Death is never a welcome guest. The death of a loved one is always jarring, overwhelming, and cause of the most unspeakable grief. And death which results from the rage-filled, cold-blooded hatred of a mob is incomprehensible beyond description. Amazingly, as described in Acts 7:54-60 , this is the very kind of death God ordained for Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to experience.
But for all the horrific brutality that attended Stephen’s death, the truly shocking thing is how content, and peaceful Stephen was as he took his final breaths on earth. What accounts for such a calm, beautiful countenance during such a sudden, monstrous death? One, and only one, explanation: the blazing, eternal glory of the Triune God. We’re told how Stephen saw this heavenly glory, beyond the faces of his frenzied murderers:
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. (Acts 7:55, ESV)
In his death, Stephen was more alive than ever, seeing and fully tasting what could only be longed for by faith up to that point: the incomparable, all-satisfying glory of the Triune God.
Because the Apostle Paul, then an unbeliever named Saul, was present and approving of Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1-3), no doubt the memory of what he witnessed that day never left him. Perhaps this contributed to Paul’s absolute confidence that, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. (Phil. 1:21) Oh what a glorious truth for believers: death is gain!!!
Beloved, do you believe this? By faith, are you so consumed with joy, delight, and hope in the glory of God in Jesus Christ that you can’t wait to see and taste that glory in heaven forever? Can you gratefully enjoy the earthly blessings He gives (1 Tim. 4:4-5; 6:17), but with a deep conviction that the sum of all created things doesn’t even compare to the joy of being in His presence? Can you gladly “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also”, courageously living for, and preaching Jesus Christ? God will enable us to live, and die, in this way – as we trust and submit to Him.
Because Christ lives, and is returning,