Chapter 7:54-60; 8:1.
Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 331 - December 1883
Chapter 7:54-60; 8:1.
The closing scene of Stephen, and a very momentous turning-point in God's ways, are brought before us vividly in the verses that follow.
"New hearing these things they were deeply cut to their hearts, and gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, looking fixedly into heaven, he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, Lo, I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. But they crying with a loud voice held their ears and rushed upon him with one accord, and cast out of the city and stoned [him]. And the witnesses laid aside their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul, and stoned Stephen, invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And kneeling down he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And having said this he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to the making him away" (vii. 54--60; viii. 1).
It is for the truth told in love that those who are Christ's should suffer, for this only; and so it was now. For Stephen's love and faithfulness there was hatred, as with the Master.
But a more blessed picture nowhere appears of the Christian. The Jews resisted, he was full of, the Holy Spirit; his gaze was fixed on heaven, as ours should be; and he was given to see as we only by faith can see the glory of God and Jesus at His right hand.
It is true, there is a difference. It was as yet a transitional time and Jesus he saw "standing" there: He had not taken definitely His seat, but was still giving the Jews a final opportunity. Would they reject the testimony to Him gone on high indeed, but as a sign waiting if peradventure they might repent and He be sent to bring in the times of refreshing here below? Stephen in these last words accentuated the call, as he said, "Lo, I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of man" (for so He is attested, the rejected Messiah exalted in heaven for a far larger glory) "standing at the right hand of God." Thus not only does he look up as the characteristic outlook of the Christian, but the heavens he sees to be opened (another fact full of blessing to us), and Jesus is beheld as Son of man in the glory of God. He who came down Son of God in supreme love to die for us is gone up in righteousness, raised from the dead and glorified in heaven; and the believer filled with the Spirit and suffering, for His sake sees Him there. Once the heavens opened on Him here as He received the Holy Spirit and was acknowledged Son of God. By and by from the opened heaven He will come forth Sing of kings and Lord of lords to execute judgment on the quick. The place and privilege of the Christian is between these two, and Stephen here sets it forth in its fullest light.
"But they crying with a loud voice held their ears and rushed upon him with one accord, and cast out of the city and stoned [him], and the witnesses laid aside their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul, and stoned Stephen invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (ver. 57--56). Such was religious man, not secular or heathen, but now filled with murderous wrath, because he stands convicted of opposition to the present and full truth of God, utterly blind alike to His grace and His glory. And in that guilty scene was one not less dark and infuriated than the rest. Saul of Tarsus, afterwards to be the witness of the very Jesus whom he was then persecuting in Stephen's person; for he not only beheld, but took the part here assigned to him with those that stoned Stephen invoking and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
There is no ground for the addition in the Authorised Version, and a questionable need for that in the Revised Version. It was on the Lord that His dying servant called, as the blessed Lord dying commended His spirit to His Father's hands.
Each is exquisitely in place, which here is somewhat rudely disturbed by the common version. No one doubts that the usual address is to God, to the Father; but as little should it be forgotten that there are special circumstances where we not only may but ought to call on "the Lord," as we see in the first chapter of the Acts, and also in 2 Cor. xii. But in no case is it sweeter than when the servant dies for his Master as here, though he rightly puts it as a prayer to the Lord to receive his spirit, not as the Lord Jesus so appropriately, and according to Scripture, commended His spirit into His Father's hands.
But this is far from all, blessed as it is. For " kneeling down he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." There was nothing of consequence in calling with a loud voice on the Lord; for well he knew that He would hear and answer the softest petition—that He would receive his spirit as readily as in the loudest tones. His importunate earnestness was for others, divine love for his enemies then murdering him. It too was the reproduction of the spirit of Christ, the practical anticipation of what Peter exhorted latert he saints to. "If ye do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently, this is acceptable [this is grace] with God." Yea, it was more than taking patiently, as it was then simple suffering for well-doing. But it is set before us as the pattern for a believer now, practical grace rising above all injury and malice, present and perfect rest in the Saviour, as become a heavenly man full of the Holy Spirit.
"And having said this, he fell asleep." Well he might: his work was done and well done; and his cup of suffering filled to the brim, but only so as to bring cut his last and fervent cry, the intercession of love to the Lord on behalf of those who were slaying His servant. "And Saul," it is added, "was consenting to the making him away." He was not there accidentally, nor without full participation in the bloody business of that never-to-be-forgotten day.