The Spirit-filled life is a life of power to live in a supernatural way.
All throughout the Bible, we read about how the Spirit of God would come upon people and they would have power to accomplish creative, impactful and miraculous things. Joshua was empowered with skills for leadership and with wisdom in Numbers 27:18. A guy named Bezalel was supernaturally gifted with artistic abilities to construct the tabernacle. All of the prophets prophesied in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God would come on them and enable them to speak with the authority and words of God. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit at His baptism, and we know the kinds of crazy miracles He performed, the authoritative way He taught, the incredibly self-controlled and powerful way He responded to people who criticized and opposed Him. The disciples and members of the early church were gifted with power from the Holy Spirit to do the same kind of miracles Jesus had done. They had crazy courage to proclaim the reality of the Resurrection, even when threatened with prison and death. Jesus had told the disciples that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, they would receive power to be His witnesses, and He wasn’t kidding.
One guy in particular, struck me as one of the most powerful people in the entire New Testament. Perhaps you are thinking right now of the Apostle Paul who was obviously gifted to speak for Christ, to undergo intense personal hardship and was enabled to plant and oversee the birth of many house churches and fellowships. He performed many miracles that demonstrated the Spirit’s power, but the guy I want to commend to you for our time together is a guy named Stephen. Go ahead and turn to Acts 6.
If asked to describe you, what do you think would be the first thing people would say about you? Would it be something about your appearance like, “She has really big eyes,” or “He is super tall?” Would they talk about what you can do in regard to a special talent and say something like, “She is a really great athlete,” or “He can fix anything?” Would they talk about your personality and say something like, “He is so funny,” or “She is super thoughtful?” What would they say?
The very first introduction we have of Stephen is a description in Acts 6:5 that says, Stephen was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. How cool is that? He was full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit. It was obvious. The way Stephen lived conveyed that he walked with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for “full” here doesn’t just mean that the Spirit occupied Stephen, like water occupies a glass when filled, but it is a word that means that Stephen was dominated by, controlled by the Holy Spirit. Oh, in a world that is populated with people who are full of anger, full of hate, full of fear, and full of self, how God longs for more who would desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Because Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, the apostles had great confidence in him, and he was chosen to help the apostles by assisting in the distribution of food as it was needed.
Verse 8 of Acts 6 says, He was full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
Those are some pretty impressive things to be filled with, don’t you think? To be dominated by the grace of God and power of God to the point where you are able to perform great wonders and signs that point people TO God?
9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
In many ways, the response to Stephen’s powerful words and ways was similar to the response Jesus got. People opposed him. They created trouble for him. They lied about him. They brought him before the religious leaders on false charges. But look at what verse 15 says. 15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Pretty incredible, right? The opposition, all mad and animated and dramatic, demanding that the Sanhedrin do something, but all the while the Sanhedrin were sitting there with their jaws on the floor, almost speechless because Stephen’s face looked like an angel’s.
Listen, Stephen was SO full of the Holy Spirit that he looked heavenly. He looked other-worldly. They were captivated by just his countenance. Stephen didn’t possess that power on his own. It was conveyed on him by the Holy Spirit. How do people see us when they look at us? Is there evidence that we belong to the Holy Spirit?
The high priest finally asked in chapter 7 if the charges were true. And you know what Stephen did? He didn’t waste time in answering their question. Instead, he presented an Old Testament Bible lesson, and it wasn’t a short one.
I was listening to chapter 7 on the Bible App recently, and I couldn’t believe how long Stephen preached. I thought to myself, “When is his sermon gonna end?” (Probably a question many of y’all ask every Sunday!) I mean, Stephen was there on charges for which he was to answer, but instead of answering the charges, he took the Sanhedrin on a journey through the Scriptures, and he didn’t leave stuff out for time’s sake. He didn’t skip over pertinent information. He wasn’t sharing the Cliff Notes.
He started with Abraham leaving Mesopotamia and unfolded the whole story of Abraham. He moved on into Isaac and Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel. He got into Joseph and the whole dramatic life he endured and on into the famine and how his brothers had to come to Joseph for help. He waxed on about how the Israelites increased and were enslaved in Egypt and how an evil Pharoah tried to kill their firstborn. He didn’t stop there. He jumped on into Moses’ life and how he escaped being killed as an infant and wound up being raised in the palace as a son of Pharoah. He added details about why Moses wound up having to flee Egypt and how after forty years Moses encountered a burning bush and received the assignment to become the deliverer of the Israelites. He continued on with the way that Moses led God’s people out of slavery, through the Red Sea and talked about all of the wilderness wanderings. He just kept a-talking and went through the whole golden calf debacle right on into the building of the tabernacle, explaining all the while that God doesn’t dwell in tabernacles and temples made by human hands. And they just let him keep talking. This was redundant for them. I mean, they already knew everything he was saying. These were the religious leaders. They knew the stories. But you don’t even get the sense that they were gesturing with their hands for him to get on with it or to get to the point.
I imagine those who had brought him in and put him before the Sanhedrin grew more and more infuriated. They hadn’t brought him before the religious leaders to preach a sermon. They weren’t looking to give him a platform and a captive audience! They were trying to get him to shut up, but he just kept talking. And the religious leaders sat and listened to the whole message without interrupting him to say, “Would you just answer our question?” And he worked his way up to saying this in verse 51
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised.
Remember, the sign of the Old Testament Covenant between God and His people was circumcision, but it had never been about a physical sign. The physical sign of circumcision was a representation of what God wanted to do in them which was to mark their lives with His Holy Spirit. He wanted to have Spirit control of their hearts and lives. Pentecost power goes beyond religious exercises and the following of rules and regulations. Pentecost power is transforming, all-consuming and is supernatural. It is the result of an internal invasion of the Holy Spirit, a circumcision of the heart.
Stephen went on to say: You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now YOU have betrayed and murdered him— 53 YOU who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Boom. Mic Drop. The religious leaders, the supposed “good guys,” weren’t resisting Stephen. They were resisting the Holy Spirit. Do you understand the boldness it took for him to say that? Do you see the focus and tenacity with which Stephen was living? In a moment when he should have been concerned about himself, concerned about saving his skin, he not only preached Jesus, but he confronted the people who were basically holding his life in their hands. The only explanation, the only reason he could be so bold was that he was full of the Holy Spirit. Look what happened next.
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus STANDING at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man STANDING at the right hand of God.”
Stephen was basically transported in that moment. While there was chaos around him, while people were ranting and raving, while there should have been intense fear and the feeling of being overwhelmed and whatever it means to gnash your teeth at someone, in the midst of a violent and tumultuous scene, Stephen was calm. He was peaceful. He, himself was captivated. He could see straight into Heaven. He could see Jesus STANDING at the right hand of God. That was his reality because he was full of the Holy Spirit.
Listen, People who are full of the Holy Spirit are gifted to be able to see what is unseen.
People who are full of the Spirit can see past the physical and into the spiritual realms. They can see what is going on in the heavenlies. They can discern the disturbances that are going on in the spiritual realms where Satan and his demons are lurking. It’s not a sixth sense, but a supernatural sense that comes with the power of the Spirit.
Stephen didn’t start quaking. Stephen didn’t panic. Stephen didn’t lose his lunch. Stephen didn’t try to escape. Stephen was fixated on the image of Jesus. People who are full of the Holy Spirit never lose sight of Jesus. The Holy Spirit IS the Spirit of Christ, and people who are focused on the Holy Spirit will always have Jesus in their sights.
Now, what do we make of the emphasis here in verses 55 and 56 where we read that Jesus was standing up at the right hand of God? I mean, it is spoken twice. Why is this significant or even shocking? It’s significant because everywhere else that we read about the position of Jesus at the right hand of God, it is a seated position. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He sat down. He had completed His assignment. He is ruling and reigning in Heaven from a seated position which is a position of power and authority. What could move the King of Kings and Lord of Lords from His seated position?
I cannot say for sure. I will surmise this: When royalty stands in Scripture it is because they are angry or want to honor the person before them. I want to suggest to you that Jesus stood for both reasons, to display both anger and honor.
Let me illustrate how that is possible. I remember a time several years ago, when Josh was playing basketball. It was in the late elementary years, probably fifth grade, and his team was in a tournament situation. Up until that point, each kid had been given equal play. Times were monitored. Subs were made at the appropriate times so that everyone got a fair amount of playing time. For some reason, however, things changed in that game.
Josh didn’t start. Ok. No big deal. His turn would come. We kept waiting and waiting and Josh wasn’t put in during the whole first half. It was awkward at first, but then I grew very angry. What was going on? Why wasn’t he playing? He didn’t start the second half either. Had the coach thrown the league rules out the window? Was he upset with Josh for some reason? Thom and I had not done anything to make it difficult for him as a coach, at least, we couldn’t remember ever sending an email or having any kind of confrontational moment with him, so we didn’t think he was passively aggressively trying to make a statement toward us. My whole body was tensing up. I know my face was red. I could even feel myself clenching my fists. But, being in ministry and all, you know, being known as pastors in the community, we had to maintain our cool and be on our best behavior.
We got well into the fourth quarter, and Josh still hadn’t played. I was furious. I could see his body language from the stands. He didn’t understand it either. We were down pretty big. Do you believe the coach put Josh in for the last two minutes and thirty-seven seconds of that game? You better believe I stood up. All of that pent up anger moved throughout my body, and I am pretty sure when I stood, I was about 9 feet tall for at least for the next two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. How he had been done hadn’t been right. I didn’t just nonchalantly stand. I stood. Like, right now. Like, aggressively.
But I also stood because my son was in the game. I stood in honor of my son. My son was ready to play. My son gave it his all for two minutes and thirty-seven seconds, and as he started to play, that boy was on fire. Literally. He started hitting three pointers and scored nine points in two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. And one of the parents in the stands yelled, “Why didn’t you put that kid in sooner?” I wanted to yell, “We’re waiting for an answer,” but I refrained!
I stood in opposition to the way he had been treated, AND I stood in honor of the way he was playing. He was all heart and hustle. It was such a proud parent moment. The applause he received in that two minutes and thirty-seven seconds was practically unprecedented in previous games when he had gotten his full playing time. They lost, but Josh was the MVP of the game.
Here’s what I think about the fact that Jesus stood for Stephen. I think He stood both out of anger and honor. He opposed those who were creating false charges against him, against the religious leaders who wouldn’t receive Stephen’s message. Jesus knew what that felt like. I also think he stood to honor Stephen for his boldness, for his courage, for his tenacity, for his commitment to the Gospel. Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, His Spirit, and Stephen was in it to win it.
A possible second explanation could simply be that Jesus was standing as a witness on Stephen’s behalf. That was the proper posture when you were giving a witness about someone. Perhaps Jesus was standing as Stephen’s advocate before the Father. Stephen had confessed Jesus before men, and in turn, Jesus was confessing Stephen before God.
Regardless of the reason, it was a powerful scene. Stephen had the approval of Jesus.
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
What power and presence of mind Stephen had that he could even go to prayer while he was being stoned to death. He asked Jesus to receive his spirit, and then he fell on his knees, humbling himself even more with his posture and asked for those who were killing him to be forgiven. I mean, come on. Only someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit could pray for people who are killing him to be forgiven.
Let me close by saying that people are filled with a lot of things today. They are filled with a desire to be accepted by others, which keeps them anxious and constantly checking their social media status. They are filled with anxiety over the state of the nation or the implications of this pandemic, and it keeps them weak and just treading water. They are filled with a thirst for adventure, sexual pleasure, for entertainment, or for anything to help escape the woes of this life. Those are all dead-end streets.
But people who are filled with the Spirit of God? They have courage and peace at the same time. They have authority and can speak with conviction in a way that is captivating. They can pray for and bless their enemies. They aren’t living on hopes, dreams, wishes, “karma,” and “good vibes.” They are living on real spiritual fuel because they can see the unseen. And in addition to all of that, they have the applause of Heaven! What a satisfying and powerful life!
Live with power to respond and react to life’s challenges. Live with power to see the unseen. Be filled with the Spirit of God.