I also had a curious urging to read Stephen's speech in Acts 7. A couple of things struck me. 1. Stephen asks God to forgive his murderers and commits his spirit to God, similar to Jesus (Acts 7:59-60; Luke 23:34, 23:46). 2. While the Lord Jesus cried, "Father, 'into Your hands I commit My spirit'" Stephen cried, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 3. Stephen saw God! Hundreds of years earlier, Daniel says that he "was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him..." Daniel 7:13-14 Before the Jewish council, Jesus told the high priest that, "...hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Matthew 26:64 And as he stood before the Jewish council, Stephen said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" Acts 7:56 It's not just an image or a powerful idea - a man called Stephen saw the risen Jesus in heaven. As the old creed says, "[Jesus] ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead." This same Jesus who now sits enthroned once walked on earth and preached the gospel of God, "saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” Mark 1:14-15 This same Jesus is coming again. His first visitation was one of mercy - the work of redemption. His second visitation will be one of judgment and the establishment of His kingdom. In the time between...what is going on? Did God abandon His plans? "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9
4. While Zechariah the son of Jehoiada asked God to "look on it, and repay!" (2 Chron 24:22), Stephen asked God to "not charge them with this sin." One might be tempted to quickly condemn the OT prophet as being harsh and judgmental, but we know that God is glorified in judgment (Isaiah 5:16) as well as salvation (Isaiah 12). Both Zechariah and Stephen were anointed by the Holy Spirit to serve as God's messengers - so my first inclination is to think that neither is "wrong". What was wrong was the fact that they were both murdered. It is perfectly right that God should remember and judge their murderers accordingly. But if we listen to what Stephen and Paul tell us, "you have not kept [the law]" (Acts 7:53) and "you who judge practice the same things...all have sinned" (Romans 2:1, 3:23). Murderers are not the only ones in danger of God's righteous condemnation. And this is why Christians are called to "love your enemy" (Mt 5:43). Christians are called not to judge but to minister the ministry of reconciliation - proclaiming the gospel of Christ to the world. If the people do not listen, God is exalted in judgment. If they do listen, God is exalted in salvation. "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:23-26 Lord, make me a messenger of your good news - by Your Holy Spirit, make me such a messenger.
5. Stephen was "full of the Holy Spirit". The Holy Spirit. I like Coverdale's translation of Psalm 143:10 - "Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee, for thou art my God: let thy loving spirit lead me forth unto the land of righteousness" (in modern spelling). In my recent meditations, I realize that my pleasures are not the same as the pleasures of God. I want to know what pleases Him - I want to know His will. And I want to know that because I am His. "as obedient children...as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct" 1 Peter 1:14-15. He is good and His ways are good. It is my sinful old flesh that causes me to feel and think otherwise. The ancient liar would have me doubt God's goodness just as he tempted Eve saying, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'" Genesis 3:1 But we know that God is good and that His plans for His people are good. As David wrote, "How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men!" Psalm 31:19 May God's Holy Spirit sanctify me more and more. May I be ever thankful for the gift of His Spirit. May He teach me more about God and cause me to love and do the things that pleaseth Him.
Along with meditation on these things, I've also been eager to better grasp the message of the prophets in general. A few months ago, I was considering the idea of memorizing the minor prophets. My most recent memorization activities have been in Romans, since that's where our small group is camping in the course of our Bible studies; but I feel drawn back to the minor prophets. So, I've begun with Nahum. I need to know more of the Lord's judgment and the rightness of His judgments. I need to see the Lord "sitting on a throne, high and lifted up" in glory (Isaiah 6:1). I need to know more of His work in history and His love for His people Israel. So it is...Jonah, Habakkuk, and now - Lord-willing - Nahum. Teach me Your word, Father! Fill me with good food :) (Mt 4:4)
"Brethren, we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God;
Will you pray with all your power, while we try to preach the Word?
All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around."