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.