Stages in the Life of Stephen
August 2000 by Asher Intrater
Stephen was a true hero of the faith,
and of course, the first man recorded to have given his life physically
for the gospel. His life can be seen as a living sacrifice, culminating
in a total sacrifice, to the Lord. There were several stages to this living
Character of Yeshua (Jesus)
I see the first stage of his life
as developing the character of Yeshua. He is described as a man of wisdom
(Acts 6:3 and 10); as full of the Holy Spirit (v. 3 and 5 and 10); as a
man of good reputation (v. 3) and as full of faith (v. 5 and 8). In addition,
he is appointed be the apostles as one who would be in charge of the distribution
of finances and food, and discerning who among the early congregation was
in need of charity. This shows a servant's heart, administrative capabilities
and a sense of responsibility.
It is clear from the context of chapter six, that he was a diligent and
While he was serving in his "deaconate"
responsibilities, he also began to preach the gospel - and this with signs
following. His faith for miracles is described as, "full of faith and
power, Stephen did great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8)."
The first stage reminds me of the development of Yeshua Himself as a child,
growing in grace and wisdom and favor with men (Luke 2:40 and 52). The second
stage reminds me of the preaching and miracle ministry that Yeshua started
at age thirty.
Stephen's teaching was not only wise
and edifying, it also contained a strong, if not fierce, moral challenge
to it. This moral confrontation endeared him to the common people and set
the presence of the fear of god which enabled signs and wonders to flow
(Acts 5:11-12). However it also made the religious leaders jealous and angry
and offended. This religious offense started a certain persecution against
Stephen, which started out as verbal "disputing" (Acts 6:9), and
then culminated in an all out confrontation with the priests and professors.
His daring confrontation, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart
and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit... Now you have become the betrayers
and murderers of the Just One whose coming was foretold (Acts 7:51-52)."
(Interesting to call the top Jewish rabbis "uncircumcised"?!)
This confrontation was essential to the powerful preaching of the gospel,
but it made the religious leaders so infuriated that they were ready to
kill him. He was trying to circumcise their hearts. They were "cut
to the heart" (v. 54), but only in anger.
The Total Sacrifice
When they rushed at him with
stones to kill him, he did not resist. He gave his life as a living sacrifice.
He looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God. He was "playing for
an audience of One." They were looking at him, but he was looking at
God. He was more interested in giving God glory than he was in preserving
his life in this world. His total sacrifice culminated in the words, "Lord
Jesus, receive my spirit." That is the ultimate consecration - yielding
your spirit to God. In this he spoke words similar to Yeshua and the cross,
who quoted Psalm 31, in yielding His spirit to God as well. Stephen reached
the ultimate level of conforming himself to the person and the death of
Forgiveness and Salvation
Not only did Stephen yield his
spirit to God, he also had the awesome privilege of repeating the atoning
words of Yeshua from the cross. He pronounced words of forgiveness, based
on the sacrifice not only of Yeshua, but also of his own life. "Lord,
do not charge them with this sin (Acts 7:59)." While the people were
in the act of sinning against him and murdering him, he called them forgiven,
thus opening the door for them to receive salvation in Yeshua. Perhaps most
of them did not receive salvation, but at least one of them did - Saul who
became the apostle Paul. No doubt the image of Stephen played a significant
part not only in Saul's salvation, but also in his tireless motivation to
preach the gospel all over the known world.
Conforming to Yeshua
These stages in Stephen's life
remind me of the four stages mentioned in Philippians 3:10, "that I
might know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His
sufferings, being conformed to His death." Stephen knew Him in his
godly character. He knew the power of His resurrection as he did signs and
wonders among the people. He shared the fellowship of His sufferings in
the persecution from his moral confrontation of sin. Finally, He was conformed
to Yeshua's death upon the cross as he gave his life for a sacrifice, giving
glory to the audience of One, and forgiving those who sinned against him.
May God give us the grace to do the same.