Just a word to my brother (and Pastor), Steve Weaver, before I begin. This is not about you! Although most of it probably could be.
Stephen (the Deacon) has always intrigued me. Here is a man who is known along with seven others for his faith and spirituality. And yet there is something unique about him. And not just the fact that he is the first martyr (or second depending on your definition of martyrdom). Stephen was special as we see in Acts 6:5. The other six men who were selected probably were faithful and spirit led also, but there is a special distinction given to Stephen. Part of this is probably the fact that he was killed for his testimony, and Luke writing at a later time wants to show a particular honor to him. But most of it is undoubtedly his evangelistic fervor as we will see.
In the Book of Acts we find the words ‘full’ or ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’, over and over. An interesting fact about these occurrences is what usually happens immediately afterwards. The Gospel is preached. This is an evidence, if not the evidence, of being Spirit-filled.
Stephen had this. Luke says he was full of the Holy Ghost and then proves his statement by showing his evangelistic fervor. Stephen was very special indeed. He had a filling of the Spirit that was not primarily concerned with signs and wonders, although those were present. But they were a sideline to the real story. Stephen boldly, proudly, unabashedly, and (insert your adjective here), preached the Gospel. This, according to Jesus, is what the Spirit will do in us. (John 16:12-15)
But evangelistic fervor is nothing if it is not the true ‘evangel’ we are fervent about. Stephen not only testified of Christ, but the truth about Christ, as we see from his sermon. This is yet another sign of the Spirit. He will guide us into the truth. Stephen had a very good grasp of divine truth, as opposed to the Jews distorted vision of the Old Testament.
But one more sign of the Spirit we see in Stephens life is shown in his manner of death. After being faithful to Christ in his testimony, the Jewish leaders are mad. Really mad.
My little five year old gets angry sometimes. When he is angry he is ready to destroy. He will try to hit, crush, break, or bite whatever, or whoever, he is mad at. That’s how Luke describes these religious leaders.
Now when my son, or anyone else for that matter, gets that mad, it’s hard to be forgiving of them in that moment. Later, after the anger is gone, we forgive. But not while we’re still being hit, pinched, squeezed, bitten, or stoned. Stephen was so Spirit-filled that his sanctification had taken super, gigantic, huge, titanic strides in his sanctification. He had already forgiven his attackers before the first stone had reached him. There they were standing with gritted teeth, and Stephen tries to warn them, “I see Jesus”. But they don’t listen. Then they scream, put their hands over their ears, and charge. As they stone him outside of the city, Stephen calmly looks toward Jesus and says, “Jesus, Receive my spirit.” And then he gives his last words, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” What an outstanding understanding of the cross he exhibits with these words!
And Saul (Paul) was consenting to his death. (Caution! Biased supposition ahead!) No doubt Paul hears these last words of Stephen every time he writes about justification by faith. Every time he reads the law and the prophets he is consumed with these words. “Do not charge them with this sin.” With these words Stephen had lived out the sufferings of Christ in front of the most important man in the Christian Church, outside of the Lord Jesus. He offered himself as a sacrifice and by it, even today, he still speaks through the writings of the Apostle Paul.