Stephen’s Death and God’s Mighty Plans

Posted on February 19, 2020

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By David Ettinger

A Moving Account
The account of Stephen never fails to move me.

We learn of him in Acts 6, where he is described as being “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Act 6:5) and “a man full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8). Eventually, Stephen is hauled before the Sanhedrin – Israel’s ruling body – on the false charge that he spoke “blasphemous words against Moses and against God” (v. 11).

In Chapter 7, Stephen gives a rousing speech before the council, which concludes: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (vv. 51-52).

Naturally, the Sanhedrin “were furious and gnashed their teeth at him” (v. 54). At that point, Stephen would have probably been evicted from the Sanhedrin chambers and banned from the Temple, and no more.

However, we next read: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (vv. 55-56).

This blasphemy (to the leaders’ thinking) was too much to bear and they “dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (v. 58). As a result, Stephen died (v. 60).

God’s Mighty Purpose
I always feel for Stephen as I picture him as young man full of zeal and bursting with life. I lament the loss of one so on fire for the Lord Jesus and so unabashedly willing to tell the world about Him.

But then I realize something that gives me a different perspective, and that’s the previously cited verses 55-56: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”

Why would God give Stephen this incomprehensible vision at this precise moment? Didn’t God know how the Sanhedrin would react and what would become of Stephen? Hadn’t Stephen done enough by so boldly preaching before this hostile audience? Why order things in such a way that Stephen would utter the very thing which would get him killed?

The answer is that God had a mighty purpose in Stephen’s death, a purpose which in this instance He has given us insight into. Stephen’s violent death would be the catalyst for the Gospel spreading from Jewish Jerusalem to the pagan Roman world.  

Indeed, Jesus had commanded that this happen (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), but to this point, it hadn’t been done. But now was the time. Those entrusted with the Gospel were to now leave the confines of Jerusalem and Israel and take the Gospel to the Gentiles.

God used this tragically spectacular event to set the process in motion.

The Individual Purpose
There’s more to this, however. God was using Stephen’s martyrdom to speak to all believers, His message being that we are, in our own small way, a part of God’s mighty plans.

For Stephen, his purpose was to witness for Christ, then die brutally in order that the Gospel go forth. For you, it could be to walk next door to your neighbor’s house and give them a Bible. For others, it could be to spend hours daily praying for all manner of things related to the Kingdom of God.

And one other lesson to be gained from Stephen’s moving death. Just in case the path God calls you on involves surrendering your life for Him, He will be there to bring peace in that climactic moment.

In reflecting upon Stephen’s death, I imagine that the extraordinary vision God gave him was all he saw during the stoning. No doubt he felt the impact of the rocks slamming against his flesh and bones, but I am certain he was inundated by peace. We read similar accounts of how those burned at the stake sang hymns to God while dying and, to the amazement of witnesses, even had smiles on their faces!

God’s Mighty Plans
God’s plans are beyond anything we can comprehend or imagine, but one thing we do know: They are wondrous, spectacular, and mighty! Let us strive to be willing participants in God’s mighty plans, just as Stephen had that privilege!

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).