“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:54-60
The stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 always brings me to tears. This humble, reputable, brave, wise, Spirit-filled man (6:3,5,8) has just orated a beautiful account of the God of glory and His unfolding plan for Israel from Abraham to the Righteous One, Jesus, to the High Priest and his council. But the truth enraged them, so, to eliminate the conviction it bore, they killed the messenger. That part of the story is enough to evoke emotion over their hardness of heart and catch-your-breath-grief at the horrifying injustice.
But it is the remarkable description of Stephen and Jesus that gets to me most. Turning his eyes from the shouting, frenzied men moments from murdering him, Stephen gazes upward (a gaze is peaceful, lingering) and sees the glory of God, and Jesus standing at His right hand! We know the risen, glorified Jesus is seated at God’s right hand (Luke 22:69; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 8:1), so the image of His standing to receive His servant Stephen is moving. Jesus, the Gentleman. Jesus, the Coach urging on His charge. Jesus, the Fan cheering His hero across the finish line. Jesus, the Father welcoming home His beloved child with open arms. Stephen, while entangled in the dark rage and intense pain of being dragged and stoned, is caught up in the heavenlies. God unveils for us the beauty of tragic death for those in Christ.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Heavenly Lord, whatever the madding opposition, the rage of disease or injustice or sorrow or loneliness or persecution, wherever the darkness, Your glory shines. And You are near. Keep me gazing upward, entrusting my spirit to You.