Stephen’s Face Was Like The Face Of An Angel
By Nonso Ukeka
Key Verse 6:8
“Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”
As we’ve gone through the book of Acts, it’s wonderful how we see God establishing his church. Starting with the early church, God built them up and was their constant support in times of hardships. They faced many trying times. Using the ruling leaders in Jerusalem at that time, Satan assaulted the early church. He would try to intimidate them, sending vicious threats to them, publicly beating their leaders, and unjustly locking them up in prison. Through it all, the church overcame time after time by the grace of God. In the previous passage, we see how God protected his church from a different type of attack from the enemy. Previously, Satan would assault the church from the outside all around, using intimidation, force, and violence through unbelievers. But this time, Satan’s assault came from inside of the church, using fellow believers. Satan tries once again to destroy the church by trying to bring confusion, resentment, and division among the believers. Let us take a look at Satan’s tactics. See verse 1, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”
We see that just as God was blessing the church and their numbers increased, that’s when suddenly trouble arises. People started to grumble and complain. They were ready to be divided and ready to fight with each other, why? It was all because of food distribution. For people who experienced the grace of God day-by-day and were secure in the love of God for them, this was incredibly trivial. For believers who absolutely loved God and loved one another so much that they would give their lives and sell their own possessions for one another at the drop of a hat, this was incredibly petty. It’s incredible to think that Satan could use something as petty as food to bring division among God’s holy people. This should serve as an example for all of God’s people to always be vigilant because we know that Satan is very crafty and deceptive. May God help us to remain prayerful, so that we don’t become vulnerable to Satan’s tricks.
Although the food distribution problem might’ve been a minor thing, it eventually grew to the point that it threatened to take the church’s focus away from prayer and ministry of God’s word. But God continued to protect them. Through spiritual wisdom, the disciples decided to delegate this responsibility of taking care of the food distribution to a group of godly men who were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (v.3) These were men whose lives of faith, character and godly influence became pillars for many believers in their community. These men absolutely loved God. They were humble and willing to serve him in any capacity, with all their hearts. God exalted these men to be a new generation of leaders among the early church, and together they all worked hard to keep the unity of faith by waiting on tables and serving God’s people. Look at verse 7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Because of the church’s devotion to the Word of God, and their unity in Christ which became a testimony to the world, even the Jewish priests could not deny the work of God. They also became believers of Jesus the Messiah. Because of these few humble and faithful men, God blessed them and made the church grow even more.
Out of those seven great leaders, the Bible mentions one who seemed to have stood out the most among them. His name was Stephen. The author Luke made sure to highlight Stephen’s greatness. But who was Stephen? He was a great man in God’s gospel history, yet we do not know much about his background. The Bible never mentions his physical appearance, his family history; we don’t even know where he came from except the fact that he might’ve been a Hellenistic Jew, because of his Greek name. We also know that the first mention of him in all of scripture was as a man working in the kitchen. This really accentuates his humility. Most of the time, men generally seek to do things that would bring them glory and fame. We seek things that look grand and spectacular; we generally only want to participate in things that make us look important, and impressive. So in the eyes of the outside world, there was nothing impressive or spectacular about passing out food to old ladies in the kitchen. Anybody who looked through the windows of the kitchen and saw Stephen passing out food would’ve thought to themselves, “This poor man!” Yet when God looked at him, and saw how humble he was, he says to the world, “Look at this great man!” This is why 2000 years later, Stephen’s story is still being shared as part of gospel history. Stephen was truly a humble man who sought the glory that only comes from God. It was this humility, as well as his faith in Christ, his love for God and for his people that made him shine above others. It was his godly character that has been a source of inspiration to Christians for many generations, even to this day.
Let’s read together what the Bible teaches us about his life of faith, starting with verse 8, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” The first thing the Bible mentions about Stephen is that he was a “Man full of God’s grace.” What can we understand here about Stephen who was full of God’s grace? Well first it means simply that he was a recipient of God’s grace. It’s hard to imagine that a man like Stephen was a sinful man like everyone else. In other words, he too at one time lived selfishly; he lived a worldly lifestyle just like everybody else; he lived a life apart from the grace of God and under his wrath. How dreadful that kind of life must have been. But one day as he heard the gospel being told, his heart was moved by it, and he accepted it very personally. Jesus offered him forgiveness, gave him a new life, and a new path to walk in life. More than that, when Jesus entered his life, he received the great love of God. Stephen realized just how wonderful the grace of God was in his life, and he treasured it greatly. Anybody who understands the value of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and has accepted his grace in their lives as well will treasure it dearly. God’s grace humbles us. It gives us the proper perspective of ourselves before God. When we see how offensive we were to God, yet how willingly he chose to forgive us, it leaves no room for pride in our hearts. Anyone who knows God’s grace personally and holds on to it is compelled to remain humble before God. Consequently they too are a man or woman of God’s grace. And when they live by that grace, they grow to be full of God’s grace like Stephen.
But that’s not all. Look again at verse 8, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” Stephen was described also as a man full of God’s power. When Luke was talking about power, was he referring to the power to perform miracles? Well yes, of course. It tells us clearly in the verse that he performed great signs and wonders among the people. But that wasn’t the only power. Before Stephen ever performed one miracle as a believer, he was still filled with power because he was filled with God’s Holy Spirit. It was Jesus who promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them the power to be his witnesses. (Acts 1:8) And what better witness can there be than when the power of God is displayed through a transformed life lived for Christ! God’s Spirit was the one who transfored a man like Stephen from a useless, worldly man, to a man of God, able to do anything from serving food for the glory of God to teaching Bible or preaching or performing miracles for the glory of God. It’s God’s Spirit who secures us in the love of God and empowers us also. As Zechariah sang in his song, “[to] serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our lives” (Luke 1:74-75). When we realize just how much God loves us and wants to be with us, it’s the greatest security for our hearts and that enables us to do anything for him, whether great or small, because we want to please him out of a deep sense of [pure] gratitude in our heart. And that’s power.
Let’s also look at what else the Bible says about Stephen in verse 10, “But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” Stephen was also a man full of wisdom. But where does his wisdom come from? His wisdom wasn’t just poured out on him overnight with the wave of a wand. It was a wisdom grown in his heart through devotion to the word of God. Stephen was a part of the ministry that was devoted to prayer, fellowship, and the Apostles teachings. (Acts 2:42) Surely Stephen studied the word of God every opportunity he had. It’s important to understand that the wisdom he had came from the Spirit of wisdom found in God’s word and is given to those who ask for it. (James 1:5) God’s Spirit fills us with wisdom by teaching us and reminding us of God’s word. Studying the Bible and reflecting on the Bible and praying on the word of God cannot be separated at all— they are all intertwined one with the other— and they all bring about wisdom through the work of the Spirit. Remember what our Lord Jesus said to his disciples at the last supper, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26).
Jesus also made it clear that the truth his disciples will bring to the world will bring resistance and attacks by the enemies of the gospel. And Jesus also made it clear that that it is only with the word of God and the wisdom of the Spirit that believers will be able to overcome such attacks. Jesus said, “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:15) Look at verses 9-10 again. So when the Jews of the Synagogue of the Freedmen came to oppose and argue with Stephen, we can see that it was through the wisdom and power of the Spirit that Stephen was able to stand by faith as they confronted and challenged him. And it was also by this same Spirit of wisdom and power that Stephen would be able to overcome the onslaught of attacks that was about to come his way.
Let’s look now at verses 11-14, “Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’ So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’” So who were these men and what caused them to be so offended, that they would stoop so low as to lie and have him persecuted? Well first these men were from the Synagogue of the Freedmen. Scripture doesn’t mention much about these men, but we know that these were Jews and descendants of Jews who were once part of the Roman world, most likely as slaves when Emperor Pompeii previously conquered Israel. They received their freedom, returned to Jerusalem, and for some odd reason began their own synagogue. We may not know what they argued with Stephen about, but we know for sure what Stephen spoke to them about Jesus and his gospel; he spoke of Jesus’ death and resurrection; he spoke to them about the new covenant God spoke about in the Scripture and which Jesus came to establish with his people. Mostly likely Stephen urged them to repent of their hardened hearts, and he did so based on the Holy Scripture which he knew more than they did. In their nationalistic and religious pride, they were deeply offended by him and accused him even of blasphemy. Pride is a terrible thing to hold on to when God requires repentance and faith of all of us. These days many people hold on to national or religious pride even above gospel truth. But we must be careful to always humble ourselves and be ready to listen to God’s word.
This huge body of religious leaders could only accuse Stephen of blasphemy because they were not ready to repent and receive Christ as Lord and Savior. It was a terrible moment for Stephen. The accusations against him were worthy of death. He was going to be tried by the same group that condemned Jesus to death. Stephen should’ve been shaking in his sandals, terrified. In a moment like this, anybody would easily fall prey to fear. Usually doubts of God’s love would creep into anyone’s heart. But Stephen was unshaken. His faith in Christ was immovable. Look at how Stephen is described in verse 15, “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” He looked like an angel. What does this mean exactly? Did Stephen begin to grow wings? Was he glowing? Many speculations can be made about the meaning of this verse, but when you follow the direction of this passage, we can see that Luke was trying to help us understand Stephen’s character. Stephen was a man of humility, a man of character and godly influence. He was also a man who took any opportunity to share the gospel with others. In the face of adversity he was ready to serve fearlessly. Before these men, he was not intimidated by their stern looks. He was not morally defeated by those who brought him to trial. Rather everybody could see that he was calm, and full of faith. Stephen looked at his persecutors as people who needed to hear the word of God. So he was ready to serve them the word of God. We need that kind of faith as well. May God help us to learn from Stephen to be men and women of faith and of God’s grace, men and women who study the Bible until we are full of godly wisdom and the Spirit’s power to serve others with humility and without fear. May God also raise many Stephens of faith amongst us, full of the Spirit. And may God also bless us to remain vigilant, prayerful and ready to share the gospel with the lost. Amen