“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” Acts 7:54 (KJV)
Some things are strange yet real in man, and I wonder why it is so! It is a wonder to see a man saying something and yet acting differently. It is a surprise to see a man professing godliness and yet living like the second-in-command to the devil. Why do men weep at the altar and yet alter the statements or commitment they made at the altar? Why do men see blue and yet act as though it is red? Why do men see right and yet act wrongly?
It is quite challenging to note that as Stephen was brought before the Council and the false accusers, the elders suborned, began their lies against him. The Bible says:
“And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” Acts 6:15 (KJV)
Methinks wrong and false accusations should have made the face of Stephen to go pale, showing obvious fear or anger. But instead of fear or anger, Stephen’s face reflected the face of an angel of God! How? Why? Will my face reflect an angel’s face if I am falsely accused? Will my face reflect innocence and not violence, when people are set to destroy me? Why should thy countenance be fallen, Segun, when people say ill concerning you, if truly you have met the same Christ, Whom Stephen met? Shouldn’t thy face be as it has been the face of an angel, even when there is no sign of positive and possible defence?
I think what the above verse said about Stephen corroborates what I see in Acts 7:55, which says:
“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” (KJV);
“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed-he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side.” (The Message)
The first reason Stephen’s face reflected the face of an angel was because he was full of the Holy Ghost. The second reason was that his gaze was set on heaven, where Christ is seated. If truly I am full of the Holy Ghost and not that I am fooled by assuming I have the Holy Ghost and or that I have made myself a fool of the ‘Unholy Ghost’, then I should steadfastly set my eyes on heaven. I would not have eyes or space in my heart for this world and its system, if I am full of the Holy Ghost.
It means that the looks on the face of Stephen in Acts 6:15 was the outcome of what occupied his heart and what he fixed his eyes on at all times. It means that what my face reflects is a pointer to what fills me and where my attention reclines. In other words, how I look at every point in time is a reflection of what fills me and what I set my face upon. If my face reflects fear at any point, it means that, that is what I am seeing at that time and possibly for some time past. If my face reflects joy, then it means that joy is what I am seeing at that point. I cannot be looking at Jesus and yet reflect Satan. I cannot be looking at joy and yet reflect sorrow. It is not possible for me to be looking at success and my face will reflect failure. No! What I look at continuously is what my face reflects continually!
I need to learn this lesson from today, that the way a man looks, especially on the outside and at the present, is an accurate and an unbiased reflection of what he has been feeding his gaze on lately. How a person looks like is about what he or she has set his or her gaze upon. My face will not reflect what is happening around me if I do not set my gaze upon them. I can be in the midst of what is not pleasant and yet radiates joy and hope on my face, if I do not set my gaze on what is happening around me. My face cannot reflect Jesus if I do not face and gaze upon Him!
But my challenge is that, though these Council members rightly discerned his face as that of an angel, which should ordinarily make them know the kind of person Stephen was, they, on the contrary, treated or related with Stephen as though with an outcast, not as one who has an authentic connection with the heavens. How can I have such a strong witness in my heart that the man standing before me is a servant of God and yet refuse to accept his words as from the LORD?
I understand that it is not compulsory for people to accept me as God’s servant, though my face reflects Christ. Hence, my heart should not be disappointed when men treat me as an outlaw, even though I labour daily to reflect Christ by my life. I should just know it that reflecting Christ is not primarily so that men may accord me recognition and respect (which can be, in some quarters), but it is that I may be a true disciple of Christ. It is mind-boggling to know that some people may recognise and testify of a man being a servant of God and yet the same people would reject that God’s servant.
CUT TO THE HEART YET NOT CUT FOR THE RIGHT ACT
The Bible shows that when these men heard the message of Stephen, they were cut to the heart! This was akin to the phrase that was used for the people who heard Peter on the Day of Pentecost, when the Bible says:
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37 (KJV)
Unlike the Council members, (who ‘knew the Word of God too much’,) as these other men were pricked in their hearts, they asked Peter and the rest apostles of what they should do and Peter guided them into the path they must take to be saved.
I think the word ‘prick’ is not even as strong as the word ‘cut’. The word ‘prick’ means to make a small hole in something with a sharp point. But the word ‘cut’ means to make an open incision on something. I think that if pricking the heart of the men, who heard the Word of Peter, (whose face did not look like that of an angel, at that time!) could bring repentance; then the cut in the heart of these leaders should bring something much more than repentance!
Instead of them to repent, the Bible says they gnashed their teeth on Stephen! Ah, LORD, why will Thy Word cut my heart and will not at the same time cut me for the right act? Why will I gnash my teeth against Thee, Thy Word or Thy servant? Why will a cut in my heart not cut me off my old habits and fables? Why will a cut in my heart not cut me from my old murderous thoughts? Will a cut in my heart not cut me from old movies? Why will a cut in my heart not cut me away from my old ungodly friends and acquaintances? Why will a cut in my heart not cause true repentance to bleed out of my heart?
As Stephen fixed his gaze on the heavens, he had a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ and he was quick and glad to describe this fresh experience loudly, even to his unfriendly audience; and when he did, the Bible says:
“Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:57-59 (KJV)
I thought as they heard the fresh testimony of Stephen, these men would cry to Jesus for help; alas, it was a cry to submerge the voice of Stephen! Men who ought to open their hearts for repentance stopped the major entrance into their hearts – the ears, so that they would not hear and repent!
It means that when the devil wants to punish a man and make him an object of destruction, he will cause him to stop his ears from hearing what will help his life! Why will I plug headphones into my ears; is it to block God’s Word from reaching my heart or to block the world and the devil so that I can hear God clearly? Why would I surround my heart with such a cacophony of noise and let the sounding cymbal of the world into my heart such that I will not hear Him, clearly and promptly, when He speaks to me? Oh my soul, do not be deceived; every loud sound around you, not aimed at reaching out to the LORD, is the devil’s deliberate attempt to block your ears from hearing God! Watch out!
These people did not want to hear Stephen again! Their reaction tells me that even if an angel had come to tell them what Stephen told them, they would still have behaved the same way to him! Just as the Sodomites would not mind to rape the Angels that visited them in the days of Lot, if they had the chance; so these people would have stoned such an Angel that comes with this kind of message!
It is disturbing to note that a man could cry at the altar, as though in repentance, only to rise from there to go and do something worse than what brought him to the altar; just as the people of Israel sat to eat and drink but only rose to play (Exd. 32:6b)! These people ran upon Stephen, cast him out of the city and stoned him to death! They truly displayed the nature of their father, the devil, just as Jesus described them in John 8:44:
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (KJV)
Stephen, on the other hand, did not fail to display the nature of His own Father, too! He prayed loud enough (the prayer, which I know God answered by saving Paul) for all to hear that he harbours no bitterness or animosity against any of them!
At what point will or should I exhaust my godliness and put on ungodliness? Stephen’s face was constant! Stephen’s life was constant. If I am truly a disciple of Christ, then nothing should change my nature, pain or gain, pressure or pleasure!
(Segun Ariyo, Ibadan. 30th August, 2015.)