“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. They put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.’ And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:8-15).
We met Stephen in v. 5, as: “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” who was given oversight of the church’s daily distribution of food to the widows. Now, we learn that God had used him in much more remarkable ways: “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.”
As a young Christian, I thrilled to read about the “great wonders and signs” that the early church had performed. I was enraptured with the prospect of performing some special miracle, dreaming and even praying that God would enable me to execute some impossible feat, like raising the dead or giving sight to the blind. I thought it would be amazing to do something spectacular… for God’s glory, of course.
Truth is, behind it all was the vain notion that I’d be something special myself if I could do something glorious. In my immaturity, I wanted to make something of me instead of making much of Christ. How hard the flesh dies! Still, God is gracious and most merciful.
The key to understanding the passage above is not that Stephen performed miracles, but that he was “full of grace and power.” The miracles he performed testified to the power and presence of God, not how special Stephen was. When some men contested Stephen’s witness, Luke observed: “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” Again, the point is not that Stephen was any different than any other Christian, but that God the Holy Spirit was manifestly with him in power.
Because they couldn’t contend with the Spirit’s wisdom that Stephen expressed, they resorted to deception. Seems to have been a pattern since Jesus’ trial – a pattern that has resurfaced countless time throughout church history – Christ’s enemies can’t bear to hear the witness of His servants. So, they rely on fraud, bullying, or outright violence.
Despite their efforts, they couldn’t deny that something happened that far exceeded the expected: “And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.” Yes, the grace of God that permeated Stephen’s life showed forth in such stark contrast against the Council’s rancorous tempest that Stephen’s face radiated with the glory of Christ. The deeper their murderous rage grew, the brighter and purer Stephen’s countenance appeared.
Again, the lesson is not that really cool Christians sparkle and twinkle. Try as they might, they don’t. The point is that as God’s grace saturates our lives and seeps out of our character, we will reflect His glory. As Christ captures and captivates our hearts, He sets us apart from the world. The closer we draw to Him, the greater will be our separation from the world.
The more we grow like Christ, the more the world will hate us. They have to because they hated Him. We don’t have to be hateful to be hated. We just have to love the Lord of glory.
The Lord grant His church a growing measure of grace that we might display His glory in our lives to the point that Jesus will be obvious in our character, our words, and our actions.