By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell (Guest Blogger)
Scripture Readings: Acts 7-8
Key Scripture Verses: Acts7:54-56, 8:32-35 (NIV, Life Application Bible)
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 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.”
“This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: ‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.’”
A lot happens in these two chapters of Acts– I selected two passages in the text because of their significance and reference to Jesus.
In the first passage, Stephen who was a very devout Christian has been falsely accused of blasphemy against Moses and the teachings of the law and is standing before the Sanhedrin who challenge him about these charges against him. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and the scriptures say “that his face was like the face of an angel” as he started to reply. In his reply, he relays the history of the Jews and their relationship with God. Stephen spoke the truth and when he got to the part about how the Jews killed “those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One” and have now “betrayed and murdered him,” had “received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it,” the members of the Sanhedrin reacted with fury.
Just before the Sanhedrin rushed to stone him, he saw a vision of Jesus and reported to them what he saw. This is when they refused to hear any more, started yelling, and ran towards him and stoned him to death.
He was reporting a vision of God and Jesus at that very moment, but they were so hardened against believing in Jesus and any teaching of him and truth, they reacted in anger and killed him.
And the second passage I have selected here was a passage of scripture that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading when Phillip came upon him and asked if he understood what he was reading, hoping to witness to him. The scripture quoted was from Isaiah which predicted the coming of Christ and that he would be slaughtered like a lamb, a reference to Jesus and his crucifixion. Phillip used this incident to teach the eunuch who then believed and asked to be baptized.
Now, referring back to Stephen–when he was in the throes of being stoned, filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen said similar words to those Jesus said when he was being crucified: “Jesus receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this against them.” (Acts 7:59-60). Jesus had said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Stephen’s words were spontaneous utterances of the Holy Spirit within him and they reflect his faith and his knowledge of truth.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus was there when creation was made, that he lived as God in the flesh and bones of a man on earth, was crucified, died, and was buried, and resurrected back to life, that he revealed himself to his Disciples after his death, that he sent his Holy Spirit to them when he would no longer be with them in human form.
These selected scriptures show us again that the prophets foretold of Jesus, that Stephen saw a glimpse of heaven with Jesus at the right hand of God on his throne–that the scriptures that the Sanhedrin had so legalistically adhered to had been fulfilled in Jesus.
If one chooses to deny the truth, has a hardened heart and determination to deny the truth of Jesus, even when miracles, healing, visions, and prophecy clearly point to him as the Messiah, it doesn’t make it not so. The truth is the truth, whether it is believed and accepted or not. If one can open his heart to hear the message, become humble enough to admit his wrongdoings, and to receive the gift of his grace—the living God will reveal himself in miraculous ways.
He may not give you the vision of heaven he gave to Stephen, but he will reveal himself in a way that will more than convince you of his reality. This truth is throughout the scriptures. Only through faith can it be fully understood. Only through reading the scriptures within the context of prayer and worship and in receiving the direction and gentle urgings of the Holy Spirit can you know and understand these truths for yourself.
May you and I be open to the truth. May we have open, loving hearts that can receive the understanding, wisdom, and faith that only the living Jesus can provide.