The following is a guest post by Yiuman Szeto.
The word “witness” in Greek can also be translated “martyr.” In this thought, the weighty conception behind the word is pronounced. Imagine an experience to be so convincing that it even defies the desire to live, and enables one to forfeit life itself. To the witness, it is not merely a real and provoking event that took place, but an experience so potent that changed the fibers of his being. To such a person, to deny this change is to deny his very existence.
I am reminded of Stephen, who was the first martyr recorded in the book of Acts, and along with this definition of “witness” in consideration, I recalled this one verse:
Acts 6:15 – his face was like the face of an angel.
This verse means that Stephen’s expression was heavenly, indicated by its reference to an angel, a heavenly creature. For a person to be heavenly means that he is experiencing resurrection (1 Cor. 15:47). We know that Christ himself is resurrection (John 11:25). This is why in the entire account of Stephen’s martyrdom, there is a sense that Christ was being extolled in Stephen. Being fully immersed in the Lord’s inward and tender affections, Stephen’s weighty and powerful words were filled with divine sentiments. Even with his last breath, he guilelessly asked forgiveness on behalf of those who was in the act of murdering him, just as the Lord had done on the cross.
We do not know how Stephen came to be as he was and how he obtained such an admirable testimony. Yet, we must not think that this change was instantaneous. The Bible never revealed anything more of Stephen besides his appointment as a deacon. His history being unwritten may be the very intention of our hidden God, who treasures our secret accounts with him and keeps it a secret (Col. 3:3; Rev. 2:17). It may also be true that there was not anything outward to disclose. Nevertheless, it is implicitly concludable that Stephen’s martyrdom, the finality of his testimony of the resurrected Christ, is simply the maturity of the faith which was instilled into him through all the years of countless hidden experiences of the Lord Spirit in his “day by day” pursuit in the renewal process of his inner man (2 Cor. 3:18, 4:16). This is the undeniable experience of divine change.
In relation to Stephen’s hidden history, I have in mind a rare flower known as the Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum), a near extinct plant that burrows underground and surfaces only to blossom. The orchid’s most unique characteristic is its required symbiotic relationship with particular fungi for survival (the plant lacks the ability to photosynthesize). To me, Stephen’s hidden years with the Lord are similar to the plant’s time underground and its symbiotic relationship. Furthermore, just as it is out of such a relationship that the plant can blossom into such an exquisite flower, Stephen’s years of absorbing the Lord as his source of nutritious supply eventually produced into him such a powerful and impacting testimony.
At the end of the course, Stephen, a man on the earth, became a reproduction of the heavenly Christ. Stephen spoke in truth and was full of the Holy Spirit; while his accusers lied, slandered him of blasphemy, and tried him according to their hypocritical law keeping. As they picked up their stones to terminate his life according to the law of ordinance, Stephen interceded for them according to the law of life. Everything this man said and did was a replication of the Lord Jesus. There was nothing natural nor Judaic about Stephen, but rather, the only sense we get from the record was that he was heavenly. Toward such a precious person, Jesus stood with concern over him in his last tumultuous moment as an encouragement for him to finish in triumph. The Lord had produced a faithful witness who completed his course.
Inspiration: Life-Study of Acts Message 21, Crystallization-Study of Acts Message 1