing it faithfully at all times.
For Stephen, as for most of the early Christians, the Christian life could be defined as practicing the Kingship of Jesus (Acts 17.1-9). They knew Jesus as Lord. They experienced Him with them always, to the end of the age, or the end of their lives. And they knew Him where He was, in His glory, surrounded by saints and angels, seated in royal splendor and majesty, advancing His Kingdom, upholding the cosmos and everything in it, putting His enemies under His feet, and working all things together for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rev. 4-6).
No, Stephen’s surprise was not in seeing Christ. It was in seeing Him standing rather than seated – standing, we can be sure, to welcome home a faithful witness and martyr whose life stands as a gauntlet for every believer in Christ, showing us what we must do in seeking and advancing the Kingdom in this secular and narcissistic age.
1. What do we mean by saying that Stephen was able to “live then and there, here and now”? Is this something every Christian should experience?
2. Meditate on Psalms 2, 16, 45, 47, 93, and 110. What picture of Jesus Christ, exalted in glory, do they create in your mind?
3. What does it mean to “set your mind” on the things that are above, where Christ is seated in heavenly places (Col. 3.1-3)? How would you encourage a fellow believer to practice this discipline?
Next steps – Conversation, Preparation: Do you and your Christian friends have a clear and compelling vision of the unseen realm? A vision like Stephen’s? Talk with some of your friends. Discuss what you know about this realm, and what it means to “set your mind” there (Col. 3.1-3). Begin developing your sense of spiritual vision until it becomes as clear and compelling as Stephen’s.
T. M. Moore
A free PDF of this week’s study is available for download by clicking here.
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.
We look to the Lord to provide for our needs, and He does so through those who are served by this ministry. Please prayerfully consider becoming a supporter of The Fellowship of Ailbe with your financial gifts. You can send your tax-free contribution to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452, or use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.