St.

Stephen: Deacon, Martyr, and Theological Genius
The Sacred Page Podcast with Michael Barber

Stephen: Miracle Worker and Debater
And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.—Acts 6:8–15

Stephen’s speech
1. History of Israel 2. Highlights Israelites’ hardheartedness And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and rejoiced in the works of their hands. (Acts 7:41) 3. Relativizes the temple’s value But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, 49 ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? (Acts 7:47–48) 4. Jewish leaders killed the prophets “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53)

The Martrydom of Stephen
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul was consenting to his death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 7:55–60; 8:1–3)

8:1

Jesus and St. Stephen
In Luke, at the end of his life, Jesus was arrested, made to stand trial, was questioned by the high priest, was falsely accused and executed. The climactic moment of Jesus’ trial comes as Jesus tells the high priest he will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven and reveals his identity as the Son of God (Luke 22:69–70). Immediately after this he is condemned to death (Luke 22:71). In Acts, Stephen is arrested, made to stand before the council, accused by false witnesses of claiming Jesus would destroy the temple (a claim leveled against Jesus in Matthew and Mark), questioned by the high priest, and executed. Stephen’s trial climaxes with his statement: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). After this, he is killed. Of course, Stephen is even described like Jesus in death. Just before dying Jesus prays, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Stephen likewise prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Moreover, when Jesus is crucified he prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Similarly, Stephen prays for his accusers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). “Had Stephen not prayed, the Church today would have no Paul”—St. Augustine But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. 4 And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:1–25)

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