Read - Acts 7v54-8v2
Message - Scott Woodburn
The Christian understands that death has been defeated and heaven awaits and yet because we are human death hurts and stings and we shrink from it. I remember once long ago preaching about death and boldly proclaiming that "I am not afraid". That sticks in my head and I wish I had said it differently. It is true that I am not afraid of what comes after death. I am certain that when death is over I will be in heaven with Jesus. I am confident that my experience in that place will be beyond my comprehesion.
Yet humanly speaking I do not yet want to die. Do I long for the suffering brought on by illness? No. Do I want my life to end quickly and tragically? No. Do I want to miss seeing my children grow up? No. I do not yet want to die.
Still, I hope I am no fool. I know that I will die. I know that it will come and I know that it might come sooner than I would like. Yet even with the sting of this knowledge there is the sweet balm of Christ. Stephen's sermon enraged his listeners (v54) and they would stone him to death (v59). Someone called Saul, watched the garments of those stoning Stephen (v58) and he approved of what was happening (8v1).
I can't imagine the brutality of Stephen's end. I do not want to experience the pain he went through. I suspect, like many, I would much prefer to die warm and full of years in my own bed. Yet I am moved by Stephen's end. He is alone but he is not alone. Stephen is filled with the Holy Spirit who strengthens him to meet his death (v55a). He gazes heavenward and sees the glory of God (v55b). The Lord dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6v16) and yet with eyes of faith, Stephen sees the glory of God. And look! There at the right hand is Jesus (v55c)!
A brutal death had arrived for Stephen but turning from the angry faces of his murderers he sees the grace filled face of Christ. Stephen prays that the Lord would receive his spirit and that God would not hold the sin of Stephen's murder against his murderers. With this prayer of mercy uttered, Stephen falls asleep (v60).
Luke's Holy Spirit inspired recording of this event is wonderful. Even in the middle of thrown rocks, unbridled fury and human sin, the Christian's death is like falling asleep. The Christian does not have to take the advice of Dylan Thomas by raging against the dying of the light. We can indeed go gentle into that good night by faith in Jesus.
I do not want to die. I am afraid of what the journey to death will be like. I do not want my wife and children to weep. I do not want the preacher to say how "good" I was. Yet I will die. It is appointed and so this I know...the Lord has caused me to be born again to a living hope. I have repented of my sin and received Christ by faith. I am redeemed and will not see hell. I am saved.
When the enemy of death visits me (and my friends I trust this is true of you as well) I will go to be with Jesus which is better by far.
Q98 What is prayer? Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.