"Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Acts 7:56
Stephen's defense, before The Sandhedrin, is one of the most amazing displays of Spirit-filled courage found in the Bible. It is, also, the greatest summary or overview of the Old Testament story that has ever been made. It is a great outline for a complete and accurate introduction to The Old Testament. It provides the perspective, purpose and backdrop for the story of redemption. As they say, "It is a must read."
Still, the most intriguing verses, from my own personal point of view are found in v.55-60. Stephen's dramatic stand, in defense of His Savior, is surpassed only, by The Stand that Jesus took, on his behalf, in the middle of his crisis. ( v. 56)
As Stephen wrapped up his message to The Sanhedrin, he was not drenched in the sweat of man who had just vented his spleen, taking one last shot at his enemies. The Book of Acts describes him as...
"Being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,..." v. 55
"Being full of the Holy Spirit" means that Stephen was not full of himself, but he was full of Jesus. His message was not a diatribe against his enemies. It was a glorification of his Savior. It is no secret that most preachers are better known for what they are against, than Who they are for, but Stephen cannot be counted among them.
When Stephen was confronted with the greatest crisis of his life, he was ready. That is the way a crisis works. A crisis does not develop character. It moves too quickly to do that. Crisis can only reveal the lack of, or the possession of character. Big crisis, weak character, big problem. Big crisis, great character, problem solved.
Great men have always known that genuine character is produced, when no one is looking. An image is a fantasy that is presented when everyone is looking. Take a wild guess which one our contemporary culture values the most. It has not always been this way.
In various fashions, forms and versions, the following quote has been attributed to a President who faced one of the greatest crises of our nation, and led it to ultimate victory, through The Civil War. Perhaps he said it. If not, the truth is still in it.
"I will prepare myself, and when my time comes, I will be ready." Abraham Lincoln
Certainly, Stephen was ready. His preparation? The seminary of The Spirit. He was so full of The Spirit, all he could see was Jesus, and all he could talk about was Jesus. He wasn't captured by his experience with The Spirit at Pentecost, but he was captured by the love of God, he found through Jesus.
I have dear friends all across the wide spectrum of evangelical Christianity. They may not share a great deal in common on the expression of the local church, or on every piece of doctrine on the Holy Spirit.
They do agree on this. Any doctrinal position that elevates the work of The Holy Spirit, but make less of Jesus is not to be tolerated. Any experience or education that a person claims to have had must be judged, by how their private and public lives elevate Jesus. What does that look like? Look at Stephen.
The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross, and The Risen Christ walked on earth for 40 days among His disciples, preparing them to receive The Promise of His Spirit. Ten days before The Promise was delivered in The Upper Room, The Risen Christ became The Glorified Christ. Until His return, Jesus is now seated at the right hand of The Father, and He lives to make intercession for us.
"He was received up into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of God." Mark 16:10
"He always lives to make intercession..." Hebrews 7:25
Note to self: Where ever you find Jesus, you find Him praying for others. Go thou and do like-wise.
Now, I could be wrong, and I may be making too much of what I read in the Book of Acts, but I must never be found guilty of making too little of it. One of the most profound insights I receive from the martyr's testimony is Stephen's perspective on Jesus. He said,
"I see... the Son of Man standing, at the right hand of God."
When it mattered most, God allowed Stephen to catch a glimpse of Heaven, but more than that, to see Jesus stand in his honor. Stephen is the first Christian martyr, and this is the only time Scripture records Jesus standing, NOT SEATED, at the right hand of God.
I can only speculate, but I am not entering into a flight of fantasy to believe, this is not a coincidence or a typo. It mattered to Stephen to know that Someone was standing with him, and he was not alone, in the middle of his crisis. Jesus knew this scene very well. He had lived it out, and now Jesus responded to it. When one of His friends, and family members was being attacked, in another kangaroo court, He took The Stand, and kept praying.
Jesus had said to His disciples, "No longer do I call you slaves...I have called you friends." (John 15:15) Scripture teaches that a friend loves at all times. This was a time in the life of Stephen, when he stood up and spoke up for the name of His Savior. It is not too big of a stretch to believe, He saw Jesus stand up for him.
We can disagree on this and still be friends, but I am comforted to know that when I am in the middle of a crisis, I am not alone. I know this much. Jesus took The Stand with Stephen, and He continues to intercede for me. For me to do less for others, is to be less of Who Jesus was to his friends.
Ron Dunn, friend and mentor, who is now in Heaven, wrote a book, "Don't Just Stand There. Pray Something!" Thanks Ron! I believe I will...
TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!