When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60)
Dying With God On His Lips
The death of Stephen was the beginning of the persecution of the early church that would lead to the deaths of thousands of faithful saints. Peter and John and later all the apostles first felt the pains of suffering for the name of Jesus Christ. When the Jews killed Stephen, things changed. Stephen was a man full of moral conviction and power. He was endued with power from the Holy Spirit to perform great wonders and signs among the people. His preaching was more powerful than his miracles. He boldly proclaimed the true gospel of his Lord as recorded by Luke. It was a history lesson of the Jews showing their rebellious heart. Their only response was to kill him. Laying their garments before a future apostle of Christ, Stephen was stoned to death.
When Stephen was pummeled with rocks and stones, he knew his life was over. He did not lash out as many men would do or cower in fear. The remarkable spirit of Stephen was to die the way he lived. As the stones fell hard upon his body, he called on God. One would almost believe that Stephen was at the cross when Jesus was dying, as the words sound familiar to what Jesus said. He knew his salvation was secure as he cried out through the blows for the Lord to receive his spirit. In a final example of righteousness – and like his Lord – he begged the Father not to hold the men accountable who were killing him. Remarkable. But no so remarkable because Stephen died the way he lived.
Life is congealed in the moment of death. An expression often used when facing death is, “I saw my life flash before my eyes.” No one knows what it is like to die save the life of Jesus who rose from the dead. There is no one to ask what it is like to feel the hand of death wrapping its arms around life. It is certain that what all men think about in death is the way they lived – no matter how they lived. Stephen faced death with God because he lived life with God. He did not die angry or hopeless. He died with God on his mind and the Lord on his lips. Luke tells us that death is like a sleep. Stephen just laid down and died – he went to sleep.
Death can come at any time and many ways. Facing the inevitable it best done with God. Living today with God on our lips and the Lord in our hearts will give us greater peace when death comes. Death will then be just a sleep that takes us home to the Father where we will rest through eternity. Live and die like Stephen. He lived and died like his Lord.
Each night is but the past day’s funeral and the morning his resurrection: why then should our funeral sleep be otherwise than our sleep at night. (Arthur Warwick, Spare Minutes, 1637)