This is the longest and perhaps saddest chapter in Acts. Rejection of the gospel turns deadly. When Stephen went before the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), he preached the gospel boldly. Stephen carefully traced Israelite history from Abraham to his current time. It was a story of failure and rejection on the part of Israel. God sent his spokesmen, but the Israelites consistently rejected his message. With scathing words, Stephen relayed God’s disappointment in his Old Testament people. “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7:51-53). John the Baptist had spoken in such fashion. Jesus had done so. Both died because of it. Now Stephen faithfully follows their lead. Souls were on the line and his life was on the line. What a brave and faithful witness of Jesus Christ! God’s indicting finger pointed straight at the souls of the Jewish leaders.
The Supreme Court of Israel acted like a pack of mad dogs when they heard Stephen’s true indictment of their sins. What do we do when God’s word speaks to convict us? Do we reject the message? Do we deny the truth of the message? Do we always think it applies to someone else? “Surely not me”?! Or do we act with godly sorrow and turn in repentance to God and ask forgiveness (2 Cor. 7:10)?
Facing death, Stephen was privileged to see Jesus waiting for him at the right hand of God. A violent, unjust death surely is not an easy thing. Jesus had died in this way. Stephen died this way. Countless martyrs (Greek word for witness) have died this way. Should God call on us to die in such fashion, would we pass the test? We enjoy protection of the law, and we pray for peace (1 Rim. 2:1-4). But enemies of truth do not always relent. Sometimes they pursue, persecute, and put to death those who stand up for the Lord. God’s way is not some political stance; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing matters like the truth about Jesus Christ. Kingdoms come and go. Secular leaders come and go. Jesus rules forever and we must forever honor him, live for him, and if necessary—die for him (Rev. 2:10).
Here we catch our first glimpse of the young man Saul, who would become the apostle Paul. He watched over the outer garments of those who threw stones and killed Stephen. No wonder Paul would later be so remorseful! No wonder he was so grateful to be forgiven and to be entrusted with the gospel he once tried to destroy (1 Tim. 1:12-17). Paul reasoned that if God could forgive him, he could forgive anyone. The chief of sinners. The greatest of the apostles.
As Stephen echoed Jesus’ plea for God to receive his spirit, he passed from this world of sin and sorrow to the spiritual world where the saved wait to meet Jesus. What is our destiny? It is determined by our every thought, word, and deed. Let us live for Jesus and someday die with assurance that it is well with our soul.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of Luke’s gospel. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.