Study 12 STEPHEN: INSTANT DEATH, INSTANT GLORY!
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 4 – 7)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 7:54 to 8:2
The name STEPHEN is derived from Stephanos, which means ‘a crown’, and we read of this first Christian who was martyred for his faith in Acts 22:20. In this study we centre our thoughts on this man whose life ended so suddenly, and according to earth’s standards, tragically. He was elected to serve as a deacon (Acts 6 and 7), later becoming a zealous evangelist. Chapter 7 tells us of his courage, the record of his defence, and the fury which erupted against him. We read of his death and burial, so what can we learn from this event, and about the death of any Christian?
1. In General: the Death of a Christian
- 1. The Christian should go on serving the Lord right up until his death; this is exactly what Stephen did – an earnest labourer for the Lord who died ‘in harness’. As we get older we may need to change the form of our service, but we should never give up serving the Lord (Psalm 92:13-15).
- 2. The Christian dies at God’s appointed time and in His appointed way. Stephen’s brutal death was in line with His permissive will, allowing His servant to be attacked and stoned. God makes no mistakes, and Romans 8:28 is always true. Look up Galatians 3:26.
- 3. The Christian’s death often seems tragic and full of mystery – it doesn’t make sense. This could be said of Stephen’s death; he was such a fine Christian, a Spirit-filled preacher, a greatly-used soul-winner and, moreover, he was in the prime of his life and ministry, only to have that cut short. Turn to Acts 12 and compare verses 2 and 11 and you will see that James was beheaded, whereas Peter was delivered. Turn to Hebrews 11 and compare verses 34 and 37; you will see there that some by faith were sawn in two, yet others by faith escaped the edge of the sword (John 13:7).
- 4. A Christian, when he dies, falls asleep. Look at verse 60 – and when a Christian falls asleep the next thing is – Glory! – instant death, instant Glory – see 2 Corinthians 5:8 and compare Philippians 1:21-24. Note: it is the body which falls asleep, not the soul or the spirit.
- 5. A Christian receives dying grace when the time comes, just as there is living grace for daily living. Perhaps you cannot face the thought of death – of course you can’t – but what you need just now is grace to live by, and that is available and plentiful (2 Corinthians 9:8 and 12:9). When the moment comes for you to die, special grace will be given; Stephen was full of this grace because he was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55).
- 6. A Christian’s body, when he dies, requires careful, loving attention (Acts 8:2). Notice that the reference is to the body, because Stephen was no longer in the body; he had gone. But his body was buried. What about cremation? Let us answer this carefully, and if you disagree with what we say please do not be upset. There would seem to be nothing in the Bible against this. If it is said that it is a pagan custom, well then we should not speak of Christmas or of the seven days of the week, all of which are pagan names. As to how the body is disposed of depends to some extent on the custom in our homeland. If you do not like the idea of cremation, however, or if you think it is unscriptural, you do not need to have anything to do with it. Whether our bodies are buried, burned or lost at sea, this will make no difference when the Lord comes and at the resurrection (Philippians 3:20-21).
- 7. When a Christian dies it means sorrow for those who are left (Acts 8:2) – how could it be otherwise? – look up 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
2. In Particular: the Death of Stephen
- 1. In his death Stephen witnessed for the Lord. See his face (Acts 6:15) and listen to his words! He was witnessing by life and by lip.
- 2. In his death Stephen was full of the Lord (verse 55) – compare Ephesians 5:18. He was occupied with the Lord Jesus and under the control of the Holy Spirit – Spirit-filled until the moment of his translation.
- 3. In his death Stephen saw the Lord (verses 55-56) – a glorious vision of the risen, exalted Lord Jesus, at the right-hand of His Father (Hebrews 1:1-3).
- 4. In his death Stephen prayed to the Lord (verse 59). Did he pray for help? Yes, and why not? (Psalm 50:15). He was on speaking terms with his Lord and Master to pray like this in his dying hour (Luke 23:46).
- 5. In his death Stephen’s whole trust was in the Lord (verse 59) – “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”. There was no cry to the Virgin Mary or to a priest, no reference to rites and ceremonies, but just ‘I am trusting you, Lord Jesus…Receive me!’ – look up Proverbs 18:10 and Acts 4:12.
- 6. In his death Stephen was like his Lord (verse 60) – no resentment; he was calm and submissive, praying for his enemies, just like Jesus – look up and compare Matthew 11:29 and Luke 23:34.
- 7. In his death Stephen was fruitful for the Lord. Compare Acts 7:58 with Acts 8:1,4. How true it is that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” – look up and compare Philippians 1:12.
If we live as Stephen did we may die as Stephen did, and be fruitful in our living and in our dying.