Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Angelic Faces - The Countenances of True Believers

For years I have wondered how a human being could be described as having the face of an angel. Stephen, the first martyr of the church, is described just like that. A deacon, full of faith, grace, the Holy Spirit, and power; his call was to face down the Sanhedrin of Israel (Supreme Court) and all those standing by with one of the greatest messages of faith found in holy writ.

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. Acts 6:8-15 (NKJV)

In the passage Stephen was raised up by God to execute God things (wonders) in the sight of the people. We are not told what the Lord had done through Him except that it stirred the religious leaders and even those of this Synagogue of Freedmen (made up of those carried away captive by Pompey in 63 B.C.) who when found to be at a loss for words then arose using false witnesses to whirl and hurl insult and accusation at him. How do you resist? How can you stand in the face of overwhelming opposition? Here's how. Stand boldly in truth.

It is evident from the passage above that Stephen was a Spirit of God led disciple. It is evident that he had a true, obedient, and faithful disposition toward God. But really, that is not even a strong enough characterization of this lover of God's faith. If words could describe how fervent and real his relationship with Jesus was surely it has to be in those indicting words they "saw his face as the face of an angel." Honestly, what does that mean?

Face of an Angel
What do others say?
Butler states, "The appearance of Stephen in the council was certainly different than the appearance of the evil men in the council.
The splendor of his countenance. "All that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15). The splendor of the countenance of Stephen spoke of Stephen's character. You can often see character in the face. You cannot have the splendor of Stephen without the sanctity of Stephen. Such an angelic appearance comes from godly living. If you want to look godly, you will have to live godly."1

Wakefield states, "They that be wise," says Daniel, "shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever." And Jesus declares, when speaking of the solemn transactions of the great day, "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father." Matt. 13:43. Of this future glory we have a faint resemblance in the luster of the face of Moses, after he had been with God in the holy mount. Such was the glory of his countenance, that the children of Israel "were afraid to come nigh him," until "he put a vail (sic) on his face." And that extraordinary majesty which characterized the face of holy Stephen, seemed to be an earnest of his coming glory.2

Barclay sees in Stephen the outworking of the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:14, "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified." Here Peter says the greatest thing of all. If a man suffers for Christ, the presence of the glory rests upon him. This is a very strange phrase. We think it can mean only one thing. The Jews had the conception of the Shekinah, the luminous glow of the very presence of God.3

We could go on with other descriptions like the deeper comparison of Stephen with Moses when He stood and kneeled in the presence of God on Sinai, the Bible says as he descended from that Holy spot his face shined and reflected the glory of God, "And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him." (Exodus 34:35) or when Jesus ascended to the top of the Mt. of Transfiguration His whole being shined with the effervescent glory of God, "and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light." (Matt. 17:2)

So what can we say? Are there times when this phenomenon still occurs? Is it during persecution only that we see it? Friends, I believe that whenever any true man or woman of God is under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit--whenever they are smack dab in the middle of the work and call of God--whenever they are speaking as strongly from the heart of knowing the reality of a living relationship with Jesus Christ we still get a glimpse of one who could be described as having the face of an angel. How many times have you heard it said of a witness for Christ that you could just see in the words spoken that he truly believes what he is saying? Or she truly had the Spirit of God resting upon her in that amazing and gracious act of kindness and mercy?

None of us would dare say in a spirit of humility that we have been there, but one thing I do know is this, it is this fervent spirit of true belief that is missing in many churches across the land. I am not speaking of emotionalism on display I am speaking about a delivery of the work of God in such a spirit of sureness that those who hear the words are carried as if by the wings of angels into the presence of God Himself. When Stephen willingly accepted the fate of that outstanding God-honoring, Spirit-filled call--just before the last stones were being hurled at his body he looked up and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"
Acts 7:56b (NKJV)

Something amazing always happens whenever a person is on call for God speaking and doing clearly from the Spirit of God within; lives are touched--new servants are raised up and Stephen's message heralded nothing different for as he died the Bible says, "and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul." Acts 7:58 (NKJV) We know this young man who stood by, possibly even one who led the mob, better as Paul of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia where a Synagogue of the Freedmen stood. It would be this same Paul of Tarsus who would be converted to Christ and bring to us 13 of the books of the New Testament.

How certain is your faith in Christ? How boldly would you proclaim it? Could you stand in the face of adversity such as Stephen did? Could you lay your life down for your best friend Jesus? These are questions that need to be answered sooner than later because very soon you could be called to make some decisions concerning your faith in Jesus that will show whose side you really stand on. Would you stand with Stephen and Jesus or would you cast a stone with the crowds of the world?

May God rest His Spirit upon you and in you and may His light continually shine toward you as the days ahead turn from smooth pavement to rough jagged stones. Only those who have their feet shod with the gospel of peace will be able to stand.

God Bless

1 - Analytical Bible Expositor - Analytical Bible Expositor – Acts.
2 - A Complete System of Christian Theology: A Concise, Comprehensive, and Systematic View of the Evidences, Doctrines, Morals, and Institutions of Christianity.
3 - Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT).

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