Angry and unreasonable people drain me—even when their anger is not my fault. Even if I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, explosions directed my way still fray my nerves.
Such events cause us to question ourselves, “Did I handle this right? What could I have done to avoid this response?” In Acts, chapters six and seven, Stephen had such an encounter; only his opponents turned nasty and stirred up a deadly mob.
Stephen, full of faith, power, grace and the Holy Spirit, performed great wonders among the people. His astonishing ministry kindled opposition from a whole synagogue of Jews. The wisdom he shared crushed every argument they threw at him. Since they could not successfully contend with him, these men incited a mob to get rid of him.
When brought before a kangaroo court, Stephen shared a succinct history of Israel candidly pointing out their stubbornness and resistance to the Holy Spirit. Oops, should he have softened his message? Looking at the audience’s gnashing teeth you might think so. Yet Stephen didn’t look to the mob for approval.
But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)
From Ephesians 1:20 we know that Jesus is seated in the heavens. However, when Stephen looked up, he saw Jesus standing. What does standing up after someone has just performed or entered a room convey? Usually we stand to show honor. In the case of a performance, we call it a standing ovation.
Stephen has just given the performance of a lifetime. If he had looked to the crowd and gauged his success by their response, he would have felt like an utter failure. But he didn’t look to the crowd. He gazed intently into heaven and saw Jesus on His feet. His posture shouted, “Well done, my good and faithful son. You courageously told the truth to this hostile audience. Enter into the joy of your master.”
What nasty encounter still bothers you? Were you filled with the Holy Spirit and exhibiting His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) yet it still turned out badly? Be like Stephen; instead of evaluating your performance by the crowd, look up. Was Jesus pleased? He’s the only audience that really matters.
It feels good when disputes are peaceably settled, but that is not always possible. When you can’t have both peace with people and please God, a standing ovation from Jesus far surpasses pacifying any crowd.
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