And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue… disputed with Stephen… But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke… and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses… 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 RSVA)
And Stephen went on to say,
“Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, ‘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? Did not my hand make all these things?’ “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 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, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. 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; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. 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. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 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. (Acts 7:48-60 RSVA)
Stephen was the infant church’s first martyr and there is much to be noted here in this story that lead up to his death. . First, note that God had done a great work in Stephen and he was filled with the grace and power of God. It was not of him! Stephen’s message for the Jewish leaders was straight from God and they refused to hear it. If those who live a lie can’t refute the message, they often will kill the messenger. And what was that message? That God does not live in temples of stone and wood, but in one that is made of Living Stones (See 1 Peter 2:3-5). And that the carefully orchestrated system that the Jews had built up around the teachings of Moses was NOT what God had in mind. That those who saw themselves as keepers of the law were the worst form of law breakers, killing the very Messiah that the Father sent to them, just as they killed the prophets that were sent before Him to show them the way. God had even warned them that because they broke the old covenant, He was about to do something altogether new and that it would be founded on His own Son, NOT Moses (Read Hebrews chapters 7 and 8). But these lawless ones plotted to kill the Heir so that THEY could posses the vineyard of God for themselves (See Matthew 21:33-40).
What is interesting to me is that God spoke through Stephen with great wisdom and power, and emphasized what he was saying by changing the way he looked, making his face like that of an angel! These people were without excuse! God did all He could short of sending Jesus back in His resurrected body to warn them! But they already refused to hear Him!
Is it any different today? How many of us have run up against that same spirit that hates God and resides over HIS vineyard, the church, and always resists HIS Holy Spirit? How many of us have been cast out of the synagogues of church men because we spoke the words of the Holy Spirit? The more things change without the changing power of God, the more they remain the same. The church system that has evolved is the same bloody system that rejected Jesus and killed HIM. As long as they resist the Spirit of God, they will be controlled by that same evil spirit that took control of the first covenant and its temple system. Remember, it is the builders who reject the Precious Stone that God selected to be the Head of the corner (read Matthew 21:42-44).
The Witness of a Shining Face
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 RSVA)
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49 RSVA)
Here we have this extraordinary witness of Stephen as the glory of God showed on his face. What a contrast he must have been to those authorities that had the darkness of Satan on their faces as they were filled with hate! God does that. He loves contrast. Where there was darkness and chaos upon the deep He said, “Let there be light!” Where people were the social rejects of Israel, He sent His son to be a friend of harlots, publicans and sinners! Like one dear brother said to me, “If you want to find where Jesus is working today, it is the same place He has always been, among the sick and the rejects. Get out of your churches and mingle with the outcasts of society and you will find Him there.”
But what I want to address here is not where it is NOT at, but where it IS. Consider the following passage:
You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Since you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ toward God: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also has made us able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministry of the Spirit be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, who put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly see the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remains the same veil not taken away in the reading of the old covenant; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their hearts. Nevertheless when one shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:2-18 KJ2000 – emphasis added)
Actually, this whole passage is very enlightening. We know that the Old Covenant had the glory of the Lord in the form of the Shekinah that was over the mercy seat of the Ark. Moses’ face shown with that glory because of His visits with God on Mount Sinai. When that glory began to fade, Moses hid his face with a veil because he didn’t want the people to see that the glory was passing away. Because of the rebellion against Him, God had Moses take the tent of meeting outside the camp. As that rebellion grew, even Moses’ testimony was affected until he entered into it himself and was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. The glory of the Lord was rapidly fading because of the sin of unbelief. Dear saints, it is this same sin that we, the very church of Christ, are warned about in Hebrews chapter four which can infect us!
Now, imagine what was going through Saul’s (Paul’s) mind as he watched the glory of God reappear on the face of the first martyr of the NEW Covenant! The very man that he was partaking in the murder of! The old system had been Ichabod (the glory has departed) for hundreds of years! Even the Ark where the glory once rested was lost during the Babylonian captivity and in the temples that were built later, the Holy of Holies was just an empty room.
Now ponder these two verses:
“But if the ministry of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministry of the Spirit be more glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:7-8 KJ2000).
YES! How can the ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant not be MORE glorious on the faces of those who minister IN the Spirit and Life of Christ?
What changed my heart and got my attention when God captured me in 1970 was this very thing. I saw the glory of the Lord on the faces of a handful of young Spirit filled Jesus People. It was a glory and life I HAD NEVER SEEN in any church building or congregation I had ever been part of. Here was the witness that God used to change my life forever!
Did everyone see what I saw resting upon these kids? Probably not, no more than everyone sees what I have seen on the faces of the precious saints I have met since then and have come to love so much. Why doesn’t everyone see it? There is still the problem of the veil.
But their minds were blinded: for until this day remains the same veil not taken away in the reading of the old covenant; which veil is done away in Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:14 KJ2000)
The veil of empty sin-filled lives and empty religion must be taken away as we abide IN Christ and refuse to abide in anything less than HIS fullness and glory! As Paul put it, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” If we are truly abiding IN Christ and not just in dead religion, we will be beholding the glory of Jesus as Moses did. His glory will change us into that same glory as the Spirit of Christ continues to work in us. What a precious promise we have been given, dear saints!
May we all seek HIS face and never settle for anything less until the fullness of Christ is formed in and on us! And may Jesus’ final prayer be fulfilled at last, “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:21-22 KJ2000).
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you. And the Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3 KJ2000)