Monday, June 23, 2008

The Face of an Angel

In Acts chapter six, Stephen is listed as the first deacon. He’s said to be full of the Holy Spirit and faith, as well as God's grace and power. There’s clearly something unusual about Stephen--Christianity's first, but not last, martyr.

During his trial, as angry men hurl contrived allegations at Stephen, Scripture says the Sanhedrin notice his face looks like that of an angel. I suppose this means there was a peace, a calm, maybe even a supernatural beauty to his face. There in the heat of extreme danger, this deacon was so full of the Holy Spirit, God's peace controlling his heart, it showed on his face. This intrigues me.

How can a person in such danger have such peace? The answer is surrender. Surrender of what? Everything! If we cling to anything in life, even good things, we’ll find ourselves robbed of joy. We’ll find ourselves taking mental inventory of our "things," wondering where we placed them last and if they’re safe. Surrender says: give it away--for this is the only sure way to keep track of things without worry. Surrender says: my life is not my own to do with as I please. Stephen, even in the midst of the most stressful of situations, has such peace and joy that those looking at him compare his face to an angel. Even as stones pelt him to the ground, Stephen looks up with joyful praise for the Lord.

What a supernatural and radical way of living! A way of living that honors Christ by finding joy in pain and peace in suffering. We often think joy, peace and fulfillment come with pleasant circumstances. But for the child of God, joy comes with hardship, struggle, trial, conflict--and, yes, even loss. To me, the most interesting part of the story of Acts chapter six and seven is that people are watching. God knows how to display His greatest drama. The onlookers see how a genuine Christian lives and dies. They see firsthand how Christ transforms the most painful life events into a platform of grace.

Never forget these words, for this is the reason Stephen suffered as he did. God is always doing something more than we can perceive, and He certainly was at work on this day. Stephen's bold sermon infuriated the spiritual leaders of Israel and they moved to kill him. According to Acts 7:57-58, “they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

Saul, the instigator, stood in the shadows, doubtless finding perverse pleasure in the death of this young "infidel." He couldn’t know then how his life would be transformed by this moment. This young man Saul would become Paul, the Apostle of the heart set free. Paul would remember this moment countless times as he himself suffered and found God's joy in the midst of danger. The world knows of the gospel of Jesus largely because of Paul--and there would be no Paul were it not for a young man with “the face of an angel.”

How are you suffering? Don't wait to find joy in the conclusion of it--ask God to reveal His joy in the midst of it. God is doing something more than you can perceive right now, and it likely has to do with someone discovering the God of love and grace. They will find God's grace in the face of an angel and that face may belong to you.

Ed Litton


Anonymous said...

Thanks Pastor Ed! When I read your blog I saw a picture in my mind of you standing before Jesus and you had a vessel in your hands a He was pouring into it. Needless to say you keep coming back. I encourage you to keep coming back, because if not for anyone else that reads your blog it's for Me. I remembered a story you told at church about your childhood when your parents owned the motel. I live in Prattville and was riding by one of those hotels; the Mom/Pap hotels and I saw a young boy following his father. ALways remember the experiences!!

Anonymous said...

Pastor Ed, I just want to tell you what a wonderful pastor you truly are ! I have had a big struggle in my life with fear and anxiety. I wanted to tell you that God has used you in my life to overcome this! It has been something very real and I can't describe how exciting it is to know that I don't have to experience this anymore! The blogs and sermons you've done have really felt like they spoke directly to me! The sermon this past sunday was so awesome! I left there feeling excited to know how sovereign God really is and that I have nothing to fear, and that He does have everything in His hands! You said in your message that you wanted to take more risks, and after leaving sunday I thought, Yeah, I want to take more risks too, because God is in control! How exciting! So this blog today is another amazing story to me. To just see that in the face of what could've been very real fear, Stephen had the peace that only God can give! Sometimes worry starts to come over me, but now I know how to give that over to God and I can truly say I now have the peace that only God can give and I love Him with all my heart! Thank you for being such a wonderful pastor and I'm so thankful that He is a wonderful God! Julia Owen