It’s been a tough year. It’s not the kind of year you planned and certainly not what you needed. In a year like 2020, a person needs perspective. However, the perspective needed is the perspective of heaven. In an effort to help you see your circumstances with a bit more clarity, I would like to tell you about a man in the New Testament whose name was Stephen. On the worst day of his life, and on what seemed to the the worst day in the history of the church up to that point, Stephen saw his circumstances from the perspective of heaven.
Stephen was a great servant of God. He was one of the first deacons. He was said to be full of wisdom, full of the Spirit, full of faith, full of grace and power. In fact, through the hands of Stephen God worked signs and wonders among the people. His wisdom and handling of the Scripture was such that his enemies were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
They secretly induced men to say that Stephen blasphemed both Moses and God Acts 6:11. They spread misinformation about Stephen in the community, stirring up the people against him Acts 6:12. The brought forward false witnesses who accused him of speaking against the temple and against the law Acts 6:13. And yet, through it all, Stephen’s countenance was like that of an angel Acts 6:15.
Things went from bad to worse that day. I’m sure Stephen had an idea of what would happen when the day began. Stephen’s powerful sermon is recorded in Acts 7:2-53. That sermon condemned his hearers, who were also his accusers, as lawbreakers themselves. That sermon pierced their hearts like a knife. But rather than convicting them and bringing them to repentance, it only deepened their hatred for Stephen and all he stood for. While his face was like that of an angel, they looked like angry demons, gnashing their teeth in murderous fury.
Suddenly, Stephen stopped preaching. It was as if had been interrupted. It was as if he no longer was the communicator, but as if someone was communicating with him. He turned away from the angry crowd, not in cowardice, but with an even greater confidence and conviction than that with which he was preaching. It was as if someone was there—as if someone was with him.
Consider the State of Stephen’s Relationship with God:
He was full of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember those moments when the Spirit of God came mightily upon men in the Old Testament. When the Spirit came mightily upon Saul, he was turned into another man. His life was changed from timid to confident, from a man of weakness to a man of power.
When the Spirit of God came mightily upon Samson, he performed feats of great strength. Stephen had been preaching in the power of the Spirit, but now that Spirit filled him for a new purpose. He was filled with the Spirit to face death. God empowered him for that journey and whatever it brought.
Here is a picture of a saved man dying. He is a man filled with the Holy Spirit. He has been empowered to live and serve, and now, full of faith, full of grace, full of wisdom, he is full of the Spirit given power to face the moment of his death.
His countenance that day was like that of an angel. There was a beam about Him. There was a presence that settled on him and around him. That day, as Stephen faced his accusers and as he faced death, he was not alone. You are not alone should you be facing your last days. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, a disciple whose life is characterized by the same traits as Stephen, you will not be alone when it comes your time to die.
Many times I have heard the story of someone very ill who had been talking with family, but just at the point of death, that person turned their face away, fixing their gaze elsewhere.
Second, Notice Stephen’s Focus.
But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
This is the focus of a believer in trouble. This is the focus of a believer facing death. His gaze was not fixed on his problem. His gaze was not fixed on the trouble. His gaze was not fixed on the crowd or on his accusers. Instead, he gazed intently into heaven.
Where is your focus in your circumstances? Do you know what this year has done? It has captured our attention. We have fixed our gaze on a virus so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus. We have fixed our gaze on an election so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus. We have fixed our gaze on some sinful thing so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed intently into heaven and saw something you and I can never see without our focus so fixed. He saw behind the scenes of his circumstances. He saw a prevailing providence overshadowing his life. He saw God’s glory!
Do you remember what Jesus told Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus—distraught as they were by their circumstances—discouraged as they were by their grief? He said, “Did I not say to you that if you believed you would see the glory of God.” They would see the glory of God in their circumstances. Stephen saw the glory of God in his circumstances, and you can see the glory of God in your circumstances, whatever they might be, if you will gaze intently into heaven.
First, I asked you to consider Stephen’s State. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. Second, I asked you to consider Stephen’s focus. He gazed intently into heaven.
Third, Consider Stephen’s Vision
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”He said, “I see Jesus standing….”
Jesus said in Luke 22:69:But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Power of God. ”
But Stephen said, “I see Jesus standing…” He saw Jesus standing sovereign over the affairs of earth and heaven. That is what we have lost sight of in 2020. We must regain our confidence in the fact that Jesus rules and reigns in heaven, and He stands victoriously triumphant in spite of our circumstances. In spite of Covid. In spite of the election. In spite of what is going on in my life or yours.
That was a statement of Stephen’s faith. He saw Jesus standing!! On one level it was that and nothing more. We can make that same statement by faith in whatever circumstances we face. But we have to know that it is more than a statement of faith.
For Stephen it was also a statement of fact. He saw heaven opened. Heaven was opened in anticipation of his arrival. But even more, it was open so that he could clearly see the response of Jesus to his injustice. He was standing. Jesus who said that after his crucifixion he would be seated at the right hand of God was standing!
He was standing as a witness to Stephens faithfulness and as his Advocate with the Father. But He was also standing as a swift witness against his adversaries. He was standing with Stephen in his circumstances. he was standing ready to answer. He was standing ready to help.
But Jesus was also standing because it was the end of Stephens life. Jesus was standing to welcome Stephen upon his entrance to heaven. Jesus promised His disciples in John14:3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am, you may be also.” Jesus was standing in Stephen’s honor, in recognition of his service, and as sovereign over his circumstances.
Finally, Consider Stephen’s Last Prayer.
But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord Jesus and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then, falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:56-60
What do we see here in his final prayer? We see a man praying in trouble. We hear a man praying in acceptance of his trouble. We find a man knowing he is about to die in his trouble. He dies with his hope in Jesus. He dies with the name of the Lord on his tongue. He sees Jesus in heaven, and he prays that Jesus might receive his spirit upon arrival in heaven.
This man was confident. This man was courageous. This man was in communication with heaven from before the trouble began and through the time of his trouble. He knew a presence and a power that some men simply will not know come their time to die.
Stephen died calling on the name of the Lord, humbly asking for a reception in heaven. Stephen died praying for the forgiveness of those who sinned against God, by sinning against him. He embodied the spirit of his Savior in his trouble. He embodied the spirit of His Savior toward those who brought him trouble. He died with bitterness toward no one in his heart.
Is that how you will die? Will you die filled with the Holy Spirit? Will you die with your gaze fixed intently on heaven or on some set of earthly circumstances.? Will your vision be one of Jesus reigning victorious over all your problems even when he chooses not to remove them or remove you from them? Will you die having forgiven every man remembering that Jesus has also forgiven you?
Finally, what is it that you and I need to see today? What do we need to see as we near the end of 2020, looking into an uncertain beginning of this third decade of the 21st century? We need to see Jesus Standing! We need to see Jesus Reigning! We need to know that Jesus is in Control! He is at the right hand of God, but He is also with me. I challenge you to join me in releasing your future to Him, trusting Him as did Stephen on this darkest day of his life!