Stephen was going to die for having said those words to the Jewish leaders. Just before the passage below, he had briefly summarised the whole history of Gods people. He had taken them right thought the scriptures in order to show them the validity of Jesus as Messiah, in order to prove to them that his reasoning was not arbitrary but was in fact the truth of the God.
The issue Stephen was pointing out was that although the Jewish Leaders had the scriptures and knew the Law of Moses, they saw it as fixed and immovable regulation. They had become passionate defenders of their traditions and customs. They were so focused on the what the scriptures had once said that they were incapable of feeling, seeing or hearing the person of the Holy Spirit moving among them. To the Jewish leaders, their religion was more important than God himself. They thought they knew their religion and so they stoned Stephen when he effectively told them that they did not know God.
Acts 7:51-60 NLT
“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
Let me just say straight away, I really hope I don’t have to die as a martyr to my faith. But if it came to it, could I be true to God in the face of death? Well I doubt I could do it alone. But Stephen was filled with the spirit as he spoke to his murderers. As he was about to die, the Holy Spirit opened the heavens to Stephen and he saw his Lord and saviour. As he died this terrifying death, he could see Jesus and when he asked him to receive his spirit he also prayed forgiveness for those killing him. These things are not possible if you are desperate, frightened and alone. Stephen died filled with the Holy Spirit and in the presence of Jesus himself. He was not alone, he died in the arms of Jesus. My goal and my hope is that, whatever the circumstances may be, when the time comes, I want to die in the arms of Jesus.
1 Kings 8:1-66, Acts 7:51-8:13, Psalms 129:1-8, Proverbs 17:1